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Holiday Kick Off

Photo: Courtesy of Timothy Seelig

The Gay Men’s Chorus is coming to the Castro Theatre on Christmas Eve with 5, 7 and 9 p.m. shows and tickets are still available. SantaConcert is the theme, emphasizing SantaCon, its San Francisco roots, and dressing in velvet red robes and hats. The Davies Symphony Hall performance on Dec. 6 was sold out.

Gay Men’s Chorus Boasts Pioneering History

By Wendy Oakes

Dr. Timothy Seelig is the Artistic Director and Conductor of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus. It is his second year with the chorus following a long and illustrious career which has included being the first Artistic Director in Residence for the Gay and Lesbian Association of Choruses (GALA), as well as the founder of the Women’s Chorus of Dallas, and 20 years as the conductor of the Turtle Creek Chorale, the gay men’s chorus in Dallas. Tim and the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus are presenting SantaConcert this holiday season.

Wendy:

How did the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus get its start?

Tim:

San Francisco has an LGBT history that predates Stonewall. San Francisco had a lot of things going on, much like Stonewall, prior to Stonewall, but New York got all the glory (laughs). So, in ‘69 the Gay Rights Movement began. Fast forward into the ‘70s. One of the resultant events was Gay Pride parades, so gay bands started. The [San Francisco Lesbian/Gay] Freedom Band started and were marching in the parades. The conductor, named Jon Sims thought, “Hmm, if the gays play clarinet and flute, I bet they sing too.” In 1978 he put up flyers saying we’re going to start a gay men’s chorus on a Monday night in October. Come to this church and we’ll sing. About 80 to 100 guys showed up. It was big. It was the first gay men’s chorus ever formed in the world. Four weeks later was the day that Mayor Moscone and Harvey Milk were assassinated. Rather than rehearse, they went to the candle light vigil, and they went together. During the vigil someone told someone - I think it ended up with Dianne Feinstein - that there was a gay men’s chorus here. They said, “What?! They should sing!” and they walked up onto the podium and sang. Holly Near also came that night and wrote a song for the event called “Singing for Our Lives.” They joined in that - she taught that to the people. And that was 34 years ago today [November 27]. They appeared for the first time in a real concert, with lights and pretty things, in December with the Freedom Band. Three years later, in 1981 they launched a national tour. They visited 11 cities across the country and truly birthed gay men’s choruses everywhere they went. So, the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus is the grandfather of the LGBT choral movement, which now has 170 lesbian and gay choruses in North America and has spread all over the world - that’s just North America. So that’s the beginning. You couldn’t write a movie script so wonderful. They had no idea that they were creating something that would change millions of people’s lives.

Wendy:

You have several shows in December around the Bay Area, but there are two very big ones here in San Francisco that I want to talk about - the show at Davies Symphony Hall and the Christmas Eve show at the Castro Theatre. I understand that the Davies show is already sold out.

Tim:

It sold out 10 days early which is unprecedented in the 34 years. They’ve never done this; they’ve never sold out in advance, so it’s huge. They’ve never sung holiday at Davies, so it’s a big deal.

Wendy:

So for everybody who wants to come to your show at the Castro Theatre, you can still get tickets?

Tim:

Absolutely.

Wendy:

Tell me about the Castro show. What is this year’s theme?

Tim:

Last holiday I was out and about trying to get my bearings in the city. I saw all these people dressed as Santas, and I said “Santa Con!” It was birthed in San Francisco; it’s now in 200 cities, 30 countries. But I said, “I’m not doing this unless all 250 show up in Santa suits”, which is a fairly large undertaking, you think? But I’m from Texas; that’s what we do. So, we’ll all be in Santa suits on Christmas eve.

Wendy:

How did the guys feel about that?

Tim:

Are you kidding? They love to dress up. They wanted to bedazzle their outfits! So 250 Santas will appear onstage with some elves - ridiculously funny. The concert last year at Castro - my first - was pretty serious. I am a serious musician , I’ve worked at this a long time, and I wanted people to notice my stamp. But, my other stamp is that I’m crazy and I have so much fun. So, of the hour and fifteen minutes, it should be about 20 minutes of big ballsy holiday fare and then all hell breaks loose. There [are] a lot of surprises. It’s a rip roaring holiday show.

Wendy:

And you have a some unique partnerships this year. How did that come about?

Tim:

For me, the first time that I came to see it, before I had this job, I was so taken with the fact that on Christmas Eve the Castro was just full of people - a lot of them going to the Gay Men’s Chorus concert. There are 1500 seats at the Castro, so 4500 people [for the three shows], and we’ll sell those out. People can’t get through the streets ‘cause there are so many people. They’re kissing and they’re hugging and they’re in the restaurants and in the bars waiting to come over to the concert or they go to the bar afterwards. This year we’re partnering with the LGBT Museum, HRC Action Center, and Under One Roof. We’re encouraging all of our patrons and all of their constituents to make the rounds. Within one block there are three really wonderful non-profits that a lot of people don’t know. So, while you’re waiting, instead of just drinking, go do something constructive. We’ve not done this before and I think it’s great.

Wendy:

Let’s say somebody comes to see your show and either wants to sing or find a way to volunteer or donate. What should they do?

Tim:

We do have auditions on January for singers although we’re pretty full. We’re trying to cap membership at 300 and we’re at about 300. We will have auditions though, we never close our doors but there are not a lot of positions for singers. We have non-singing volunteers that do a whole bunch of stuff. We have volunteers that come every Monday night to our rehearsals and help us with set up or refreshments or checking guys in and they are just a part of the family. We have an advisory board. We have community members on all of our committees. And then of course my Board of Directors would shoot me if I didn’t say, “You’re more than welcome to donate”. As a non-profit it’s tough in this city; everybody is going for the same dollars. Half of our income comes from tickets and CD sales; half of our income comes from donations. If we didn’t have [that] half we couldn’t rent the Castro, we couldn’t rent Davies. Our donors are really our lifeblood. And then, once you’re on our mailing list, all of our patrons get updates on where we sing for free. We were at the Embarcadero tree lighting last week we were at the Castro tree lighting yesterday. It’s the only way really for somebody to keep up if they want to come and watch the chorus sing around the community. So, there are lots of ways to get involved.

 



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