Just out. (Portland, OR) 1983-2013, July 07, 1995, Page 19, Image 19

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    ju s t o u t ▼ July 7, 1 9 0 5 ▼ 19
G ay M en’s
C h o ru s
Continued from page 17
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to be special,” he says.
Two months later at MCC the group
held its first concert.
“I still have u e original poster from
that concert. We asked for $ 1.50 dona­
tion,” Coleman says. “After expenses,
we had $39.”
Brown, who is a former arts editor
for the Kansas City Star and currently a
Portland Art Museum trustee, found him­
self drawn to the chorus.
“I guess you can say that I’m a vet­
eran of the bad old days, when you
didn’t say words like ‘gay,’ so I was
quite intrigued when I read an announce­
ment about an upcoming [PGMC] per­
formance,” he says. “It wasn’t a pol­
ished performance, but they had enthu­
siasm. There was an obvious commit­
ment there. I saw the chorus and its
music as a very civilized way to reach
out to people.”
In 1981 Brown joined
PGMC, much to the
chagrin of certain
members of his social
set. “I remember being
at dinner parties where
some people would make
disparaging rem arks
about the chorus,” he says.
“I lost friends because of
that association.”
Brown would eventually
become the chorus’ secretary,
music committee chair and gen­
eral manager. He would also
write its first grant application to
the Metropolitan Arts Commis­
The reasons other gay men were attracted to
the chorus are numerous: they were looking for
friends to socialize with; they saw music as a
revolutionary tool; they were seeking romantic
partners; they liked to sing.
“Getting involved with the chorus was an ac­
ceptable way for men to come out. They could say,
‘I’m a member of the Portland Gay Men’s Chorus,’
which was less threatening to people. And it was an
alternative to the bar scene,” says Coleman, who is
a community-resource specialist for Portland Com­
munity College. “There are so many options for
men now, but back in 1980 we were just one of the
few games in town.”
That’s not to say that some Portland Gay Men’s
Chorus enthusiasts didn’t spend some time in the
bars—recruiting potential chorus members, that
“PGMC had a musical subgroup of about 16
men known as the Other Side. They developed
choral material with sexual-based themes to be
performed in gay bars,” says Fulmer. “It was
material the entire chorus could not publicly per­
form—songs like ‘Fire Island Baby’ and ‘Crisco
and You.’ It was musical theater. A bit of the
Village People. But that’s what the men in the bars
got a kick out of, and it was a way to get them
Not long after its first concert PGMC drafted its
bylaws, which required that the chorus be a demo­
cratic organization. “We liked to say we were
using the ‘lesbian consensus model,’ chuckles
Coleman. “It really added spark to the way we
As for the chorus’ early audiences, it was a
mixture of both gay and straight. “During our early
days, P-FLAG would come to our concerts as a
group. It was a way parents could help other
parents deal with their kids’ sexual orientation. It
was important for them to see we were simply
normal-looking guys,” says Norton.
Norton estimates the annual budget during those
first years hovered between $2,000 and $3,000—
it would surpass $100,000 during the late 1980s.
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y the mid-to-late 1980s, chorus membership
dramatically multiplied, topping out at about
110. And performances were continually
improving, due in part to the guidance of David
York, who served as PGMC’s conductor from
1982 to 1990.
The chorus began receiving favorable reviews
from the mainstream press, and in 1984 it was
invited to perform during the inauguration of the
incoming secretary of state, Barbara Roberts. Port­
land Mayor Bud Clark declared June 28, 1985
“Portland Gay Men’s Chorus Day,” which also
marked PGMC’s first concert at Arlene Schnitzer
Concert Hall.
The chorus subsequently received a series of
grants from the Metropolitan Arts Commission
and the Oregon Arts Commission—many believe
it was the first openly gay arts group in the state to
receive public funding. According to Norton, the
chorus was also the first gay organization to per­
form in Eugene’s Hull Center.
When the Oregon Convention Center opened
in 1990, the chorus was there singing. In 1991, the
chorus marched and sang in Portland’s Holiday
Parade, which attracted an estimated 50,000 spec­
tators in addition to the thousands of others who
watched it on television. In 1994, when Kris Olson
Rogers made Oregon history by becoming the
state’s first female U.S. attorney, her swearing-in
ceremony included a song from the Grateful Dead
performed by a Portland Gay Men’s Chorus mem­
ber. And yes, says Coleman, the Portland Gay
Men’s Chorus has indeed been tapped to perform
the national anthem at a Blazer game. “We tried out
last year and were accepted,” he says. “However
we’re not exactly sure when we’re going to ap­
According to Norton, during PGMC’s first
year, half the members of the chorus listed their
names in the program as “anonymous.” Now, only
one member refrains from listing his name in full.
The chorus’ most notable performances in­
clude 1988’s Young Caesar, the world premiere of
a gay opera by Lou Harrison; Zillions, or How We
Paid O ff the National Debt by Tom Simonds in
1985, which was the first musical commissioned
and produced by a gay chorus; 1989’s In the
Presence o f Things Past, a ballet choreographed
by Dennis Spaight and danced by Ballet Oregon to
Schubert songs sung by the chorus; and 1992’s
performance of John Corigliano’s O f Rage and
Remembrance, a haunting work for chorus and
soloists written as a response to the devastation
caused by AIDS. And then, of course, there were
those countless vigils and memorial services...
relationship at the time, 1 think 1 might be dead
by now.”
Though some may disagree with Fulmer’s
bold contention, there is no argument that AIDS
has had a shattering effect on the chorus. An
estimated 60 PGMC members have died of
AIDS complications—more members than the
chorus currently has. According to Coleman,
the membership of the chorus dropped from 85
in 1990 to 35 in 1993, due largely to AIDS
deaths. The chorus currently has about 55
"You can’t go to a rehearsal and see some­
one who isn’t dying,” says Fulmer. “But the
level of love and caring is astounding. These
men are literally holding each other up.”
Literally and, says Norton, figuratively.
"Those of us who have managed to survive
have done so because the chorus gives us
something to live for.”
State health officials also recognize the
power of the chorus to bolster gay men’s self­
esteem and provide them with a sense of be­
longing. The Oregon Health Division, in con­
junction with local health departments, re­
cently launched a program specifically de­
signed to create a pro-social support network
for gay and bisexual men throughout Oregon.
The theory behind the project is that if men
have a sense of community they’ll feel good
about themselves and will therefore be less
likely to engage in risky behaviors.
Health officials are working to conduct
outreach efforts, which include providing funding
for the chorus to tour the state. Coleman says the
health division and the Washington County Health
Department are also providing financial support
for a CD featuring music performed by the chorus,
as well as members discussing HIV/AIDS issues.
The CD is in the final stages of production and may
be released later this summer.
Though the chorus has continued to perform
Broadway show tunes and other lighter selections,
the health crisis has understandably influenced its
repertoire. There was 1992’s “Time for Remem­
brance” concert (70 voices strong), featuring
Corigliano’s work, and this past spring the chorus
performed Hidden Legacies, a seven-movement
drama that tracked the various stages of grief:
anger and shame, followed by numbness and then
acceptance. The last movement, “Hallelujah Cho­
rus,” seeks to uplift listeners.
Throughout the years the chorus has performed
benefits for AIDS service organizations, raising
thousands of badly needed dollars.
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fter dedicating so many years to the Portland
Gay Men’s Chorus, Fulmer, Brown and York
eventually left to pursue other interests. Fulmer
has become involved with the lesbian and gay vocal
ensemble known as Bridges, Brown was hired as an
administrator by Oregon Repertory Singers, and
York joined the Concord Choir.
After years of touting itself as an essentially
t was the summer of 1982, and the Portland Gay
democratically controlled organization, the chorus
Men’s Chorus traveled to San Francisco to
plans to shift more control to the conductor/artistic
director. Also, expect the chorus to perform only one
perform with other gay choruses during the
first Gay Games. “It was so exhilarating,” says of its three annual concerts at the Intermediate The­
atre of the Portland Center for the Performing Arts
Fulmer, who was making his conducting debut at
next season. (It currently holds all three concerts
the time. “We were the crown jewel of the cho­
ruses. Nearly every piece we performed received a
there.) The rent, says Norton, is simply too high.
Despite all of the changes and challenges faced
standing ovation. People were actually reaching
out to touch us. There we were at the first Gay
by the chorus and its current conductor, Bob Mensel
Games in the mecca of the Castro/Mission—how
(formerly of the Salt Lake Men’s Chorus), the Port­
could you not get swept away in the emotion?”
land Gay Men’sChorus vows tocontinue promoting
Fulmer continues, “I am now convinced that
its message through music.
profoundly moving expression of one’s pride...”
Last weekend the chorus celebrated its 15th
anniversary with a concert titled “An Outrageous
I half expect he’ll complete the sentence with
“...was the best thing to happen to us.”
Celebration,” honoring its long history of outreach,
He doesn’t.
celebration and education.
“...was the biggest disaster,” he says, pausing
"There is no doubt we’re going through a transi­
slightly before continuing. “I am thoroughly con­
tory period. And there is no denying that AIDS has
taken its toll. But we’ve been through a lot and
vinced that many of my dearest friends became
survived it all,” says Norton, “and we’re still here
infected [with HIV] directly from that week. And
after all these years. Now that’s something to cel­
I think that event was a significant catalyst in
bringing the AIDS epidemic to Portland. Sure, the
epidemic was going to reach here, but I don’t think
For information about joining the Portland Gay
with the same speed that it did.”
Men's Chorus, call 699-8586.
He adds, “If I hadn’t been in a monogamous