Loud and proud6/8/2016
For 15 years, the Des Moines Gay Men’s Chorus has served as both a cultural ambassador for the city and an artistic outlet for Des Moines’ gay community. And for the past 10 of those years, Dr. Rebecca Gruber has helped direct the Chorus’ vision.
Gruber, who serves as the Chorus’ conductor and artistic director, handles the significant task of creating and booking shows for an entity whose overall makeup can vary from one performance to the next.
“We’re a non-audition chorus,” she explained. “We have some members who joined us in our first year and who have not missed a single performance. But sometimes life gets in the way, and we have members who have to miss a show, or we have new singers who come in.
“Our performers come from all kinds of musical backgrounds. Some of them are professional singers with classical training, while others maybe haven’t sung in 20 years, since they were in high school.”
The chorus maintains a membership of around 40 members, and Gruber will put together about 14 shows a year, including performances at the national convention for GALA (Gay and Lesbian Alliance), the GLBT (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender) choral organization. But putting together a compelling show requires more planning than just cracking open the Great American Songbook or learning a couple of show tunes.
“Venue plays a large part in putting together a show,” Dr. Gruber explained. “We won’t want to perform some of our bawdier songs in a small, Methodist church, for example, while we might open things up a little bit for a cabaret show.”
“From there, it becomes a matter of picking songs that work with the performers we have. Not every song will work with the performers available for a given show, so you really have to cater to the voices you have at the time.”
But the Des Moines Gay Men’s Chorus is not just another choral group. And with every performance, there is the real opportunity to form a connection between the city’s gay and straight communities, while at the same time providing Des Moines’ gay men with a chance to express themselves in ways their day-to-day lives do not always allow for.
“We try to showcase all aspects of the gay community, which includes drag and trans performances,” Gruber said. “We try and show ourselves as a welcoming part of the community and try to be good ambassadors for the community to the rest of the city.”
Part of that effort is reflected in the performances the Gay Men’s Chorus chooses to undertake. In addition to playing traditional performance spaces like the Temple, the Des Moines Gay Men’s Chorus has performed in churches, at weddings, as a part of high school pride celebrations, and in 2014, the Chorus took to the 80/35 main stage with local act Gloom Balloon. Each performance is viewed as a fresh chance to acquaint the city with a vibrant part of its own community and enrich and enlighten the lives of both listeners and performers alike. It can be a delicate, sometimes complicated task.
“With each performance we give, we get accused of being ‘too gay’ and ‘not gay enough,’ ” Gruber said with a laugh. “There’s no one aspect to the gay community, and it can be challenging to please everyone. But we provide a place for these men to come together, and the sound of all those voices coming together to create these sounds is really a special thing.” CV