If there’s a simple tag line for Heartland Men’s Chorus, it’s this: We Change Lives. I should know; it changed mine.
For men of a certain age like me, belonging to an LGBT/gay chorus provided (and still provides) a way to “come into the light,” find both self- and societal acceptance, and be more authentic—all while in the company of other men doing the same or, if they’ve already been through this metamorphosis, showing us the way. I vividly remember one song HMC performed at the first concert I attended. It’s sort of a meta anthem that tells the story of a man (just like me) attending his first gay men’s chorus concert (just like me) who sits in the back of a theater, in the dark, and hopes he won’t be spotted by anyone he knows (just like me). Then he hears them sing and realizes—they’re singing directly to him (just like me). Beckoned by their voices, he joins the chorus (just like me), and the cycle begins anew.
I joined HMC in 2005. With the exception of two years away from Kansas City for work, I have been an active member of the chorus, serving a year as president and four years as vice chair and then chair of its board of directors. In that time, HMC has continued to fulfill its vision of using its powerful, collective voice to enlighten, inspire, heal, and empower. Its concerts have been hip, fun, merry, festive, upbeat, serious, compelling, tear-inducing, and profound—the full panoply of musical genres and emotions. Its outreach has touched lives in new corners of our community, not just with music but with inspirational action (such as its annual support of AIDS Walk). It has proudly represented Kansas City at the Gay and Lesbian Association (GALA) of Choruses Festival, held every four years, adding luster to its and the city’s reputation. And this past year, it commissioned and premiered its most significant choral work to date—a 40-minute oratorio that tells the story of how the Unknown Soldier of World War I was selected, to coincide with the WWI Centennial.
In my decade-plus with HMC, I have seen members come and go for a variety of reasons. The most common is simply that life is ever-changing: we get new jobs, retire, fall in love with someone in another city, or simply need to focus on other priorities. Sadly, it’s now my turn to go.
When I joined HMC, I was an infant in my life as a gay man. Under HMC tutelage and nurturing care, I’ve matured. While it’s never easy to leave the family you love, there comes a time to leave the nest, so to speak. That time has come for me—and I am ready. I’m moving to Huntsville, AL, which has no GALA chorus. I have to believe there’s someone there waiting to be sung to and it will be my mission to ensure they hear the life-changing and life-affirming message that only an LGBT chorus can offer.
Thank you HMC for not just changing my life—but affirming it.
My name is Tom Dillon. I am in my third year as a Baritone with Heartland Men’s Chorus. Originally from Connecticut, I spent some time in Minnesota and South Carolina as well. I moved to Missouri in 1998 and settled my family here. In 2013, I began living as my authentic self after a 20-year marriage ended that produced three great kids. In the process of finding myself I participated in my church’s production of “Godspell.” At age 44, it was my first participation in musical theater, outside of high school/college/church choir.
While continuing my coming out journey, I attended my first HMC concert, “A Little Bit Wicked,” in June 2015. I met some terrific guys in the chorus over the summer and in September I auditioned. The chorus opened up a new outlet of support, friendship and a chance to have fun. One of my older brothers passed away at the age of 49 and that experience taught me to live life. So I have stepped out of comfort zones, performed as a reindeer, and have even been granted a few solos. Performing with HMC has also given me an opportunity to lend my voice to the message we bring through song and performance. Paraphrasing Dustin Cates, HMC Artistic Director, “When a gay men’s chorus sings some of these lyrics they take on a whole new meaning!” I couldn’t agree more. Sometimes in rehearsals I tear up just singing certain phrases, and internalizing and personalizing them. Music is powerful. My hope is that my singing helps to articulate that meaning for those listening.
As a late bloomer, HMC has been a safe place for me to explore who I am and to flourish. I have taken the opportunity to be involved in planning HMC events like our annual gala fundraiser, Dinner of Note, and some social gatherings as a way to broaden my horizons. I enjoy lending my voice outside of singing. I feel a part of the HMC family as it has become an extension of my own amazing blood family. The friendships I have formed have sustained me at this stage in my life.
I am (now) an Upper Tenor 2 with HMC and joined the Chorus as a Lower 1st Tenor in January of 2015 in A Little Bit Wicked. I fell in love with the sound of the Chorus during KC Pride as I sat on a bench in the Power and Light District listening to the greatest hits of The Beatles. I knew, at that moment, that I needed to be a part of HMC! Unfortunately, due to my schedule, I had to wait a little bit to make that a reality.
I am an 8th grade Math teacher at West Middle School in Lawrence. I have taught 8th grade Math, Algebra 1, and Geometry for the last 6 years. I am a proud graduate of Pittsburg State University with a Masters degree in Mathematics and I am currently pursuing an Interdisciplinary Ph.D. in Curriculum & Instruction (fancy phrase for “teaching”) with a focus in Mathematics at UMKC. 7 semesters to go!
In my free time (you know.. between semesters in the winter), I enjoy reading good books, travelling to Seattle, and puttering around Kansas City exploring new shops and events. Most of my time now is spent reading research articles and writing papers so any little sliver of free time is greatly cherished!
I joined HMC because I needed to feel connected to the LGBTQ+ community and because I have always loved to sing. In the short two years that I’ve been with the Chorus, I have made friends that will last a lifetime. There are always new connections to be made and I think the Chorus is a great way to do that!
Following Heartland Men’s Chorus’ debut concert, November 10, 2017, at The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Rick Fisher, Executive Director of Heartland Men’s Chorus (HMC), confirmed that it was one of the largest audiences the chorus has ever enjoyed. “Taking that kind of momentum into the regular season is exhilarating and helps to confirm for staff and chorus member alike that our mission and message is resounding throughout Kansas City. We are especially thrilled to have attracted such a large crowd in a new area of the community and right before we open our regular season,” said Fisher.
The magnificent new sanctuary at The Church of the Resurrection with The Resurrection Window (that stretches nearly 100 feet across and three stories high) served as a beautiful backdrop to the 90-minute concert. The concert featured a veritable “greatest hits” of the Chorus, including favorite “Like Dust I Rise.” Based upon four Maya Angelou poems (“On the Pulse of Morning,” “ aged Bird,” “Equality,” “Still I Rise”) the work was composed by internationally renowned composer and resident Kansas Citian, Mark Hayes, who was on hand to perform with the Chorus as well as several of his own pieces from his recent album. The Angelou poem, “Still I Rise,” was “spoken” by Angelou herself to excerpts of her writings flashings across the 100-foot screen.
According to Mike Alley of KCMetropolis, “There were several times I was brought to tears as the evening progressed. In those moments, sometimes it was the beauty of the melodies, and sometimes it was the sentiment in the lyrics, introductions, or spoken-word narratives. At other times, it was probably due to hearing such music within the vibrant sanctuary, with its amazing one-hundred-foot stained glass sculpture above the choir loft; or the projections of colorful sunsets, volcanoes, ocean waves, and excerpts from Maya Angelou’s inspiring poems flashed at exactly the right time during a song. But in the end, it is the seamless merge of the tenor, baritone, and bass parts, and the clarity of the phrasing and enunciation by the Chorus’ 80 voices under Cates’s baton that made the 14 songs and medleys performed work. Trust me, folks: hearing this level of proficiency, hearing the harmonies, dynamics, and crisp lyrics all working together this well in live performance by 80 voices is something very, very special.”
To view photos of the concert, click here to link to Photographer Susan McSpadden’s photo gallery.
Beginning rehearsals for musical documentary “Modern Families” (presented March 2015), I didn’t anticipate the relationship I was about to have with Annie Lennox’s remarkable song “A Thousand Beautiful Things” (“Bare” 2003).
I first joined HMC in 1990 and a lot can happen in 27 years. My chorus family has been beside me through many milestones; both triumphs and tragedies
It was early 2015 and I was navigating a rough patch. As we rehearsed, I felt drawn to “A Thousand Beautiful Things,” arranged for HMC by Tim Sarsany.
Explaining any direct correlation between how I was feeling (lost, sad, angry…) and the song itself would be tough, but I felt “Thousand” – especially the way HMC sang it under Dustin’s direction – was unique and powerful, important. I auditioned for the solo and was gifted with the opportunity and privilege of singing it for “Modern Families,” which for me became a profoundly meaningful (not to mention cathartic) experience.
I assumed we were finished with “Thousand,” and naturally said goodbye to singing the solo. I was thrilled when Dustin asked if I’d sing it again for HMC’s 30th anniversary concert “I Rise” (presented June 2016), and I jumped at the chance.
I can’t describe it fully, but it’s something like being a superhero, with 200 of your best superhero friends by your side, taking down injustice and ignorance. Then there’s the sound from the chorus itself: awe-inspiring; dramatic, glorious! Who wouldn’t want to do that again?
During rehearsals for “I Rise,” I learned we’d perform “A Thousand Beautiful Things” again that summer, for GALA Choruses 2016 Festival in Denver. Again, thrilled: imagine being a superhero with 200 of your best superhero friends by your side taking down injustice and ignorance before an audience of thousands MORE superheroes who ALSO take down injustice and ignorance, every day!
Before GALA, we also included “Thousand” in HMC’s “Testimony Tour,” an outreach effort presented throughout the state of Kansas. We were welcomed graciously everywhere we sang, particularly at the Equality House in Topeka (truly a beautiful thing).
“A Thousand Beautiful Things” has indeed been a privilege to sing with HMC. It’s been an outlet for every negative feeling I’ve had, but much more importantly, it’s presented an opportunity to rejoice for any and every reason. To rejoice even if only for being alive at this time, in this place, out of all human history. That’s the nearest I can come to describing what it means to me.
As I’m writing, we’re rehearsing for HMC’s first-ever fall offering, “From the Heart.” I’m grateful and pleased we’re singing “A Thousand Beautiful Things” one more time, in a new (to us) venue, hopefully for an audience of many old and new friends!
When I chose to fund Heartland Men’s Chorus’ commissioning of composer Mark Hayes to create a piece that would support HMC’s vision statement, I had no idea how perfect his work would be, that with every crescendo it would enlighten, inspire, heal and empower… and then some!
Times have changed, thank goodness, for LGBT men and women and their family and friends, letting their truth be known… it didn’t used to be and still isn’t in some faith communities and certain parts of our country.
I’ve had the privilege of listening to their stories through counseling and in many advocacy trips both near and far. Many others have been thrown out of their homes into the streets to fend for themselves. One extreme case was shared. After coming out to his parents a young man’s pastor-father placed a gun in his son’s room and said “you know what to do with it.” That’s beyond the pale. But there also are millions who say the accept their son or daughter but emphasize that homosexuality is a sin and many take that insult in order to keep a relationship with family.
But there is an alternative. My son’s story is happily different. Twenty five years ago he got up the courage to come out to his father and me. As gay positive as I thought I was, I cried. It’s an automatic reaction. In that moment, a mother may feel as if s the hasn’t known her son or daughter and grieves that he hasn’t felt like telling her before. My son actually nurtured me in that moment, asking me to explain. I did, and the moment passed in brief time. His father also accepted him unconditionally as did his sister and the rest is a happy family history.
Even if the coming out experience is in adulthood it is vital to the quality of life for any LGBT person and loved ones.
HMC strives to support LGBT persons in living an honest and full life. Not only in concerts but in long trips and to local schools they reach out to all ages voicing their encouragement.
Mark Hayes has penned a song that does this beautifully, showing in music that “there’s got to be a better way.”
If you are in the closet, you are living the life of a former prejudiced time, you are missing out on an open and honest life. Your are hiding. If you are a parent or family member or friend the same is true. If quietly supporting them, or worse, not supporting at all… now is the time to get off the bench and openly be there for them. SING OUT!
“Life gets better, the future’s brighter, burdens are lighter when with our voices we sing out.”
Gay or straight, I urge you to find ways to stand up for inclusion in this retro-political era of leaders who strive for exclusion.
Join the chorus or one of the many fine Kansas City organizations advocating for what is right. What is the alternative? Hiding in the closet you have built for yourself or loved ones? I ask you to Sing Out! Bless you in your continued journey.
HMC Guest Soloist Nancy Nail Shares Thoughts on What Singing the Role of Jane Clementi in Tyler’s Suite Has Meant to Her.
Singing “I Love You More” from Tyler’s Suite has been life changing for me. I have always, always enjoyed singing with HMC but this song has become very special. After getting the call to sing in Identify with HMC in March of 2017 from Dustin Cates, I have to admit that I knew nothing about Tyler Clementi or Tyler’s Suite. Shame on me. But what I found out was mind-blowing.
Tyler was a talented young musician who committed suicide after being bullied by his freshman roommate. An 18-year-old college student at Rutgers University, Tyler was being intimate with another man when his roommate surreptitiously recorded it and put word of it on the Internet. Humiliated, Tyler killed himself by jumping off the George Washington Bridge. After hearing about the tragedy, Broadway composer Stephen Schwartz gathered a team of renowned composers to raise awareness about anti-gay bullying. Tyler’s Suite is based upon hundreds of hours of interviews with the Clementi family after Tyler died, and gives voice to the experiences of Tyler and his family, shining a light of hope on tragedy. One of the songs written, “I Love You More,” represents the voice of his mother, Jane Clementi.
Through all of my research, I wanted to learn more about Tyler. But more importantly, for my role with the Chorus, I wanted to learn about Jane. In college, I majored in acting and have always approached singing from an “actor’s” point of view. It was important to me to understand Jane Clementi. What I found was that Jane, through such a horrible tragedy, had chosen to take her pain and start a foundation in the name of Tyler. Jane created a place for conversations, a place to elevate issues, to help people understand, to bring topics out into the light, to take away shame and embarrassment. What an incredibly strong woman!
So every time I sing “I Love You More” I am doing so as “Jane.” My strength to sing comes from her. To sing it in any other way, at least for me, would do the song an injustice. It’s not about me … Nancy Nail … when I sing it. It’s about Jane and her family. It’s quite emotional, but the song brings such an important message. Make sure to tell the ones we love how important they are, and how much we love them and support them. As a mother of two children, I can’t imagine having to go through what Jane endured. I must admit, when learning the solo at home, I could NOT make it through to the end for several weeks, as I would start to cry and have to walk away. As every emotion of losing a child would sweep over me, I literally could not continue.
Singing “I Love You More” at the Folly last March and getting to meet and know Jane Clementi was really amazing. Then to be asked to “understudy” Ann Hampton Callaway at Lincoln Center in May with DCINY and Dr. Tim Seelig conducting! Well it was truly one of those “Ah Hah” moments that I will never, ever forget. The song has absolutely changed me. I told Jane Clementi as I have told others that have asked how I get through the song without crying. I can’t quite explain it because I did not know Tyler, but I feel him around me every single time I sing it. I know that Tyler is with me every step of the way.
I fell in love with Fred Small’s beautiful lullaby, “Everything Possible,” when I first heard it on The Flirtations maiden album in 1990. Chills still run down my spine whenever I hear it sung by Heartland Men’s Chorus.
“Everything Possible” is a parent’s song of unconditional love and affirmation, and of unlimited possibilities for living a genuine and authentic life. The parent’s offer, in the opening verse, to “sing you a song no one sang to me,” makes me wonder how different my growing up, and my life, would have been if my parents had sung a similar song to me. Tears well up in my eyes when the lullaby affirms:
You can be anybody you want to be,
You can love whomever you will.
You can travel any country where your heart leads
And know that I will love you still.
I grew up in a fairly conservative, white, Protestant, rural community. Conformity to social norms was strictly enforced at school, at church, and at home. If you wanted the friendship and respect of your peers, and if you wanted to succeed in school and in life, you had to look and behave just like everyone else. Nonconformists were taunted as “sissies” or “tomboys” or “queers”, and no one could be friends with someone like that. In response, the song counsels:
Don’t be rattled by taunts, by games,
But seek out spirits true.
If you give your friends the best part of yourself,
They’ll give the same back to you.
If only that could have been true, both for me and for untold numbers of LGBT youth who learned to hide and deny our true selves in order to conform. It is unfathomable how much energy is wasted by trying to conform and “pass”’; unimaginable how many young gay lives have been lost to teen suicide or maimed by bullying and harassment.
The ultimate moral of the lullaby is grounded in love. After opening the world of possibilities and encouraging the listener to pursue their dreams and to be true to their authentic selves, the song exhorts:
And the only measure of your words and your deeds
Will be the love you leave behind when you’re done.
My late partner, Steve Metzler, and I loved the powerful message of this song so much that I asked Heartland Men’s Chorus to sing it at his funeral. So many of our friends came up later to ask about “that song,” and how moved they were by it. This song embodies the HMC vision: “Our voices enlighten, inspire, heal and empower.”
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