From the Heart: Huge Success!

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.

Todd Gregory-Gibbs on “1,000 Beautiful Things”

Todd Gregory Gibbs

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!

Rev. Carol Stubbs Smith on “I Sing Out”

Carol Smith2

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.

Carol SmithEven 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.

Nancy Nail on “I Love You More”

Nancy Nail

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.

Brian William on “Everything Possible”

Brian Williams 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:

Brian & SteveDon’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.”

 

Are you stunned? We’d like to politely suggest you should be!

This morning the Associated Press reported on the ongoing fallout from President Trump’s unpatriotic proposal to ban open military service for transgender Americans – and we are stunned at what we read:

“Discussions [among Pentagon personnel] illustrate that Trump’s aides aren’t writing off his three-tweet salvo last week as an isolated outburst but as guidance for an upheaval in one of the military’s most sensitive equal rights questions.”

Trump’s off-the-cuff decision to announce a major policy change via Twitter – a policy change that Department of Defense officials were apparently not aware of, a policy change that 58% of Americans oppose, a policy change that top military veterans and Republican leaders reject – is being taken seriously, and attempts to implement this discrimination are being made right now.

Transgender people had been serving openly in the military for 392 days between the Pentagon’s June 2016 landmark announcement and Trump’s tweets. For 392 days, the military – the largest employer of LGBT people in the country – had ended its shameful history of discriminating against people simply because of their gender identity.

No employer, including the United States government, should be able to wake up one day and terminate thousands of LGBT people by firing off a few tweets.

That’s what we sing for. We envision a country where LGBTQ people are fully protected from discrimination in every area of life – employment, housing, public accommodations.

That’s why we sing. Won’t you come join us and give Heartland Men’s Chorus a try? Attend one of our first two rehearsals on September 5 or September 12, 7 PM at Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral in downtown Kansas City. For more information, visit hmckc.org.

The Spectacular “Garden Party” 2017

Mill Creek

As the gates at Thundering Oaks swing open, your approach along the curving driveway is a preview of the beautiful estate just down the lane. Towering oaks, a waterfall along a wooded creek, a placid lake and lovely flowers are all part of the Garden Party tableau that you’ll experience on June 17th.

Our hosts Peter Sunderman and Curt Thomas moved from their home in Kansas City a couple years ago to take advantage of the natural beauty and solitude that surrounds their completely re-modeled home on 37 acres in Independence. Now they are opening their home and property to you, our loyal supporters of Heartland Men’s Chorus!

HMC’s Garden Party has become a late-spring tradition because you value the opportunity to visit with long-time friends and make new ones while getting an insider’s view to a significant home and property in the metro area.

You will enjoy delicious hors d’oeuvres from the well-known restaurant “Vivilore” as you imbibe cocktails and soft drinks served by gentlemen bartenders while wandering the grounds, sitting poolside, or dangling your toes in the lake or creek.

As a Garden Party Patron, you will arrive early at 3:00 p.m. for a private tour of Thundering Oaks, a glass of bubbly and a lapel flower as our thanks.

As a Garden Party Guest, you will arrive at 4:30 p.m. for the main event when you take in all that Thundering Oaks has to offer.

As an added value to your experience, take advantage of our Designated Driver! HMC has arranged for a chartered motor coach to transport you from the Kauffman Gardens just east of the Country Club Plaza to Thundering Oaks. Departures are at 2:30 p.m. for Patrons, and 4:00 p.m. for Patrons and Guests. Return trips will be at 6:45 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. The cost of the trip is included in Patron tickets, while guests will pay $25 per person for the round trip.

Tickets are selling fast, we already have 40 Patron couples attending, and that’s before the invitation has landed in everyone’s mailbox. You may purchase your tickets online at www.hmckc.org/garden-party or call Rick or Cliff at the Chorus office at 816-931-3338.  Ticket prices are $300 per Patron couple, or $75 per guest.

See you and your friends at Garden Party!Home

HMC Presents “Show Tune Showdown”

Perfect for the Broadway Show Junkie in All of Us!

A Broadway Mash Up of Game Show, Sing-A-Long and Show Tune Trivia, Show Tune Showdown will truly be THE HMC concert that you must see this season!

Over 100 years of Broadway’s biggest hits presented by Heartland Men’s Chorus . . . the two go together like Rogers and Hammerstein! Who better to perform pieces of more than 90 musical classics than Kansas City’s gay men’s chorus!

Under the baton of Artistic Director Dustin S. Cates, bright lights and jazz hands are just the start of the concert as we present the continuum of Broadway musicals from 1900 to today.

Starting off with tunes from “A Chorus Line,” “George M,” “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” and others just to get you in the mood, Show Tune Showdown leads us through the decades of Broadway favorites starting with the music of Tin Pan Alley. If you can “Button Up Your Overcoat,” you’ll sing “Hallelujah” to be able to “Rock-A-Bye Your Baby With a Dixie Melody!”

We’ll visit the creations of Rogers and Hammerstein and their contemporaries from musicals like “Carousel,” “Oklahoma,” “Annie Get Your Gun,” “South Pacific,” and “The Sound of Music.” Next we’ll stopover in the Golden Years of Hollywood with tunes from musicals like “Gypsy,” “Guys and Dolls,” “Peter Pan,” “Hello Dolly,” “Bye Bye Birdie,” and so many others.

The history of Broadway wouldn’t be complete without the music of Sondheim, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Stephen Schwartz, and Kansas City native John Kander, to name just a few. And just when you think we can’t come up with another tune to sing, we’ll ramp up the “Showdown,” our game show portion of the evening where audience members get to show off their own musical theater chops.

During the “Showdown,” Game Show Host, Brian Ellison, will challenge participating audience members on their knowledge of musical theater trivia and history. Contestants will play iconic TV show games with lifeline assistance from the Chorus during musical interludes. Wild wacky fun will ensue as each contestant vies for the “Showdown Championship!” Brian Ellison is a host/contributor at KCUR 89.3, where he hosts the political podcast Statehouse Blend Missouri, and is substitute host for the station’s talk shows and newscasts. He is also executive director of the Covenant Network of Presbyterians, a national organization doing education and advocacy on LGBTQ issues in church and society. Brian previously narrated the Heartland Men’s Chorus’ Modern Families concert in 2015 and added, “With this concert, I am literally fulfilling my lifelong ambition of being a game show host!”

Artistic Director Cates summed it up best, “The curtain will be rising on Show Tune Showdown in June to a mash-up of Broadway, sing-along and game show as we invite our loyal audience members to the stage. Our concerts have something for everyone and will always leave you with a message or a song in your heart. This time they can leave with prizes, too, as they compete with their knowledge of musical theater trivia. It will be a concert for all ages . . . anyone who loves Broadway musicals will love this concert!”

Show Tune Showdown will be performed at 8 p.m. Saturday, June 10th and 4 p.m. Sunday, June 11th at the historic Folly Theater, 300 W. 12th Street in downtown Kansas City, Missouri.

Tickets to both performances are available online at http://hmckc.org/tickets/ or by calling 816-931-3338. Prices range from $18 to $43 with special student pricing at $7. Come as you are, dress is casual, and visit hmckc.org today!

“Identify” Program Notes

The Program

ACT 1

Brothers, Sing On! (Edvard Grieg)

Tyler’s Suite
1. Meditation (John Corigliano)
2. I Have Songs You Haven’t Heard (Nolan Gasser) TYLER: DONALD CROWL
3. A Wish (Lance Horne)
4. The Unicycle Song (Craig Carnelia) TYLER: DANIEL ALFORD
5. Just A Boy (John Bucchino) TYLER’S FATHER: MICHAEL L. DE VOE
6. Brother, Because of You (Stephen Schwartz) TYLER’S BROTHERS: BOB KOHLER & BRANDON SHELTON
7. The Tyler Show (Stephen Flaherty)
8. I Love You More (Ann Hampton Callaway/arr. Tim Sarsany) TYLER’S MOTHER: NANCY NAIL
9. The Narrow Bridge (Jake Heggie) SOLO: MICHAEL SCHNETZER

Light (arr. Charles Beale) SOLOS: BENJAMIN L. DUBOIS, KEITH WIEDENKELLER, BRIAN SIXBURY, R. ELISE POINTER

INTERMISSION
ACT 2

TWIN CITIES GAY MEN’S CHORUS
Kin (Timothy C. Takach)

Shine (Timothy Snyder) FEATURING: TCGMC CHAMBER SINGERS

Our America (Ben Allaway)

HEARTLAND MEN’S CHORUS
The Music of Living (Dan Forrest)

You Have More Friends Than You Know (Warren & Marx) FEATURING: HMC CHAMBER ENSEMBLE

Cornerstone (Shawn Kirchner) SOLOS: ADAM BROWN & TODD GREGORY-GIBBS

COMBINED CHORUSES
I Love You/What a Wonderful World (arr. Craig Hella Johnson) SOLO: STEVE THERRIEN

Give ‘Em Hope (Joseph Martin) SOLO: DAVID WOOD

From the Artistic Director – on the creation of “Identify” and the life of Tyler Clementi:

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, cisgender, questioning, white, black, Hispanic, evangelical, Muslim, liberal, conservative … the terms that we use to identify ourselves and others is ever-growing. If you are anything like me, you may have to turn to Google to define each letter in: LGBTQIA. Despite the challenges with remembering terminology, the significance and weight of these words are undeniable. They are used to unite a community and divide a country.

Our ability to embrace our true identity has lasting impacts. Tyler Clementi understood the importance of embracing one’s unique individual qualities. A music lover, Tyler began playing the violin in the third grade. He also loved riding his bike and eventually learned how to ride a unicycle. In a full demonstration of two of his unique talents, Tyler taught himself to ride the unicycle while playing the violin.

The summer after his high school graduation, Tyler began the process of coming out to his family and friends. In August 2010, Tyler began attending Rutgers University. He was excited to play the violin in the university’s top orchestra and to begin his college experience living as an openly gay man.
Just a few short weeks after starting school, Tyler was the victim of a horrible act of cyber-bullying. One night when Tyler had a date, he asked his dorm roommate for some privacy. His roommate agreed, but before leaving the dorm he secretly turned on his webcam and pointed it toward Tyler’s bed. The camera captured Tyler and his date in an intimate act, which the roommate wrote about on social media. Through his roommate’s Twitter feed, Tyler discovered that he had become the object of ridicule and harassment across campus. Days later, Tyler ended his life by jumping off New York City’s George Washington Bridge. He was 18 years old.

Tyler’s tragic story is a rallying cry. All of us, regardless of how we identify, deserve the opportunity to live authentic lives free from bullying, ridicule and fear. We must reject rhetoric that uses our differences to divide us. We must love.
“Though the bridge may seem narrow, if we walk it together, it is plenty wide.”
Dustin Cates

About “Tyler’s Suite”

Tyler’s Suite, conceived by famed Broadway composer Stephen Schwartz (Wicked, Godspell, Pippin) is a nine movement choral masterpiece dedicated to the memory of Tyler Clementi, a talented young musician who committed suicide after being cyber-bullied by his college roommate.

After hearing about the tragedy, Schwartz gathered a team of renowned composers to raise awareness about bullying. Tyler’s Suite is based upon hundreds of hours of interviews with the Clementi family, and explores the lives and experiences of Tyler and his family, shining a light of hope on such a devastating tragedy.

“The story of Tyler Clementi, who clearly had so much to offer the world, reminds us that every life lost because of bullying and bigotry is a specific individual tragedy,” said Schwartz. This is why I, and this group of gifted collaborators who have joined me, feel privileged to bring our time, energy and talents to the creation of Tyler’s Suite.” Each of the nine songs takes on the perspective of a different family member in Tyler’s life.

Composed in 2014, Tyler’s Suite makes its Great Plains premiere here on the stage of the Folly Theater. It is the music of nine of today’s top composers including Mark Adamo, Ann Hampton Callaway, Craig Carnelia, John Corigliano, Stephen Flaherty, Nolan Gasser, Jake Heggie, Lance Horne, and Stephen Schwartz. “This collection of songs shines a light of hope for a safer, kinder world in line with the mission of the Tyler Clementi Foundation,” according to the foundation website.

Jane Clementi, Tyler’s mother, will be on hand to further the work of the foundation that was founded to prevent bullying through inclusion, assertion of dignity and acceptance. “Curious and adventurous, creative, smart, articulate, cheerful, a wonderful easy going personality, Tyler always had a smile on his face … it’s how he hid himself from the world … behind a smile,” says Mrs. Clementi. “Tyler was a peacekeeper, private, didn’t seek attention … he was comfortable blending in, but he loved to perform, his true passion was music. He was a gifted violinist.”

This powerful collection of songs with lyrics by Pamela Stewart, moves audiences and singers alike and ultimately shines a light of hope for a safer, kinder world in line with the mission of the Tyler Clementi Foundation, which works to end all forms of online and offline bullying in schools, workplaces, and faith communities.
Lisa Hickok