Are We There Yet? Men’s Choir Takes on New Challenges in a Rapidly Changing World

Paul Horsley | The Independent

HMC_Media20There’s a zephyr wind blowing through gay men’s choirs in America, and Heartland Men’s Chorus appears to have found just the right man to take it into this new era of acceptance and tolerance. On June 13th and 14th, Dustin Cates concludes his brilliant first season as the choir’s artistic director with “A Little Bit Wicked: The Music of Stephen Schwartz,” and the 35-year-old Kansas City native is fully aware of how much things have changed since the choir was founded just a few years after he was born. But he says that, even as the choir is becoming more inclusive and is likely to continue this trend, its goal remains the same: “The mission of Heartland Men’s Chorus is to sing, and to change people,” says the former choir director at Olathe East High School, who attended Ruskin High and has degrees from UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance and Baker University in Baldwin. “To help them heal, and to inspire them.” Granted, “as ‘gay’ becomes more ‘okay,’ as it is more widely accepted, we’re going to have things to say about a wider variety of issues. Because Heartland Men’s Chorus stands for equality for all people, not just for gay folks.”

LGBT choruses everywhere are asking big questions about how to stay relevant in the face of increasing tolerance. “How do we … continue to address the issues that we do in a social climate that has changed so drastically, even in the past five years?” Dustin asked. When does being called the ‘gay men’s chorus’ become exclusive instead of inclusive? “Heartland Men’s Chorus has done a good job at this,” Dustin said. “We have straight men who sing in the chorus. And I regularly have guys asking, Do I have to be gay to sing in that? And I always say no, we welcome anybody.”

The war is not won, though, and Dustin believes emphatically that HMC still has a huge role to play in helping gay people to heal and grow. “We don’t need to go any farther than 30 miles south or north of Kansas City to find ourselves in communities where kids in high school … would never even consider being who they are, because of the pushback they’d get from their community and their families. So there are still people and things to sing for.”

Still, there’s no question HMC will start addressing broader issues. “When does the Heartland Men’s Chorus have something to say about racial equality, and when does it have something to say about socioeconomic disparity?” The choir’s recent concert “Modern Families,” for example, already took on questions of what it means to be a family in America today.

It’s something Dustin knows a bit about: Three and a half years ago he and his spouse, Dr. Raymond Cattaneo, adopted Emmaus, and they’ve seen how their very presence at the relatively conservative Church of the Resurrection seems to be changing hearts. “When they see Raymond and I and our little boy, we’re no longer the ‘gay agenda’ ” Dustin said. “We’re a family, who doesn’t look much different from theirs. And that’s how you change minds. … Because before that it’s fear of the unknown. ‘They’re able to marry. That’s going to desecrate the institution of marriage.’ We know that’s not true. … And I’ve seen it first-hand, people who, having had the opportunity to get to know us … have had their minds changed.” And the Heartland Men’s Chorus, which continues to expand its vision to include tours of colleges and smaller communities throughout Kansas, has the same kind of opportunity. “We love to sing at the Folly for this loving audience who supports what we do,” Dustin said. “But we also love taking our voices to places where they might not be as welcome.”

We are family

Lee Hartman |

Modern FamiliesAuthor Richard Bach once stated, “The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other’s life.” It is these beyond extrafamilial bonds that the Heartland Men’s Chorus along with special guest ensemble the Lawrence Children’s Choir explored to packed Folly Theater on Saturday evening’s “Modern Families.”

The acclaimed Lawrence Children’s Choir demonstrated why it continues to win national awards with a lovely opening set of J.S. Bach’s Bist du bei mir, Brian Tate’s Gate, Gate, Jim Papoulis’ Imbakwa, and Wallace Hornady’s Come and Sing! The young performers were remarkably poised with a well balanced sound and command of rhythm which was most noticeable in alternating 3/4, 6/8 Gate, Gate.

The men of HMC joined for the world premiere of Jake Narverud’s The Weaver. Naverud’s tonal language fit Bryan Welch’s text appealingly. Before the main thrust of the program, HMC’s performance of Andrea Ramsey’s Luminescence was the most noteworthy as it is arguably one of the more musically demanding pieces the chorus has programmed. The chorus afforded itself well especially on the coordinated sibilance of all the ess sounds. Unfortunately not all of the harmonies locked into place so some of the chord structures were unstable.

The second half consisted of the musical documentary “Modern Families.” Narrated beautifully by Gillian Power and Brian Ellison, the work interwove projections and family stories of chorus and community members, dance, pantomimed vignettes, and music; there was even an onstage proposal during one of the breaks. Tears of joy, sadness, and memories abounded. If there was one criticism it was that the stories were far more compelling than the overly repetitive musical selections. There were some fine musical standouts though. High tenor Todd Gregory-Downs soloed beautifully on Craig Hella Johnson’s arrangement of “A Thousand Beautiful Things.” René Clausen’s Set Me As a Seal was the most serious musical work of the piece, and the chorus rose to the occasion by sounding the best it has in years. “Way Ahead of My Time” was a laugh riot, anchored by the sure-footed dancing and impressive pipes of John Edmonds and Steve Jeffrey Karlin. How can you not love tap-dancing cavemen who question their sexuality?! Ending with Macklemore’s “Same Love” was a let-down programmatically as the chorus was relegated to simple vamps. Instead, the chorus should have opted for Mary Lambert’s more inclusive, less baggage-ridden “She Keeps Me Warm” and just altered the pronoun.

As artistic director, Dustin Cates has greatly improved the sound and overall musicianship of HMC. It was great to hear a variety of dynamics, better blend, and more complicated harmonies that had not been as fine tuned in past programs.

BWW Preview: Heartland Men’s Chorus Presents MODERN FAMILIES

Steve Wilson |

Diversity in the American family is the theme of Modern Families presented by the Heartland Men’s Chorus at the Folly Theater on March 28 and 29. The chorus continues with its series of musical documentaries that use music, narration, and multi-media elements to illustrate social issues.

“I wanted to celebrate the love and dignity that all families deserve,” said Dustin S. Cates, Artistic Director for the chorus. “There is no such thing as a ‘typical’ family. It seems every person defines the word family in slightly different way.” Heartland Men’s Chorus, Kansas City’s gay men’s chorus, will present songs and stories specific to LGBT families but Cates expects the concert to appeal to all types of families.

Music from the production is diverse, including classical works, contemporary pop songs, and rap. The program opens with the Lawrence Children’s Choir performing a set of four songs. The men’s chorus joins them in “The Weaver,” a new commission by local composer Jacob Narverud. The first act includes “Luminescence,” an original song by Dr. Andrea Ramsey, which commemorates the birth of Cates son, Emmaus.

The musical documentary comprises the concert‘s second act, and includes “Not My Father’s Son” from the Broadway musical Kinky Boots, Annie Lennox‘s “A Thousand Beautiful Things,” and Rene Clausen’s “Set Me as a Seal.” “Marry Us” and “In My Mother’s Eyes” two popular songs by Robert Seeley will be featured. “Same Love” by Ryan Lewis and Macklemore marks the first time the men’s chorus performs a contemporary rap number and features local rap artist EvoKlone Alex.

Nancy Bean, a Kansas City adoption social worker and member of MAFA, will facilitate a pre-show discussion on the topic of family building in the LGBT community beginning 20 minutes prior to each performance. To further illustrate the diversity in contemporary families, audience members are invited to submit photos of their “modern families” via the chorus’s website, to be shared on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram with the hashtag #OurModernFamilies.

Modern Families runs at the Folly Theater at 8 p.m. on Saturday March 28 and 4 p.m. on Sunday March 29. Purchase tickets by calling 816-931-3338 or online at the Heartland Men’s Chorus website. Photo courtesy of the Heartland Men’s Chorus.

HMC’s hometown holiday

Kristin Shafel Omiccioli |

Kansas City ChristmasThe Heartland Men’s Chorus was bursting with hometown pride and holiday spirit in its latest show, “Kansas City Christmas,” presented at the Folly Theater last weekend.

In addition to featuring a hearty number of Kansas City artists and composers’ arrangements, the Heartland Men’s Chorus’s annual holiday extravaganza celebrated tradition and other cultures. Rich versions of classic Christmas gems “Gloria,” “Lo, How a Rose e’re Blooming,” and “I Saw Three Ships” set the tone with their expanding harmonies and wistfulness, as well as a dramatic version of “The Little Drummer Boy” which featured a tight five-person drumline. In addition to the Latin “Gloria,” the spirited African Kituba-dialect song “Noel” opened the show, with “Bashana Haba’ah” (“Next Year”) sung in Hebrew, which accompanied a touching on-stage scene of two fathers with their cute young daughters lighting a menorah. The men handled the non-English lyrics with excellent expression and diction, enunciating each phrase and syllable clearly in each piece.

Before intermission, the men sang local composer Jacob Narverud’s arrangement of three sections from Handel’s Messiah, a challenging feat with an appearance by sublime local soprano Sarah Tannehill Anderson. The chorus admirably rose to the challenge of this arrangement, tackling the fugal and melismatic nature of “For Unto Us a Child is Born” especially well.

An HMC concert would not be complete without a good dose of levity, and this first concert of its 29th season was no exception. “Pirate Song,” lead by soloist Michael L. De Voe, had the choir playing for laughs with the tune’s tongue-in-cheek lyrics (“For romance, find a pirate”), and guest drag queen stars were riotous as the “Christmas Tree Angel” (Genewa Stanwyck) and Elsa for a medley from Frozen (De De DeVille). “Christmas in the Cloister” opened the second half: an impish take on lengthy church announcements in plainsong, with a delightfully hammy performance as Cantor by Mark A. Lechner. Tannehill Anderson even joined the merriment with her jazzy, exaggerated solo on “Variations on Jingle Bells,” arranged by local composer Mark Hayes.

HMC also included a few token heart-tugging numbers, including its “Ad Astra” selection for this concert, a wordless, mostly instrumental “Stille Nacht.” You couldn’t help also thinking of your own loved ones passed away during this one, with the stage dimmed a deep blue hue and countless sparkling stars projected throughout the hall. “Thanksgiving Song” featured some spoken word in the form of inspiring social-media posts on myriad topics, from being cancer free to a successful adoption to celebrating equal marriage, and soloist Jason Taylor gave an R&B-tinged performance of “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” HMC welcomed local indie-pop recording artist Dustin Rapier to sing the lead part for Brad Millison’s “Christmas in Kansas City,” complete with mentions of the Plaza lights and our beloved fountains, arranged by HMC’s new artistic director, Dustin Cates.

As expected from HMC, production value for “Kansas City Christmas” was high-quality and created a warm, inviting scene and festive mood through lighting, props, color schemes, costumes, confetti, and more. Choreography by Jerry Jay Cranford was lively and always enhanced the songs, especially on the animated “Chanukah in Santa Monica.” This show had more assisting musicians than usual, with a flutist, string quartet, guitar-bass-drum trio, and HMC’s own piano accompanist Lamar Sims. While the accompaniment in general was strong and laid a good foundation for the chorus, the string quartet struggled with intonation and confidence on the Messiah.

Dustin Cates is a welcome addition to the HMC family. He is personable and charming on stage (if a bit stiff this first concert), clearly challenges the singers, and has a vision for continuing and expanding the organization’s messaging and musical programming. One thing is certain—you can always count on HMC to present its own special twist on the usual holiday fare, honoring traditions and in a fresh, fun way this time of year.


Steve Wilson |

Kansas City ChristmasThe outstanding musical production of Kansas City Christmas opened the 29th season of the Heartland Men’s Chorus on Friday December 5 at the Folly Theater. The newly appointed Artistic Director Dustin S. Cates led the chorus of about 120 men through an array of humorous and sincere holiday songs to kick off the festive season. Cates served as a Guest Conductor for the Chorus’s production of I Am Harvey Milk.

Robert Lamar Sims accompanied the chorus on piano with the support of a small band. Jerry Jay Cranford designed the choreography, which included a hilarious segment in which Genewa Stanwyck as the Christmas Tree Angel attempts to return to the top of the tree as the chorus sings “Christmas Tree Angel.”

Kansas City Christmas opened with Brian Larios, Shawn Revelle, David Wood, and Samuel W. Zorn performing solos as the chorus sang “Noel.” The show continued with “Gloria,” “There is Faint Music,” and Songs of the Season that included an uplifting and amusing interpretation of “Pirate Song.”

Cole Hoover, Evan Morrow, Grant Sharples, Justin Underwood, and Jack Weber formed a drum line to accompany the chorus in the presentation of “The Little Drummer Boy.” The song originally known as “Carol of the Drum” written by Katherine Kennicott Davis made its debut in 1941 and was recorded by the Trapp Family Singers in 1955. Ray Conniff Singers, Bing Crosby, Johnny Cash, The Harry Simeone Choral, Stevie Wonder, and a host of others have performed or recorded the holiday classic. Of all the performances, I have had the privilege to see; none has been as grand and moving as the one performed by the talented Heartland Men’s Chorus. This song alone would be worth the price of a ticket.

Soprano Sarah Tannehill Anderson joins the chorus in Act 1 for The Messiah: Three Christmas Chorus Settings for Men’s Voices and Soprano Soloist. In Act II, she returned to the stage to perform “Variations on Jingle Bells” with the chorus. Self-produced indie pop recording artist Dustin Rapier delighted the audience with “Christmas in Kansas City”. De De DeVille, the infamous Kansas City drag diva, performed a solo from the popular Walt Disney Animation Studios film Frozen, accompanied by John Edmonds, Bob Kohler, and Brandon Sheldon as the snowman.

Ad Astra is Latin, meaning “to the stars” and symbolizes the feelings for the members of the Heartland Men’s Chorus who have passed Ad Astra. The chorus paid tribute to their missing comrades with a rendition of Stille Nacht that is sure to bring tears to the eyes.

Kansas City Christmas continues at the Folly Theatre through Sunday December 7. Photo and video courtesy of the Heartland Men’s Chorus.

Heartland Men’s Chorus celebrates ‘Kansas City Christmas’

Derek Cowsert | Kansas City Star

gay mens chorus 8It’s not every night you’ll see a 3-year-old in a tux.

But, then, it’s not every night when that same 3-year-old, Emmaus Cates-Cattaneo, takes the Folly Theater stage as conductor of the Heartland Men’s Chorus holiday concert, as he will Saturday.

Nor, come to think about it, does one often get the opportunity to hear Mayor Sly James belt out a solo “I’ll be Home For Christmas.” That will come Sunday.

But back to the kid. Emmaus is the son of new artistic director Dustin Cates, who will be doing all the other conducting for the three performances this weekend.

Nepotism, one might contend, but it’s not, really, since Cates didn’t have anything to do with it. It was Raymond Cattaneo, Cates’ husband, who purchased the guest conductor prize at Dinner of Note, the chorus’s fundraising gala.

“I kept saying to Ray, ‘Why are you bidding on that? They pay me to conduct.’ He surprised me by giving it to our son, so we got him a little tuxedo with tails,” Cates explained, beaming.

These guest appearances promise to be two highlights of “A Kansas City Christmas,” put on by one of America’s largest gay men’s choruses.

Native son Cates wants the first show of his inaugural season to be a celebration.

“Pride in our community is at an all-time high. I wanted my first concert as artistic director to reflect the spirit, flavor and music of my hometown,” Cates said.

The holiday concert offers a mix of traditional Christmas carols and sacred music with humor sprinkled throughout.

“Kansas City Christmas” places local artists front and center. Many of the featured composers have Kansas City ties, including Lyndell Leatherman and Jacob Narverud, who both will premiere new commissions.

Guest singers include rising indie pop star Dustin Rapier and soprano Sarah Tannehill Anderson, whom Kansas City arts supporters will recognize from her work with the Lyric Arts Trio, the Kansas City Chorale, the Kansas City Symphony and the Bach Aria Soloists.

The Park Hill South High School Drumline also will take the stage for a rendition of “Little Drummer Boy.”

As the fourth artistic director in the 29-year history of the chorus, Cates brings a local pedigree: bachelor’s degree in music education from the UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance; master’s in school leadership from Baker University; then 11 years as chorus director at Raytown South, then Shawnee Mission South, and finally Olathe East High School.

In 2013, Cates was invited as guest conductor for a Heartland Men’s performance of “I Am Harvey Milk.” During those rehearsals, he decided to apply for the open full-time position, though it seemed a long shot.

“I thought, I’m a high school choral director. I don’t have the kind of experience with gay choruses some of the other candidates have,” he said.

The search committee saw things differently.

“There are some real similarities to teaching a class full of high school students to directing a chorus of 150 gay men,” Cates joked.

This concert is the culmination of hours of practice for the singing members of the chorus, as well as tons of work for the 40 non-singing members, the Heartlights.

“Our slogan is if you can’t carry a tune, perhaps you can carry a bucket. We do all the behind-the-scenes work, from the stage to the office,” said Rusty Moore, president of Heartland Men’s Chorus and leader of the Heartlights.

“Heartland Men’s Chorus is a very well-run organization. All the other choral organizations across the country look to us for guidance,” explained Moore. “This is kind of a refuge for a lot of people. We cater to a lot of different needs.”

The members rehearse at the Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral downtown. This is a time for not only singing, but socializing. At a recent practice, there was even a doctor administering flu shots.

“It is wonderful, having men that you can be comfortable with in your own skin. You don’t have to pretend or even hide who you are. It’s one pressure you don’t have to worry about,” said second-year bass Mario Alcantara, a physical therapist from St. Joseph who commutes every Tuesday for rehearsal.

Tenor Jimmy Blanch, worship leader at Broadway Church in Westport in his seventh year with the chorus, added, “The chorus to me is like a family.”

Founded in 1986, Heartland Men’s Chorus is a not-for-profit chorus of gay and gay-sensitive singers. The chorus performs jazz, Broadway, popular and classical music and often utilizes a documentary format of music, narration and multimedia to illustrate issues of social justice. In addition to concerts at the Folly, the chorus puts on dozens of community outreach performances annually.

The Friday and Saturday shows of “Kansas City Christmas” begin at 8 p.m. The Sunday show starts at 4 p.m. To purchase tickets, go to or call 816-931-3338.

Heartland Men’s Chorus welcomes new artistic director

Ciara Ried | Liberty PressCOVER_LibertyPress-shadow_Dec14n

The Heartland Men’s Chorus (HMC) has announced Dustin Cates as its new artistic director. A life-long Kansas Citian, Cates says he has always enjoyed attending HMC performances and appreciates their impact on the community.

A search committee that included chorus members, past board chairs, community arts leaders, donors and chorus staff conducted an extensive nationwide search to fill the position. Cates is thrilled to become the next artistic director of HMC. “If you would have asked me a year ago if I would be doing anything but teaching high school choral music I would have told you that you were nuts,” he says. “Second only to my husband and our little boy, teaching high school choir was my life’s greatest joy. The opportunity I had to impact the lives of the students that sat in my classroom every day was a reward like none other.”

An opportunity presented itself last spring; Cates was given the chance to work with HMC as a guest conductor for last spring’s concert, I am Harvey Milk. Through this experience, he was able to get to know the men in the chorus. “They shared with me their stories, I saw the support and genuine care they had for one another and most importantly I saw the powerful impact they had on our city,” he says. “I quickly came to realize that, while I was stepping out of a role where I felt as though I was making a difference, my leadership role as the artistic director of Heartland Men’s Chorus allows me to continue to work to make our city and our world a better place in some pretty amazing ways!”

In addition to his guest conductor role, Cates says his previous experience prepared him well for this artistic director position. He attended college at the University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory of Music and Dance. He taught high school choral music for 11 years, and served on the music ministry staff at the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection, and performed with theater companies throughout Kansas City.

“I work to be the kind of person who sees every experience as preparation for what comes next,” he says. “Each of these experiences has shaped who I am and the kind of artistic director I strive to be for Heartland Men’s Chorus.”

Cates joins HMC as the organization prepares to begin its 29th season. The first show of the new season will be Kansas City Christmas, HMC’s official annual kick-off to the holidays. “The concert features seasonal classics that we know and love, fun holiday songs and some outrageously hilarious and campy numbers as only HMC can do,” Cates says.

Given the amount of buzz Kansas City has experienced recently (how about those Royals?), Cates says the holiday show will cast the spotlight on local pride. “Especially with the recent national spotlight on our city I think there is a sense of civic pride that I’ve not encountered in a lifetime of living here,” he says. “With Kansas City Christmas, we will celebrate that civic pride, some of Kansas City’s finest composers, performers and of course, Kansas City’s own, Heartland Men’s Chorus.”

The second show under Cates’ direction will be an original musical documentary that celebrates and tells the story of the changing face of the American family. The final show of the year will celebrate the music of famed contemporary musical theatre composer Stephen Schwartz, whose works include music from Wicked, Godspell, Pippin, and Prince of Egypt.

Cates says the concert will also include the Midwest premiere of Testimony, a work written by Stephen Schwartz utilizing material from Dan Savage’s It Gets Better Project.

KANSAS CITY CHRISTMAS Opens the 29th Season of the Heartland Men’s Chorus

Steve Wilson |

Kansas City ChristmasThe Heartland Men’s Chorus celebrates all things Kansas City December 5-7 with their holiday concert Kansas City Christmas. The first concert of their 29th season takes the stage at the Folly Theater under the direction of the Heartlands new artistic director Dustin S. Cates.

The program contains a mix of traditional carols, sacred music, and the outrageous humor of the chorus. The Saturday evening performance will feature a “sly” surprise, with special guest Kansas City Mayor Sly James. Mayor James, a longtime supporter of the arts in Kansas City, will perform a solo in “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.”

“Pride in our city and our community is at an all-time high,” says Cates. “It seems like every week Kansas City is included on a ‘Top Ten List’ of the best places to live, to work, or to visit. And the performance of the Kansas City Royals in the World Series has renewed pride in our city like I’ve never experienced before. I wanted my first concert as artistic director to reflect the spirit, flavor, and music of my hometown.”

The holiday concert, Kansas City Christmas, features music written and arranged by local composers. The chorus will perform “Gloria,” written by Eugene Butler, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and “Variations on Jingle Bells” arranged by Mark Hayes, and arrangements of “Bashana Haba ‘ah” and “Lo, How a Rose E’re Blooming” by John Leavitt. “I Saw Three Ships” by Lyndell Leatherman and “Three Messiah Settings for Men’s Chorus” by Jacob Narverud will be debuted in the productions.

Other performers include Dustin Rapier, Soprano Sarah Tannehill Anderson, and the Park Hill South High School Drumline will perform a choreographed interlude to “The Little Drummer Boy.” From the world of drag, DeDe Deville joins the chorus in a tribute to the ubiquitous Disney film “Frozen” and Genewa Stanwyck appears as “Angie, The Christmas Tree Angel.”

The Heartland Men’s Chorus is Kansas City’s gay men’s chorus, regularly performing with more than 120 singers. Evening performances on Friday and Saturday begin at 8 p.m. and the Sunday performance at 4 p.m. Purchase tickets by calling 816-931-3338 or online at the Heartland Men’s Chorus website. Photo courtesy of the Heartland Men’s Chorus.

Heartland Men’s Chorus Offers Up Kansas City Traditions

Kellie Houx | KC Studio

KC StudioThe Heartland Men’s Chorus has a new artistic director and he plans on capturing all the positivity he can when it comes to hometown pride during his first outing as director. The season opener is called Kansas City Christmas. New Artistic Director Dustin Cates is getting about 150 members ready to presents “more sparkle than the Plaza lights.” The concert includes new arrangements of holiday favorites by five local composers, including an arrangement of some of Handel’s Messiah choruses set for men’s voices. There will also be special guests from the worlds of local politics, drag, pop and classical music. The season opener is 8 p.m. Dec 5, 8 pm. Dec. 6 and 4 p.m. Dec. 7.

Cates is not unfamiliar with the Heartland Men’s Chorus. He was the guest director for I Am Harvey Milk, an oratorio by Broadway composer Andrew Lippa celebrating the life and legacy of the civil rights hero. “I love the concept of social justice that is part of this group’s DNA. HMC really strives to make the world a better world. The better world can include enjoying the holiday season.”

Cates is native to Kansas City. He holds a Bachelor of Music Education from the University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory of Music and Dance, and a Master of Science in School Leadership from Baker University. He is a member of the National Association for Music Education and American Choral Directors Association. He serves on the Alumni Board for the UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance and the UMKC Chancellors LGBTQIA Advisory Board. Cates is the President-Elect of the Kansas Choral Directors Association, a group that awarded him the Kansas Outstanding Young Choral Director Award in 2009. He was previously a teacher at Raytown South and Shawnee Mission South, including supporting a significant theater program that staged two musicals annually. He worked for six years as Director of Choral Activities at Olathe East High School and is a member of the music ministry team at United Methodist Church of the Resurrection.

Kansas City Christmas“I also went to college with Joe Nadeau (the previous HMC artistic director) so I knew a lot of the wide variety of music and the work of the organization,” he says. “Changing from teaching to serving as artistic director hasn’t really changed my excitement. Whether it is with the kids or the community singers, I knew I wasn’t losing anything. I knew there would be incredible purpose.” With the Dinner of Note in early October, Cates started building relationships. He also ventures out on calls with prospective donors, seeking support.

As the group prepares for Christmas, Cates makes sure that the men find a positive environment. “Rehearsals are a place where everyone can feel comfortable, emotional and vulnerable. If I show these traits, we all rise in these qualities and the music gets better.”

With Christmas, the men are working on music that is a veritable potpourri of sacred music, holiday favorites and a few farcical tunes. “There really is something for everyone,” Cates says. He has brought in five composers. Jacob Narverud has a master’s degree in conducting from the UMKC Conservatory and Cates and he met through the Kansas City Chorale. His contribution to the performances are the choruses from The Messiah, arranged for men’s voices. Soprano Sarah Tannehill will perform with the group. Eugene Butler is another composer who specializes in providing choir music for high schools, churches and colleges. Lyndell Leatherman orchestrates and composes. He has combined the traditional I Saw Three Ships with a humorous piece called Pirate Song. “We are calling this area the Songs of the Sea –son,” he explains. “The first half will be more lighthearted. The second half will include Mark Hayes, one of the biggest choral composers. He may even play with the chorus. His piece is an arrangement of I’ll Be Home for Christmas. Then there is John Leavitt as well. He has several Christmas pieces in his repertoire.”

Cates promises the traditional pieces, but even a few of those will be turned on their collective heads. As an example, there is a Variations on Jingle Bells that has a Sound of Music feel. “With each number, we are featuring a Kansas City artist, composer, performer or more. Christmas in Kansas City features the pop stylings of Dustin Rapier.” A drum line, most likely from Park Hill South, will join the chorus on an arrangement of Little Drummer Boy.

Kansas City ChristmasThe campy parts will have chorus members dressed as monks for Christmas in the Cloister. This opens the second half, he says. “It’s irreverent and continues with Christmas Tree Angel with drag queen Genewa Stanwyck trying to climb onto the top of a Christmas tree.”

Like most parents of a 3-year-old, Cates and his husband have seen and listened to the music of Frozen a lot. “We have a parody with DeDe Deville channeling her best Elsa,” he says. “Then we have a little more fun with Hanukkah in Santa Monica, written by the great parody and humor composer Tom Lehrer.”

Cates vows that the chorus will continue the driving concept of TLC – tears, laughter and chills. “Any good choral programming has to include laughter, some high art, some emotion … it is about crafting a program that is robust and provides a full experience.” The concert will run about two hours.

With the shows scheduled for early December, Cates hopes to attract some choral lovers who want to help kick off their holiday season. “As a former audience member, I know that the holiday performance set the mood for the season. I want to provide fun music and a great show that becomes a tradition for others. We want to be included in all those thoughts about what is traditionally a Kansas City Christmas.”

Personally, Cates and his husband Dr. Raymond Cattaneo celebrate St. Nicholas Day, Dec. 6. Plus Cates loves Christmas trees. There are at least eight decorated throughout their home. “We have too many to mention,” he says. “This year, I am thinking about adding one where all our medals from various races are the ornaments and the bibs with our race numbers are turned into the tree skirt. As a high school choral director, I loved preparing for the big holiday concert. It’s my tradition and with the Heartland Men’s Chorus, I get to continue that tradition.”

Heartland Men’s Chorus appears in T-Mobile World Series commercial

Lisa Gutierrez | Kansas City Star

In case you missed it, the Heartland Men’s Chorus appeared on TV during the World Series broadcast Saturday night.

A T-Mobile commercial featuring dozens of people across the country singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” included an oh-so-fast glimpse of the Kansas City chorus singing the song. You can see some of the guys at the 0:29 mark below.

But that was really all too brief, wasn’t it? Hardly enough time to enjoy one of our favorite choruses in town.

Check out the full song below.