Men’s choruses perform tribute to Harvey Milk

Aaron Pellish | Columbia Missourian

COLUMBIA — The Heartland Men’s Chorus of Kansas City and the Gateway Men’s Chorus of St. Louis performed a rehearsal Saturday night of “I Am Harvey Milk,” a collection of songs about gay rights icon Harvey Milk.

The choruses put on a free preview performance at Columbia’s Missouri United Methodist Church as a warm-up for performances in Kansas City and St. Louis later this month.

The performance was composed by award-winning composer Andrew Lippa and conducted by Tim Seelig, artistic director and conductor of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus. The Heartland Men’s Chorus was one of six gay men’s choruses to commission the musical.

Seelig said he wanted to perform at the Missouri United Methodist Church because of its acceptance of Columbia’s homosexual community. Seelig said the musical is different from other biographical works of art focused on Milk, such as the 2008 film “Milk” and the 1982 biography “The Mayor of Castro Street,” because it is designed to make audiences empathize with Milk as a regular man.

The choruses will officially open “I Am Harvey Milk” at the Folly Theater in Kansas City on March 29.

Two Choirs Honor Harvey Milk

Denny Patterson | The Vital Voice

harvey_milkMissouri will soon receive the pleasure of hearing the collaboration of two of the state’s prominent gay men’s choruses.

St. Louis’ Gateway Men’s Chorus and Kansas City’s Heartland Men’s Chorus will come together to present “I Am Harvey Milk,” on March 29 and 30. Heartland and Gateway have done joint concert projects previously in 1993 and 1997.

“I Am Harvey Milk” celebrates the life and legacy of LGBT icon Harvey Milk, and was written by Tony and Grammy nominated composer Andrew Lippa. This performance tells the story of Milk’s life from childhood to his assassination.

Milk was the first openly gay person to be elected to public office. He won a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and served for almost 11 months before being assassinated by fellow, and recently resigned, supervisor Dan White.

“This is a nonlinear piece that shines a light on the work, mission, and life of Harvey Milk,” GMC Artistic Director Al Fischer says. “It’s not a biography. The goal is that audiences will see glimpses and see music and be inspired and find themselves. We’re encouraging people to come out. People should take a look at their own lives and ask themselves, ‘what can I do to be Harvey Milk?’”

HMC collaborated with five other gay men’s choruses in North America to commission “I Am Harvey Milk.”  According to HMC Executive Director Rick Fisher, the songs touch on delicate themes such as activism and bullying.

“Audiences will learn about this essential chapter of LGBT history while being entertained through this beautiful and compelling musical,” Fisher says. “Harvey Milk was not particularly remarkable by most accounts. Yet he was a man who became a hero and a martyr for what he believed. Composer Andrew Lippa’s goal was that every single person who hears this will somehow resonate with the person who was Harvey Milk and look for the part of Harvey within themselves.”

Each chorus will perform individual sets then come together as a full chorus. Repertoire is inspired by Milk’s famous quote, “You gotta give ‘em hope!” With 200 members singing, Fischer hopes to blow the local community away.

“I hope audiences will be blown away by the piece and talk about it for a long time,” he says. “With 200 guys on stage, it’s an exciting big sound and our orchestra is larger than usual. Hopefully we’ll be a part of the national conversation.”

Dr. Tim Seelig will conduct the Kansas City performances. He previously conducted the 2013 world premiere production in San Francisco.

In addition to the March 29 and 30 performances, there will be two additional performances: one in Columbia, Mo. on March 8, and one in St. Louis on April 5. March 8 will also be the first time both choirs will be performing together.

“Both choruses are currently getting independent processes,” GMC member Joe Gfaller says. “On March 8, we will all be meeting in Columbia for a full day rehearsal to create one sound for both choruses combined. At the end of that rehearsal, we will be performing for a live audience.”

Gfaller has been a member of GMC since January 2012 and looks forward to the opportunity to tell an inspiring and important story.

“The title of the concert says the message of the piece,” he explains. “’I Am Harvey Milk’ means more than this is the story of one man. It’s meant to say that each of us in a way reflect that legacy and carry the responsibility and the opportunity to continue the work that he did–to make our community more of a diverse place of all backgrounds that are valued, appreciated, safe and welcomed.

Not only are the singers receiving a certain perspective on the concert itself, but also on the music scene in their respective cities.

HMC member Michael Stortz was a member of GMC for 25 years until he was offered a job promotion in Kansas City in January of last year. He moved in February and was able to join Heartland during their open rehearsal period for the summer concert.

“I joined GMC right after moving to St. Louis from Indianapolis in February of 1992,” he recalls. “I found that the GMC provided me an instant community of friends in a new city. I perceive the music scene in each city to be quite similar, although I have not yet had the opportunity to explore Kansas City in depth. I am excited to be able to share the stage with friends, both longtime and new.”

A similar, but likewise situation happened to Todd Neff. He was involved with HMC on and off from 1992-2012 and joined GMC after his job transferred him from Kansas City to St. Louis in November 2012. He sang in almost 40 concerts with HMC.

“An obvious difference is size,” he says. “Heartland regularly sings with over 150 men on stage while Gateway is 50-80. They are about the same in age, but different in character.

“The current GMC board has the same fire and passion that I saw in Kansas City and is determined to take the group to the next level,” he continues. “I think they can learn from the successes and challenges Heartland has faced over the years. Both groups have an outrageous amount of talent and desire to put out a great product.”

Unfortunately due to work and time commitment, Neff will not be involved with the “I Am Harvey Milk” performances. He says he is currently on sabbatical.

The Kansas City performances will be held at the Folly Theatre at 8 p.m. on March 29 and 4 p.m. on March 30. Tickets are $15-40 and can be purchased online at hmckc.org or by phone at (816) 931-3338.

The performance in St. Louis on April 5 will be at WashingtonUniversity’s 560 Music Center at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25 and can be purchased online at gmcstl.org. The March 8 Columbia, Mo. performance will be at MissouriUnitedMethodistChurch at 7 p.m. This performance is free and open for the public.

Men’s choruses use song to declare ‘I Am Harvey Milk’

Any Wilder | Columbia Daily Tribune

Heartland Men's Chorus

The Heartland Men’s Chorus of Kansas City will team with the Gateway Men’s Chorus of St. Louis to present selections from Andrew Lippa’s “I Am Harvey Milk” on Saturday at Missouri United Methodist Church.

Men’s choruses from Kansas City and St. Louis will combine forces Saturday to present a free concert with musical selections from “I Am Harvey Milk” by Grammy-nominated composer Andrew Lippa. Tim Seelig, artistic director and conductor of the Golden Gate Performing Arts and San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus — who conducted the world premiere of Lippa’s production in San Francisco — will conduct.

The Heartland Men’s Chorus of Kansas City and the Gateway Men’s Chorus of St. Louis will converge on Columbia for a daylong rehearsal Saturday, followed by that evening’s performance.

“I saw that as an opportunity for us to” perform “in the Columbia community,” said Heartland Men’s Chorus Executive Director Rick Fisher. “We were there several years ago and had a really great experience doing an outreach performance, … and it’s time for us to return.” The concert is a preview performance, presented by the University of Missouri LGBTQ Resource Center; in late March and early April, the two choirs will perform in Kansas City and St. Louis, respectively.

The music centers on the life of Milk, an openly gay man who made history when elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. He helped pass a gay rights ordinance for that city before being murdered in 1978 by another city supervisor, Dan White. With the recent coming out of MU football player Michael Sam, Fisher called the Columbia concert timely.

“The Columbia community — and the nation — have really been focusing on this issue,” he said. “It’s interesting … the emphasis of Harvey Milk’s life and legacy is that you have to come out and that when you come out, it’s going to make a difference in society. He was talking in a time when no one talked about being gay, when it was secret, covered up and hidden. I think we have seen, over the decades since he was alive, how that call has really manifested itself in the reality that society has become more accepting.”

Tom Lancaster, an actor who sings the part of Milk and has been a member of the Heartland Men’s Chorus since 2000, agreed, citing recent news reports about gay rights struggles around the world. It’s not necessary to have an interest in or know much about Milk to enjoy the songs, he added.

“The great thing is that it’s specific to his story, but it’s also so universal. The songs touch on themes that literally anyone can relate to, from bullying to the importance of teachers in our lives to the inspiration of music.”

Lancaster never thought of himself as particularly political before joining the chorus, but as he has witnessed the power of song to affect people and help change attitudes about social issues, it has “really tuned me into a kind of advocacy I didn’t know before,” he said. The all-volunteer chorus, composed of gay and “gay-sensitive people,” often addresses social issues through song, performs benefit concerts for various organizations and focuses on community outreach.

The experience of singing about, or hearing songs about, deeply charged issues really has the power to inspire, he continued. “I’ve seen audiences cry; I’ve seen members of the chorus onstage moved to tears. … That’s what’s kept me a member of the chorus all these years. We get letters and emails following performances almost routinely, from people who are coming out, or people who are learning to accept a son or a daughter, or people who are challenging their own belief system.”

“We combine the music and the entertainment with a sense of activism and using our voices to create social change,” Fisher said. “The thrust of the piece is not as much to tell about Harvey Milk as an historical character, but it’s about encouraging the listener to find the Harvey Milk within themselves — the person that is the hero. Harvey was an ordinary person that did extraordinary things. We all have that capacity.”

This article was published in the Sunday, March 2, 2014 edition of the Columbia Daily Tribune with the headline “Joining forces: Men’s choruses use song to declare ‘I Am Harvey Milk’.”

This article was published in the Sunday, March 2, 2014 edition of the Columbia Daily Tribune with the headline “Joining forces: Men’s choruses use song to declare ‘I Am Harvey Milk’.”

“I Am Harvey Milk” Shares Universal Message

Ciara Reid | Liberty Press

"Harvey Milk" rehearsalFor many, the 2008 film Milk was an introduction to Harvey Milk and what he was able to accomplish in terms of LGBTQ rights, as a politician and gay rights activist in San Francisco. The film depicts these accomplishments and his tragic murder.

On Mar. 29th and 30th, audiences at the Folly Theater will get to experience the Heartland Men’s Chorus (HMC)and the Gateway Men’s Chorus of St. Louis tell the powerful story of Harvey Milk in the form of 12 emotional songs.

The choruses will be two of five gay men’s choruses nationwide that have commissioned “I Am Harvey Milk” this year. Additional performances will be held in St. Louis and Columbia, Missouri. “I Am Harvey Milk” was written by composer Andrew Lippa, a Tony and Grammy award-nominated composer.

“One of the best parts about this project is knowing it will be performed all across North America this year,” says Tom Lancaster, HMC chorus member who will be performing the role of Harvey Milk. “To be part of something that far-reaching is exciting.”

He says the HMC production will be notable for its size; they will have more than 200 voices in the chorus. Also notable is the presence of Tim Seelig as guest conductor. He conducted the world premiere of “I am Harvey Milk” in San Francisco. “Tim is a legend in the gay choral movement,” Lancaster says.

For Lancaster, the opportunity to portray Harvey Milk is the role of a lifetime. “To play an iconic, historical character is challenging, but Harvey’s passion comes through so strongly on the page, it’s very easy to identify with him,” he says. “I’ve been preparing since December, watching the film Milk and the documentary The Times of Harvey Milk.”

Lancaster’s preparation also includes reading Randy Shilts’ biography, The Mayor of Castro Street, and the play Execution of Justice, which is about Dan White’s trial for the murders of Milk and George Moscone, who was mayor of San Francisco at the time. Lancaster says that even though there isn’t the chance to lapse into impersonation, as the piece is sung through, he hopes to channel the essence of Harvey Milk.

The performance, which features 12 songs, is not a meticulous biographical retelling of Milk’s life; rather, it focuses on several critical moments in his life, including the signing of the anti­discrimination bill that he sponsored. The songs, Lancaster says, touch on universal themes that everyone can relate to.

“’Thank You, Mrs. Rosenblatt’ speaks to the importance of teachers in our lives–from the teachers who taught us in school to those who ‘taught’ us by their fight for LGBT civil rights,” Lancaster explains. “’Friday Night in the Castro’ is a disco-influenced number that illustrates the mood of the Castro District of San Francisco in the 1970s. There is even a song sung from the perspective of the bullet that killed Harvey Milk.”

The performance of “I Am Harvey Milk” serves as an important reminder for the LGBTQ community to remember heroes like Milk, who have helped pave the way for progress in this country. For Lancaster, it gives the chorus members a chance to share Milk’s story, along with his significance in history.

“The battles he fought during his political career are the exact same battles being fought today, especially here in Kansas and Missouri,” he says. “We can draw inspiration from Harvey as we fight the political and religious battles that challenge us every day.”

Those who attend a performance will most certainly be moved by the power and emotion of the music. The finale in particular will stir emotions. The finale of the piece has the chorus singing the words ‘come out’ over and over again, each time with more and more force,” Lancaster explains. “It’s so simple, but it’s profound. One of Harvey’s greatest hopes was that every gay man and woman that heard his story would come out to their friends, to their families, to their communities – that we all would find the strength to live our authentic lives. And there is tremendous power in that.”

Each time Lancaster sings the 12 songs in “I am Harvey Milk,” he is moved by its overwhelming optimism. “Telling this story on stage is a deeply empowering experience, for the men on stage singing and for everyone who hears it,” he says.

BWW Previews: I AM HARVEY MILK comes to the Folly in Kansas City

Steve Wilson | BroadwayWorld.com

Heartland Men's ChorusThe Heartland Men’s Chorus unites with the St. Louis Gateway Men’s Chorus to bring I Am Harvey Milk, to the stage of the Folly Theater in Kansas City, Mo. The celebration of the life of civil rights icon Harvey Milk takes the stage on March 29 and 30. Preceding the Kansas City performance, the choruses will present a free preview on March 8 at 7 p.m., at the Missouri United Methodist Church in Columbia, Mo. An encore performance will take the stage of the Washington University’s 560 Music Center in St. Louis on April 5.

I Am Harvey Milk, written by composer Andrew Lippa, is the tragic story of Milk’s life from childhood to his assassination in 1978. Six gay men’s choruses including the Heartland Men’s Chorus joined to together to commission the work in 2013.

Milk was the first openly gay elected officer in California when he secured a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. In 11 months in office, he was responsible for the passing of stringent gay rights ordinances in the city. “It’s not a straight-forward biography,” says Rick Fisher Executive Director of the Heartland Men’s Chorus. “The songs touch on universal themes including bullying, activism, and the building of community.” In 2009, he posthumously was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

“What set Harvey apart from you or me was that he was a visionary. He imagined a righteous world inside his head and then he set about to create it for real, for all of us,” wrote Anne Kronenberg his final campaign manager. The production features individual sets with repertoire by the St. Louis and Kansas City choruses before they come together for Lippa’s I Am Harvey Milk.

Conducting the Kansas City performance is Dr. Tim Seelig, the conductor the world premiere in San Francisco in 2013. The San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus first appeared in public at a candlelight vigil the night that a former city employee assassinated Milk and Mayor George Moscone. “This is not a story specific to San Francisco,” says Seelig. “This is about a man who stepped forward and did something remarkable, even though he was not particularly remarkable by most accounts. It is about a man who became a hero and martyr for what he believed. Composer Andrew Lippa‘s goal was that every single person who hears this will somehow resonate with the person who was Harvey Milk and look for the part of Harvey within them.”

Joining Seelig and the 200 members of the combined choruses will be soprano Sylvia Stoner, tenor Tom Lancaster as Harvey Milk, and 12-year old Cam Burns as the young Harvey.

Purchase tickets for I Am Harvey Milk at the Heartland Men’s Chorus website or order by phone at 816-931-3338.

Heartland Men’s Chorus end the season with an outstanding show

Steve Wilson | Examiner.com

The Folly Theater in downtown Kansas City, Mo. came to life Saturday June 8 with the summer concert of the Heartland Men’s Chorus. The program titled Heart and Soul, Music of the 50’s closes out the 2012-2013 season.

This was yet another fantastic performance by the members of the Heartland Men’s Chorus. Many of the songs were uplifting, toe tapping and from the sounds around the lower balcony, being sang by several members of the audience. Audience participation was encouraged especially during the “Mitch Miller Medley.” In the program was a sheet with the music to several numbers including “The Yellow Rose of Texas” and “Shine On, Harvest Moon” among others. Josh Krueger performed a solo during the sing along of “Hot Diggity.”

Each year a chance to be a guest conductor is raffled off to the audience. This year during the sing along the winner conducted the song “Heart Of My Heart.” She was later called on to again appear on stage, not as a conductor, but as Mona Lisa, as the chorus sang the song of the same name.

The first act ended with “Triplets And Timpani Medley,” which included a solo by Jeff Williams, performing “Be My Love.” Several songs were accompanied by both male and female dancers. Though the choreography was appropriate the actual dancing may have been missing a few steps. Even with the minor timing errors they were fun to watch and added to the entertaining chorus.

Inside the chorus is a group of six men known as the Heartaches and includes Todd Kendall Gregory-Downs, Jeff Williams, Brandon Shelton, John Edmonds, Shawn Revelle and Dana Wood. The group sang “Standing on the Corner” and then opened the second act with “Sh-Boom (Life Could Be a Dream)” and then performed “Why Do fools Fall In Love.” As fabulous as the entire chorus is, it still is enhanced by the Heartaches. The second act proved to be even more upbeat than the highly enjoyable first act with songs like “Jailhouse Rock,” “Blue Suede Shoes” and “Catch A Falling Star.”

One of the highlights of the show was baritone John Edmonds solo of “I Went To Your Wedding” during the “Wedding Medley.” The hilarity that ensued when Edmonds began to cry an exaggerated sobbing as he sung had the audience laughing and giggling through the entire number. The creativity of the number was remarkable.

Though this production is the jukebox sounds of the fifties the Heartland Men’s Chorus was not to be outdone by the likes of such superstars as Janet Jackson and Mariah Carey. During a dance number a female dancer wearing a poodle skirt was faced with the dreaded wardrobe malfunction. After trying to continue dancing while holding it up she finally had to run off stage clasping onto it tightly. Her dance partner looked like a lost puppy as he started to dance alone and then ran off following her.

The show continued on Sunday. The only regret of the show is that it is the last one until December when the chorus performs “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” to kick-start their 2013-2014 season.

Gay choir’s OU concert could open hearts, minds, dialogue

Jeanny Sharp, editor and publisher | Ottawa Herald

It’s easy to have an opinion when the issue doesn’t require you to be informed or have a personal investment. When it hits closer to home, however, maintaining a staunchly black-and-white opinion gets far more difficult. Republican U.S. Sen. Portman learned that the hard way. The Ohio lawmaker now is doing some back-pedaling on one specific issue — same-sex marriage — two years after his son disclosed he is gay.

For most people, “marriage equality” is a complicated issue that continues to evolve as more and more people they know and respect “come out” as gay. The number of people polled who are in favor of same-sex marriage continues to grow, with a recent ABC News-Washington Post poll saying 58 percent of people support it. The U.S. Supreme Court soon might rule on the legality of the issue, but in the meantime some people still are coming to terms with accepting gays as equals.

For those who want to learn more about gays’ struggles — in a safe and non-judgmental environment — Ottawa University has the perfect opportunity this week. The Heartland Men’s Chorus from Kansas City is expected to present a concert — titled “When I Knew” — 7 p.m. Wednesday at Fredrikson Chapel, 1011 S. Cedar St. The concert is free, though a free-will offering will be taken to support the choir’s outreach efforts.

The university took a political risk by playing host to the choir, but it also shows the college’s willingness to embrace diversity, much like Sen. Portman did last month. Here’s an excerpt from a column in the Yale Daily News, written by Portman’s son, Will, a junior at Trumbull College, which is part of Yale University.

“I’m proud of my dad, not necessarily because of where he is now on marriage equality (although I’m pretty psyched about that), but because he’s been thoughtful and open-minded in how he’s approached the issue, and because he’s shown that he’s willing to take a political risk in order to take a principled stand. He was a good man before he changed his position, and he’s a good man now, just as there are good people on either side of this issue today.

“We’re all the products of our backgrounds and environments, and the issue of marriage for same-sex couples is a complicated nexus of love, identity, politics, ideology and religious beliefs. We should think twice before using terms like ‘bigoted’ to describe the position of those opposed to same-sex marriage or ‘immoral’ to describe the position of those in favor, and always strive to cultivate humility in ourselves as we listen to others’ perspectives and share our own.

“I hope that my dad’s announcement and our family’s story will have a positive impact on anyone who is closeted and afraid, and questioning whether there’s something wrong with them. I’ve been there. If you’re there now, please know that things really do get better, and they will for you too.”

Portman is just one of three Republican lawmakers who support gay marriage. Portman’s situation might just be the beginning, as more people come out and their loved ones accept them — regardless of their sexual orientation. The senator’s situation also is emblematic of the need for society to focus on inclusiveness, rather than exclusivity. Only then will things truly get better for everyone concerned.

Note: the editorial above was published the day after the following “Letter to the Editor” was published:

Sodomites Coming to Town

Back in the mid-1960s, I was invited to hear a guest speaker at Ottawa University. Commenting on a statement by a pseudo-theologian, Dr. Nels Ferre, who suggested in his book, “The Sun and the Umbrella,” that Jesus was the bastard son of a German soldier and that Mary was a harlot who hung around a German mercenary camp, the proposed speaker said something to the effect, “And who can say that these words are not true?”

Having no longer Biblical scruples for truth, it is not surprising that Ottawa University would have the Sodomites come to town.

Paul sees the same pattern in Romans 1 where they “changed” the glory of the incorruptible God. Having departed from Biblical Doctrine, they soon became filthily corrupt themselves. (Romans 1:27) “And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was meet.”

He probably was referring to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah as the recompense. (Genesis 19) Philo, who lived around the time of Christ, said the smoke of these cities was still rising in his day. That would be 2,000 years later.

As Bill Grasham once said, “If America gets away with such filth, God will have to apologize to these filthy cities.” Pray for revival!

—    Daryl McNabb, pastor, Peniel Bible Church, Waverly

Gay men’s chorus bringing message to OU campus

Bobby Burch | Ottawa Herald

Upcoming choral performance at Ottawa University is expected to help fight bullying and teen suicide.

Sponsored by OU’s Student Welcoming and Affirming Network, the Heartland Men’s Chorus plans to perform its “When I Knew” concert, focusing on members’ personal stories of when they realized they were gay. The free concert is set for 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at OU’s Fredrikson Chapel, 1011 S. Cedar St.

“The main focus of this particular performance is to help combat bullying in our schools and to help prevent teen suicide,” Dr. Joe Nadeau, a professor of choral studies at OU and 15-year artistic director of Heartland Men’s Chorus, said Friday. “We’re coming to Ottawa to share the message of inclusivity and that no how matter how difficult your life may seem at the moment, it will get better.”

The Wednesday evening program, which Nadeau likened to a musical documentary, features narration, visuals and original arrangements that focus on social issues, as well as accompanying the stories of chorus members. Their accounts, he added, are intended to embrace diversity, promote open-mindedness and reach out to those confused about or ostracized for their sexuality. While the concert is free and open to the public, Nadeau said donations will benefit the OU Student Welcoming and Affirming Network.

The Kansas City-based chorus group, which has been “singing out” for 27 years, regularly performs with more than 150 singers, its website reads. Initially founded with 30 singers as a haven for those suffering from the AIDS virus, the nonprofit group has continued to grow and now travels across the globe. The chorus performs a variety of music, including jazz, Broadway, popular and classical works, its website said.

The “When I Knew” performance, in part, was inspired by the work of the It Gets Better project, Nadeau said. That project, he added, is geared toward young gay people who are struggling with their identities and might have contemplated suicide as a result of bullying, he said. Through thousands of personal stories, the It Gets Better project aims to communicate to gay and transgender youth that their lives will get better, in addition to creating the changes to make a more inclusive world, its website reads. The website features videos from people around the world, including President Obama.

Nadeau said he already has encountered an enthusiastic response about the Wednesday concert from OU faculty members and the community.

“The faculty sounds excited about the program,” Nadeau said. “It’s important to promote open-mindedness and important to promote diversity.”

KC chorus tackles Nazi persecution of gay people

Maria Sudekum | Associated Press

The lives of gay men in Germany in the early 20th century — from their freedom in Berlin’s rowdy nightclubs in the 1920s to their persecution under the Nazis a decade later — are the focus of an upcoming production by the Heartland Men’s Chorus.

“It’s an important chapter in history, and the history of gay men,” said Tom Lancaster, marketing director for the Kansas City-based chorus. “It’s one that is really underrepresented, and it’s a part of the Holocaust that a lot of people aren’t aware of. … Even people who were aware gays were persecuted under the Nazis, they weren’t aware of the scope.”

The Heartland Men’s Chorus, a nonprofit group that often takes on social issues for its programs, performs the two-act “Falling in Love Again” Saturday and Sunday at Kansas City’s Folly Theater. The program also includes a companion exhibit from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. The small exhibit, “Nazi Persecution of Homosexuals 1933-1945,” runs through April 10 at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

The Nazis, who killed 6 million Jews in the Holocaust, considered homosexuality an aberration. They didn’t try to exterminate all German homosexuals, but thought they could change them or isolate them with treatment that included imprisonment, castration and hard labor at concentration camps, according to the Holocaust Museum. The Nazis sent anywhere from 5,000 to 15,000 homosexual men to the concentration camps, the museum says.

The chorus performance opens with a musical glimpse of what gay men experienced in the liberal Germany of the 1920s when “Berlin had more gays bars than New York in the 1980s,” Lancaster said. The music in that portion of the program includes selections from Cabaret, Cole Porter’s “Love For Sale” and “The Lavender Song,” considered to be among the first gay anthems.

The second half of the program is based around an opera, “For A Look Or A Touch,” and portrays the treatment gay men endured under the Nazis, beginning in 1933 when Hitler came to power. The opera, based on interviews from the documentary, “Paragraph 175,” tells the story of one gay man who survived the Nazis and another who died during that time. Baritone Morgan Smith and actor Kip Niven portray the couple. A dance performance choreographed by William Whitener, artistic director of the Kansas City Ballet, is also part of the performance.

Fran Sternberg, with the Midwest Center for Holocaust Education in Overland Park, Kan., said the HMC program is important “because of the kind of homophobia that still lingers.”

“We need to know where that kind of thing leads,” Sternberg said. “Everybody needs to know about this. … The important thing to understand is the Nazis come to power legally, and they campaigned in regular elections and people voted for them.”

Heartland Men’s Chorus Explores Love, Before And After the Holocaust

Laura Spencer | KCUR

In the 1920′s and into the early 1930′s, there was a thriving gay culture in Europe, especially in Berlin. But, with the rise of Hitler and the Nazi party, that all changed.

The Heartland Men’s Chorus explores the music of the period, and a tale of two lovers sent to concentration camps – and their different fates – in a program called “Falling In Love Again.”

Listen to interview highlights online