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.”