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 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 The March 8 Columbia, Mo. performance will be at MissouriUnitedMethodistChurch at 7 p.m. This performance is free and open for the public.