5/2/2013 - For the past three summers, the New Hampshire Gay Men’s Chorus has belted out “The Star Spangled Banner” at Manchester’s Northeast Delta Dental Stadium before several thousand cheering American baseball fans.
NHGMC member Paul Cioto noted this new tradition, both in an interview and in the published history he just wrote, The New Hampshire Gay Men’s Chorus: The Untold Story of a Granite State Treasure, because it wasn’t always this way.
Had the chorus done this 15 years ago, the audiences’ reactions might have been different. They might not have been ready to listen to the New Hampshire Gay Men’s chorus.
This written history, their Crystal Jubilee concert series and their singing the national anthem again this June all show how far the NHGMC has come since it started 15 years ago.
“It’s a milestone. We certainly want to celebrate that we’re still around. When we first started, there were doubts that the group would last long,” said Luc Roberge, the chorus’s artistic director. “They said we’d be lucky to make it a few years. But we’ve been around for 15 now, and we’re going strong.”
The book presents a history of the chorus, starting with the original idea, which came from Richard Bojko, David R. Snelson and the late David Swart, and continuing through the chorus’s struggles and triumphs.
There were other gay men’s choruses at this time of their inception — the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus is perhaps one of the best known gay choruses in the country — but New Hampshire was much different from Boston in 1998. Many of the group’s original members were hesitant to sign the document that would declare the chorus as a legal New Hampshire nonprofit group.
Chuck Hill explained in the book, “I was scared to death to sign that thing! The others were reluctant to sign it with the name New Hampshire Gay Men’s Chorus. I didn’t want the government to know. I was also scared I’d lose my job. ... You have to remember this was 15 years ago. A lot of things have changed,” he said.
So, for some time, the group used the umbrella name the Manchester Performing Arts Association.
Hill was an instrumental voice in piecing the book together, said Cioto and chorus president Peter Lund. Many of the mementos, photographs, documents, and stories in the book are there because of Hill’s efforts. He passed away in November.
The year 2013 also is a time to celebrate the group’s evolution of sound. They’ve sung classical and Broadway, Glee and Disney. The chorus has no defining genre, but the sound has also improved tremendously due to the members’ experiences performing together and the chorus’s growth in size.
“We started out quite small, with about 15 members in the very beginning,” Roberge said. “People leave for various reasons, and we have new members each season ... so each season sounds different.”
This season’s concert series, “We Got That Swing,” for instance, is very different from anything the chorus has ever done before.
“Swing is a distinct American sound, and the guys are doing it very well,” Roberge said. “It’s definitely a toe-tapping kind of sound.”
Lund thinks people will enjoy the familiar, old-fashioned music.
“The big-band sound crosses generations. It’s something the older generation will remember, but younger people are still familiar with,” Lund said.
This year, the group is putting extra efforts in marketing their shows in order to, as Cioto put it in the book, “tell the world about New Hampshire’s best kept musical secret.”
“Some people might feel a certain trepidation in attending a gay men’s chorus concert. They’re not quite sure what they’re getting themselves into,” Roberge said.
They don’t know, for example, that not all of the singing members are gay — the group has a father/son singing combo, baritone Sean Chadwick and his bass father, Wes Chadwick, who joined in 2005.
The rest of the singers come from all over the Granite State, Maine and Massachusetts to perform with NHGMC. But most audience members, when they do finally get around to attending one of their concerts, find that the “sound is wonderful, the experience great,” Roberge said.
What’s going to happen in the chorus’s next 15 years? Lund says he hopes the chorus will grow from about 30 members to around 50. He also hopes that it will grow as a nonprofit and pick up a few corporate sponsors along the way, too.