Blogging GALA :: Day Zero
Your EDGE correspondent and humble columnist sings Tenor 2 with the Boston Gay Men's Chorus. He's also on the chorus' Board of Directors. He'll claim that he's attending GALA in Denver this year because he views it as his responsibility to the BGMC and to gay choruses in general, but given his track record overall with the board, we all know he's there for the pure pleasure of the event.
After all, when you bring 6,000 gay and lesbian delegates into a Colorado city in the high desert for a choral music festival, you're talking some good times, some color, some drama, some merchandising... and a whole lotta music. Tune in here for up-to-the (happy) hour coverage of the songs, the shenanigans, the laughter and the tears of GALA 2012...
The Gay and Lesbian Association of Choruses was founded 30 years ago, in 1982. The first GALA festival took place in San Francisco that same year. Since then, there have been eight subsequent festivals, in places as diverse as New York City, Seattle, and Montreal. GALA 2012 is the tenth festival.
I arrived a full day early, on Friday, and the first person I ran into was Pete, a fellow chorine. I hadn't yet cleared the airport.
Pete was in high spirits. His first GALA festival had been 20 years earlier, in 1992--also here in Denver. "This is your first GALA?" Pete asked me. "Oh, my god. You are about to be amazed."
What I was about to be was shut up in the hotel room I was set to share with J.D. Fugate, a friend from the Seattle Men's Chorus. J.D. was not slated to arrive until late in the evening; meantime, I unpacked and stared out the window, muttering about coming to Denver. I joined the BGMC just after the last GALA, in 2008, which took place in Miami. Tales of GALAs past in Montreal and Tampa and even Minneapolis had been rife in recent months as chorus boys related their past adventures... and here we were, going to Denver.
Not that Denver isn't a lovely and progressive city. It's just that, being from New Mexico (and, before that, Wyoming), Denver had always been the regional Big City in my youth. I'd been there, and I'd done that.
Or so I thought... Denver has changed a lot in recent years (ahem, okay, decades), and while that's to be expected it's still kind of a shock, somehow. But what's even more of a shock is what's the same: The smell of the desert air, and the roaring, resounding thunder of summer storms. So far the weather has been cloudy, with a fair amount of rain; it's hard to be put out about this though, given the wildfires that have been raging in the area over the last couple of weeks.
Once I emerged from my cocoon, I was immediately swept up in frivolity as a group of BGMC chorines invited me to join them as they dove head first into far too many "yellow lemon" cocktails. (These turned out to be vodka with soda. "They always want to put a lime wedge in," the leader of this voracious pack told me. "Even if you tell them you want a lemon wedge, they use lime, so you have to tell them very specifically that you want yellow lemon. And then they pull an attitude: 'What other color lemon is there?' Well, honey. That's the problem we're having, isn't it?"
It wasn't a problem for long: A few Yellow Lemons later everyone was in fine spirits, so to speak, with the mile-high altitude and correspondingly thin air a definite contributing factor. (I admit: I am a vodka sissy. I stuck to Merlot.) Piling into a pedicab, a half dozen of us went careening, whooping and hollering at the other GALA delegates along the way, to Sullivan's Steakhouse--a fine steak house. (We so amused our pedicab driver that he declined payment from us. His instant admirers tipped him generously.)
Thin air, Yellow Lemons, song, and handsome men all over the place... it was enough to give anyone an appetite. Fortunately, Sullivan's had a special running: for $79 two people could order from a prix fixe menu. Filet mignon, horseradish mashed potatoes, cheesecake... Denver, I heart you.
DAY ZERO PLUS ONE
Saturday dawned with a fine complimentary breakfast (indeed, it was quite an extensive and tasty buffet) at the Embassy Suites, where I was staying with a fellow chorine. Fueled by an omelette prepared by an amiable chef named Joe, I headed out to register for the festival and then see what I might see.
The nearby cluster of performance venues (the Buell Theatre, the Boettcher Concert Hall, and the Ellie Caulkins Opera House are all situated next door to one another; this happy circumstance is one reason among many why Denver is such a good pick for GALA festivals) sit right next to a public sculpture garden. The garden had sprouted a number of tents, with local vendors, GALA merchants, and others setting out their wares. The official GALA store was located in the Buell Theatre lobby (everything from GALA ball caps to tie-dyed GALA Ts to the ever-popular flamingo-themed T-shirts and hoodies created by the chorus from Miami).
But wait, there's more. Within a roofed-over, spacious walkway stretching from the garden, in front of the venues, and to the street a block away were tables set out by various enterprising choruses, including the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus, which offered its T-shirts for sale to the general public: A striking red emblem--Golden Gate Bridge rendered in a couple of elegant, almost Japanese, arcs--was printed on black. The shirts were attractive, and the matching baseball caps an instant classic.
The day passed by in a flurry of flash-mob bursts of choral song (there's nothing like the sight of men in tuxes or women in lovely gowns manifesting on an out-of-the-way sidewalk) and wild demonstrations of rhythmic skill (one group pounded out a rapturous polyrhythmic ditty using plastic tubes of varying sizes; the effect was similar to African drums).
It all led up to the evening's Opening Concert at Boettcher Concert Hall, a two-and-a-half-hour program that kicked off with "Traditional Zimbabwean marimba music" performed by a group called The Low Flying Knobs, a commission piece called "Buzz," which mimicked the sound of honeybees and was performed by "the Colorado choruses," and a "Blessing Song" offered by a member of The Two Spirit Society of Denver (whose web site declares that the society is "comprised of a dedicated group of GBLT Native Americans and their partners in the Denver area and Colorado region who are united by their struggle to restore Two Spirit people to their rightful place in the Sacred Circle").
The program included performances from 11 ensembles (small groups often associated with larger choruses). Among them: The Lollipop Guild, a new group called Insignia (which was given a lukewarm greeting but proceeded to wow the crowd and got a standing ovation), Sensible Shoes, and Seattle's own comedy troupe Captain Smartypants, the guys behind the hilarious "Christmas Dreidel" video.
A vdeo is worth as many words as will finish off this blog installment, so here you go: The very Dreidel video in question. Though Captain Smartypants performed other numbers (including their arrangement, dark-edged and utterly gorgeous, of Annie Lennox's "We're Lost"), this is a good precis for what they're all about.