Gay men’s chorus mixes politics, music

The story of the Connecticut Gay Men’s Chorus is a sometimes befuddling mix of the political and the sublimely musical.

Their shows, which mix musical theater and cabaret, tend to play off the sexual identity of the singers. But the group’s ascension, by all accounts, has everything to do with the mastery of its craft and little to do with what becomes trivial on stage: sexual orientation.

“We don’t go around waving flags saying ‘We’re gay, accept us,’” said Gail Bross, the group’s full-time general manager. “We put on a show.”

Singers must be gay and male in order to participate in concerts, although their professional backgrounds range from waiting tables to what Bross called “corporate types.” She said the group’s membership has fluctuated between 35 and 50.

And while the chorus is outside the scope of Yale’s a cappella scene, it has by some measures become more famous than anything on campus.

Readers of the New Haven Advocate, which is not connected with the gay-issues magazine The Advocate, have voted the chorus the best local singing group for several years running, dropping Yale’s famous Whiffenpoofs to second place. Henri J. Aubin, a singer in the chorus, said he is occasionally recognized by strangers on the street.

And after a decline in attendance over the last few years, the group has rehired Winston Clark, a popular musical director whose style draws on both musical polish and visual presentation.

“I love his style,” Aubin said. “It’s very good musical showmanship.”

Recently, the idea of the gay choral group has entered the cultural lexicon. A recent episode of the popular sitcom “Will and Grace” featured Matt Damon as a straight man trying out for the New York City Gay Men’s Chorus.

But Bross made a point of saying that the Connecticut chorus does not represent the gay community as a whole.

“I think many stereotypes have a basis in truth,” she said. “If you had to ask me if these guys like to sit around singing show tunes, I’d say yes. But not all gay guys do.”

And the group does not confine its repertoire to show-tune standards.

“We don’t always do show tunes; we do other songs with a bit of a twist,” Bross said. “And some are done straight up, if you’ll pardon the expression.”

The group’s mission is, in part, to be a point of pride in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities. And within the group, there is a considerable amount of nuance.

“Every color of the rainbow is represented,” Aubin said.

Some members of the group need to keep a lower profile than others. Not all singers are out to all of their colleagues at work, and teachers in particular have a difficult time being part of such a well-publicized group.

“[Teachers] need to be careful about public perception,” Bross said.

She said that a small number of members — one or two — prefer not to have their photos appear in publications, but that all members were to some degree open about their sexuality.

“You can’t be not out and be in the Connecticut Gay Men’s Chorus,” Bross said.

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