Saturday night was one of those perfect late spring evenings we enjoy in south Florida before the summer torpor sets in, and it was, indeed, a grand night for singing. The Fort Lauderdale Gay Men's Chorus, under the baton of Dr. Gary Keating, ended its 29th season with a fun-filled two act program entitled "Music of the Night" at the Museum of Art in Fort Lauderdale.
The group was small, only fourteen choristers and one intrepid pianist. Such numbers leave no place to hide and throw into sharp relief any errors. One tenth the size of the "other" gay chorus in town, these brave souls are hanging on to what they've got with considerable aplomb. The first half of the evening was "heart", and it was clearly heartfelt by the men on stage.
Program selection was made with popularity foremost in mind, trotting out such shopworn pieces as "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" and "Music of the Night" by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Other songs were less pedestrian, such as "Gee, It's Good to be Here" and "One Night in Bangkok". It seemed that all the men who wanted solos got them, and Mike Smith did justice to "Tonight" from West Side Story. Tenor Joey Noce got lots of applause for his rendition of "Music of the Night".
There might have been more ensemble singing, as this is what a chorus does, but in keeping with the piano bars around here what might have been a group activity often turns into a showcase for one or two. The group sounded good together; the sound man was doing an excellent job mixing the three microphones in front into a blended and pleasant sound. Tuning, timing and pitch were all fairly good, taking into consideration the small number of singers. Dr. Keating conducted carefully and calmly, seeming not to ask too much from the men in terms of dynamic contrast.
I didn't hear a true "forte" all night. In some of the more dense arrangements the melodic line was obscured in harmonies, with varying vowels and inconsistent diction vying for my attention. Many noses were buried in folders, and at times entrances were tentative and ragged. The first half ended with the inevitable Phantom of the Opera medley, with a guest appearance by soprano Gloria Thompson. One very high note at the end sounded like a desperate shriek, and I was reminded that it was part of the story. Sleepers, awake.
Act two, "Soul", included some solos by Reco Stackhouse and RJ Boon, both of whom have soul to spare. The Doo Wop treatment of "Blue Moon" was perhaps the weakest number of the evening, due to the unhappy indecision by the group of whether or not to swing. Just when I thought we might be swinging, we lurched back into white bread-ville, as though swinging was somehow unsafe. It is very hard for any group, especially nonprofessional ones, to find the groove and be "in the pocket", as jazz musicians say. One must wait for that offbeat; most of the time it comes too soon.
The inclusion of a Three Dog Night song was a cool touch and got the audience involved, though there was a slight dissonance when the piano was playing minor and the choir was singing major in the chorus. These things matter. These people all have busy lives, I am sure, and taking the time to commit to a community chorus (something the author wholeheartedly endorses) is becoming ever harder.
There was some dancing. There were some white pants and fun shirts. There was also canned music, but KC and the Sunshine Band, well, it needs a beat. Such indestructible songs as "Get Down Tonight" and "I Love the Nightlife" will get almost anyone to feel those funky feelings. Tom Gibbs, in his glitter ball muumuu and fright wig was most popular.
The program was successful in that accomplished what it set out to do: make everyone feel a little better than they did before they arrived.
Photo by C. Cunningham; article by Reginald Barnes.
Reginald Barnes is a multi-instrumentalist and singer. He has degrees from University of Mississippi and Louisiana State University. He works as a musician for the Catholic Diocese of Palm Beach and makes his home in Fort Lauderdale and Cooperstown, New York.