The Nevada Gay Men’s Chorus (NGMC) holiday concert has been a Northern Nevada staple for 10 years, selling out the 400-seat venue for most of them. While COVID has created a challenge in that audiences can’t attend the concert live this year, it has also created an opportunity for even more people to enjoy this annual tradition since they won’t be limited by the size of a building.
This year’s event, Holiday E-Xtravaganza, has been recorded and will be streamed to registered guests on Saturday, Dec. 18 at 7:30 p.m., when 17 of the 30+ plus vocalists (those able and willing to perform) will be entertaining families with holiday classics like “Go Tell It on the Mountain,” “I Saw Three Ships,” “God Rest You Merry Gentlemen,” “The Little Drummer Boy” and “The Christmas Song,” among others.
Holiday E-Xtravaganza attendees need to register for the show online, and then they’ll receive a link by email to gain access to the concert. While the event is free, donations are encouraged and appreciated to help the non-profit organization continue to sustain itself.
For this concert, the members of the chorus rehearsed from the pews at the First Congregational Church of Reno, wearing special performers’ masks that helped to contain droplets, while allowing space around the singers’ mouths so they could sing comfortably. For filming, they stood together, with at least two feet of distance around each performer.
“The masks do give us a certain duck-like quality that I think our audiences will enjoy,” laughs NGMC Executive Director Steven Meyer.
The Man with the Baton
NGMC is led by artistic director Ted Owens, who serves as a professor of music and musical theatre at Truckee Meadows Community College, where he also conducts the college concert choir.
Owens says he was tricked into joining NGMC in 2011, when a friend invited him down to a rehearsal to serve as the piano accompanist.
“When I arrived, I found out the group didn’t even have a conductor, and as I sat at the piano listening to them, I couldn’t help myself and started to address some of the musical issues they were having,” he says. “Somehow, this morphed into me taking over as a conductor for the concert. My friend later admitted to manipulating me into conducting, because he knew the educator in me could not resist trying to fix things and make the group sound better.”
As part of leading the group for the past nine years, Owens is responsible for song selection.
“Generally, I come up with an overarching theme, such as musical theatre, American music, etc.,” Owens says. “And then I research music literature for well-written works for men’s voices that both fit the theme of the concert and meet the needs and abilities of the chorus.”
For this year’s concert, he had the extra challenge of creating an event for a virtual audience, and with a shortened rehearsal time.
“This could mean either music that a majority of members had performed over the past 10 years or less difficult compositions and arrangements,” he said. “I also felt that because we were recording the selections, things had to be as perfect as possible.”
“He chooses really powerful selections that are challenging and beautiful and that the audience loves,” Meyer says. “And the show is something that the entire family can enjoy.”
NGMC was formed in 2010 with 16 men, and it has since grown to 30ish members, with the number fluctuating depending on schedules and obligations.
Since then, NGMC has performed more than 20 concerts, while also singing the national anthem for the Reno Aces and performing at private functions around town. They will have a song in the Note-Able Music Therapy Services’ Jingle Jangle Jolly Joy Jam, taking place on Saturday, Dec. 19 at 3:30 p.m.
Some of those private functions are specific to NGMC. “I remember how special it was to be able to memorialize one of our members who passed away, by singing at his memorial service,” Owens says. “The performers were so emotionally invested in the performance, and there was a tangible spiritual energy that almost buzzed in the air.”
And even the public concerts can be personal. “I remember the concert that we did back in 2015, two weeks before my mom passed away after a battle with cancer,” Owens says. “The love I felt from our singers and audience during that time were truly a balm for my battered spirit. Making music through pain was such a struggle, but it was so necessary for me.”
Using the power of music to overcome pain is not new for gay choruses, as many were formed in response to a dark part of our history.
As Chorus America shares: "Many of the GLBT [gay lesbian bisexual transgender] choruses started in response to the AIDS crisis," says interim GALA Choruses executive director Dudley Hogue. "They felt they were singing for their lives. Many of the older choruses lost nearly as many members to AIDS as they have in their choruses now."
Enjoying the Show
“Guests can certainly make a night of it, by dressing up and enjoying their favorite beverage, all from the safety of their homes,” Meyer says.
“People who tune in will see a gay men’s chorus singing despite a viral pandemic, which is not the first time gay and lesbian choruses have done this,” Owens says. “I’m hopeful that viewers will gain a sense of normalcy during a very abnormal time, and that they will be infused with a dose of holiday spirit.”
For more information or to register, visit www.nevadagmc.org.