Crescendo!, Autumn 2013

Volume 11  Issue 2  Autumn 2013

“Hey, what’s a straight guy like you doing in a chorus like this?”

Buffalo News on Jan. 15, 2002, with this excerpt: Furthermore, it's whispered, two straight men have joined the choir's ranks. Chorus president Jim Estep emphasizes that the group is open to any male, regardless of orientation, who passes a rudimentary audition. Buffalo’s gay+ chorus is a pioneering phenomenon within the larger GLBT choral movement. The high level of non-gay participation in the BGMC is unusual compared to our peers in the Gay and Lesbian Association of Choruses (GALA). Other conductors and artistic directors in GALA are often surprised that ours is heterosexual. Given our history as a despised minority, groups like ours have doubled as a safe space for the GLBT community, a respite from the disdain of the larger world. Our percentage of straight singers usually hovers around 10%, an amusing reversal of the statistic frequently cited as the incidence of GLBT people in the general population. After joining, straight singers usually throw themselves into the life of the BGMC, making friends, joining us at Buffalo’s annual Gay Pride festival, volunteering for Chorus fundraisers and social events,

mentoring new members, and taking our mission to heart.

Four of them agreed to speak with us. ▼ Today our longest-tenured non- gay singer is Vincent Kuntz [B1], a general contractor who has been with the chorus for 10 years. 1 Vince recalls: I had wanted to sing with the Chorus since its inception but wasn’t sure I was up to it. Jim Estep wasted no opportunity to encourage me to audition. Every time he saw me he would ask when I was going to sing. I had to audition even if it was just to get him to stop! Vince’s first few seasons were challenging and not just for musical reasons. I was referred to as "the straight guy." My presence in the Chorus was, at first, not universally accepted by the singers. Some Chorus members were my friends from other circles, such as my church or another choir and accepted my presence at face value. Some speculated about my true orientation and what was my true purpose for joining the Chorus. A minority were openly hostile to my presence. Vince credits Jason Ward [T2] for making a difference at a critical moment. It was Vince’s first-ever performance with the chorus. The singers were lining up to go on stage. Jason reached out to him and said, “I’m glad you’re here.” The I was not the first non-gay man to sing in the Chorus, but I believe I was the first to stick around for multiple seasons. For several years

If you’ve heard that we have non-gay singers, you may have wondered this very thing. Perhaps this analogy will help: you don’t have to be Italian to sing opera anymore. From the beginning, the Buffalo Gay Men’s Chorus decided that while we would be a gay- identified organization with a pro-gay mission, we would also be inclusive. When it came to our singers, instrumentalists, volunteers, employees, donors, vendors, and audience, we would not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. Jim Estep, our first president, recalls that our first artistic director, Barbara Wagner, a heterosexual woman, did not and would not ask auditioning men what their sexual orientation was because it had nothing to do with their singing voice. The first major story to introduce the Chorus to the Buffalo community ran in the

1 In the interest of full disclosure, Vince is married to the author of this article

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