On Saturday night of my stay in Des Moines, Sue, Todd, Lori, and I saw the Des Moines Gay Men’s Chorus at Drake University’s Sheslow Auditorium. I was expecting a night of some frivolity and maybe camp but instead they tackled a serious subject. It was a wonderful night anyway.
Before the show Sue, Todd, and I ate at Alba, an upscale American restaurant with doors for a ceiling. It was another great meal – I had the red beet salad with fried goat cheese, we shared a plate of roasted Brussels sprouts, and my entrée was the roasted pork loin with sweet potato puree, herbed goat cheese, Brussels & leeks. Like every meal I had that weekend, it was delicious.
The theater is in Old Main and earlier in the day I had seen the top of the building in the distance and was going to ask Sue what that building was. So I was pleasantly surprised to discover that we were in the building that I’d been admiring earlier. The theater holds 775 people and was not near capacity, which was a shame because it was such an interesting show.
The small ensemble, HarMENy, started the program with Paul Simon’s “The Sound of Silence” (arranged by David Peoples). Don Agee, Paul Harvey, Christopher Hunter, Chad Kammin, Jesse Pierce, J. Wyatt Reicherts, Doug Staudt, and Tim Schreck stood or sat around Ben Hagen’s (Director) piano, stage right. Then they were joined by Kellie Kramer for Storm Large’s “Stand Up For Me” (arranged by Hagen).
The entire chorus came out for the heartbreaking “Please Stay” by Jacob Runestad. During the song, different members of the chorus came up front to recite actual tweets by people who have attempted suicide. The song was written in response to the large number of LGBT youth who have committed suicide. Schreck was the soloist (you do not get many basses who are featured soloists).
“I Choose Love” by Mark A. Miller and Lindy Thompson was written for Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC after the horrific shooting that took place there. The audience was invited to sing along (there were not enough of us to sing out boldly). The lyrics were printed in the program.
Their final piece was Tyler’s Suite. In 2010, Tyler Clementi took his own life (jumping off the George Washington Bridge) at age 18 after a college roommate posted webcam footage of him and another young man engaged in an intimate moment. It is a nine-piece choral movement created under the direction of Wicked composer Stephen Schwartz and the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus conductor Tim Seelig. The lyrics are based upon interviews with the Clementi family, conducted by Pamela Stewart. It featured Hagen on piano, Will Samorey on violin, Taylor Mayne (as Tyler), Adam Yankowy (as Tyler’s father), and Kramer (as Tyler’s mother).
Mayne was very expressive and had a wonderful solo song where he sang about playing the violin and riding a unicycle at the same time. Samorey was excellent on the violin and perhaps we experienced a little more of Tyler through Samorey’s performance. There’s a photo of Tyler on the program with his violin.
The nine pieces to Tyler’s Suite are: “Meditation” (John Corigliano); “I Have Songs You Haven’t Heard” (Nolan Glasser and Pamela Stewart); “A Wish” (Lance Horn and Stewart); “The Unicycle Song” (Craig Carnelia and Stewart); “Just A Boy” (John Bucchino, arranged by Tim Sarsany); “Brother Because of You” (Stephen Schwartz and Stewart); “The Tyler Show” (Mark Adamo and Stephen Flaherty); “I Love You More” (Ann Hampton Callaway, arranged by Sarsany); and “The Narrow Bridge” (Jake Heggie).
It’s a beautiful choral, made all the more heartbreaking because you know that this is only one of many many similar stories. Throughout the night, in-between each of the songs and before the suite, an announcer gave us facts and statistics about LBGT youth and suicide.
Dr. Rebecca Gruber (Artistic Director) did an excellent job of conducting. The singers in the chorus are: Tenor I – Tim Burgess, Bret-Wayne Dillon-Hansen, Greg Gross, Hunter, Reicherts, York Taenzer; Tenor II – Agee, Rob Harlan, Chuck Jordan, Keith Meendering, Doyle Monsma, Todd Murphy, Pierce, Kevin M. Seward, Keith Wirtz; Baritone – Terence Blain, Raul Canahui, Dean Cliff, Harvey, Jesse Hatfield, Paul Hengesteg, Staudt, Ryan Stearns, Hal Thompson, Mike Triggs, Jesse Wells; Bass: Craig T. Caster, Joe Freund, Kammin, Stephan Maras, Craig Otto, Schreck.
Although all the men were wearing tuxedos, there was a bit of flair with many of them wearing gold or sparkly pins on their lapels. One man was wearing very wide elephant bell tuxedo pants and others had patterned vests. They left the stage through the audience and in the back and in the lobby they each shook our hand and/or thanked us for attending.
It was not the evening I was expecting but it was a wonderful night anyway.
By Carene Lydia Lopez