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Playing it straight with the Triad Pride Men’s Chorus

by Brian Clarey

Woody is a pro.

“I’ll be honest with you,” Derrick is saying to him. “I have no vocal training. Last time I was on a boys’ choir I was ten years old. In Tennessee,” he adds. “Quite frankly, if I don’t fit in ….”

Woody shrugs. No big deal. There are plenty of chairs set in semicircle here in the basement of downtown Greensboro’s Cultural Arts Center. Things hang on the institutional walls, teachers’ aids designed to introduce children the rudiments of music – treble and bass clefs, a whole note deconstructed down to a sixteenth, sharp vs. flat vs. natural, pianissimo, Every Good Boy Does Fine.

The Triad Pride Men’s Chorus is using the rehearsal space for the very first time – they used to practice in a church off Friendly Avenue – and many of them have been singing, studying and learning with the group for nearly 10 years.

Woody Faulkner, artistic director and conductor for the chorus, eases Derrick’s mind with a look.

“What vocal group do you think you’re in?” he asks.

“I think I’m a tenor.”

Woody nods. “I think so too.” But really, he’s known since the minute the guy opened his mouth.

He helped found this outfit in 1998, when he and a couple friends, fed up with driving to the Triangle to sing in a gay men’s chorus, decided to start one here. There were 20 members that year. The 2008 spring concert will be the chorus’ 10th.

And yeah, it’s a gay men’s chorus, but I don’t really want to dwell on that. I mean, these guys’ sexual orientation has nothing to do with their musicianship, the quality of their voices, their commitment to the material. And all men’s choruses are at least a little bit gay.

So I’m going to play this one… uh… straight. So to speak.

Derrick finds a seat over by the baritones and Woody takes his spot at the front of the room.

“Let’s make a good habit of starting on time,” he says.

“Why don’t we see what it sounds like in this new space. Why don’t we make some noise.”

Niiiiiiiiiii…

A few stragglers, like a dozen of them, scramble into the room… uh… swelling the ranks of the choir, giving strength to the note, creating an overtone that unites the fractalized voices. It crescendos to a peak, resonates.

Niiiiiiiiiiiiiii Oooooooooooooooooo Wwwwwwwwwwww Aaaaaaaahhhhhhh.

Woody pulls out the chord, gives direction with his hands, with his face, his whole body, wielding this chorale of individuals like a single… uh… organ. The sound reverberates for a moment after the singing has stopped.

Woody likes the new space.

“Okay… I see some familiar faces,” he says, and there is applause for the eight or ten core members of the group. There are 25 or so in all, men ranging in age from their twenties to their sixties. Some have careers in the performing arts. Some are hobbyists. Some proudly wear rings on the second fingers of their left hands. Some use assumed names to shield their identities from families, friends, jobs, churches. It is possible that some are not even gay – the chorus is open to every man.

Woody gets down to business.

The season goes by fast. Twelve to fifteen performances, maybe more. After Feb. 1 you get three absences. Up to 15 minutes late counts as tardy, half an absence. Three absences and you’ve got to prove your worth in a solo performance for an audience of one.

This year’s theme is “Americana,” culled from the Stephen Foster songbook, contemporary classics, a cowboy ballad or two. And the GALA Choruses Festival in Miami… uh… goes down in July. And there’s a lot of work to be done.

They roll through “Hard Times Come Again No More” and then “Shenandoah.” They finish with the finale number from A Mighty Wind, challenging in syncopation, wry in lyric.

They finish strong:

Yes a mighty wind’s a blowin’/ cross the land and cross the sea.

It’s blowin’ peace and freedom/ it’s blowin’ equality.

Yes it’s blowin’ peace and freedom/ it’s blowin’ you and me.

It’s blowww-innnng… youuuu annnnd mmeeeeeeeeee.

Nice one, fellas.

Back to business: Christmas cards, letters and thank-you notes; remarks from the floor; raffles, silent auctions, grants, fliers; early details of the trip to Miami; this weekend’s Rocky Horror singalong.

And an announcement.

“We, as an executive board have made a decision that we think is best for the choir,” Woody says.

They’re bringing in a German gay men’s chorus, hosting them while they wend their way south, touring from New York City to the GALA festival in Miami.

“So,” he continues, with dramatic caesura, “some of you will have a couple of boys in your homes for a couple of days.”

The announcement goes over well. The oldest guy in the room, possessed of a rich baritone, looks over at his neighbor.

“I got three of ’em,” he says.

For questions or comments email Brian Clarey at editor@yesweekly.com.

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