Various Voices: My First LGBTQ+ Choral Festival

Posted on: August 28th, 2018 by Jerry Kennedy GALA Articles No Comments

When I joined OurSong, the Atlanta Gay and Lesbian Chorus in 2014, they had just returned from Ireland having performed in their first Various Voices festival. I heard wonderful stories of friendship, new bonds with singers from other countries, and an overall life changing experience. So naturally, when I heard that we were going to participate again, this time in Munich, I knew I had to be a part of it.

Nothing could prepare me for exactly what I was about to experience. As we flew across the Atlantic, I found myself unable to sleep; thoughts running through my head about what was about to take place. I had been singing with OurSong for four years and made some very close friends, but I found once we arrived those bonds became so much more. People in the group had joined together to help me go – I saw just how close of a family we really were.

Our first stop in Berlin was brief but incredible. We joined with the choir canta;re to put on a concert for not only their audience, but the acting U.S. Ambassador and his wife – the USA cultural attaché to Germany. Two moments during this concert really stuck out to me. The first was when both choirs joined to sing “Sure On This Shining Night”. We had only one opportunity to rehearse together but when we performed it was as if we had been singing together for years. The second was when we sang “Please Stay,” a song which addresses suicide. To see a song impact the audience as it did was emotionally overwhelming. Some narrators from canta;re gave lines in German, and we sang to them in English. Music has a way of breaking through any language barrier. After the concert the two choruses mingled and I discovered the second most valuable gift from this trip: making friends from other countries. Our one bond, again, being music.

We left Berlin and traveled to Prague to sing with Doodles, the only LGBTQ chorus in the country. They were so welcoming and so enjoyable to watch perform. We joined together, this time to sing the first movement of Carmina Burana. The sound of our groups joined together sent chills down my spine, and when we performed our set for them, the reaction was amazing. To see them get into our performance even if they couldn’t understand the words was so much fun to watch. Again- music has a way of breaking down any barrier.

We bid farewell to Prague and made our way to the main event- Various Voices 2018 in Munich. I have never sung at an event quite like this. When we got on stage for our tech rehearsal I was blown away by the place we were about to perform in. When we began singing I could feel the music fill this gigantic hall. I thought for sure I was going to choke when the seats were actually filled, but when performance time came and I saw a full house hearing the music and really getting into our performance, all those fears melted away and it was just us and the music and our voices moving throughout the auditorium and speaking to the crowd. As I left the stage I found myself in tears, overwhelmed by such an emotional experience.

The real high point came Saturday night when we joined with individuals and three other choruses from North America, including Potomac Fever and Rock Creek Singers from the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, DC and On That Note from the Hartford Gay Men’s Chorus, to sing outdoors at the Odeonplatz. That evening I was to sing the solo for “Truly Brave” with the wonderful Brittany. We had already sung this together several times including at our spring concert, but something about this time was different. As we finished the song before ours I suddenly felt the pang of nervousness hit my stomach. I looked out on the plaza at all of the people watching us: singers from many countries, passersby who stopped to see what was going on. As I came to the front and the music began, I pushed everything else out of my head and just let the music flow from me. The emotional rush of the experience is something I’ll remember for years to come.

We closed out our time in Munich with one last performance with the North American Chorus at the closing ceremonies. That evening we celebrated with a group dinner, enjoying the new friendships that had been made and reminiscing about the experiences we had. The flight home the following day was filled with flashes of an experience I will hold in my heart forever. I look forward to four years when I hope OurSong will be off to Bologna for Various Voices 2022, and to the GALA Choruses Festival in 2020.

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