What's It Like to Sing With the Portland Gay Men's Chorus? (Hint: Pretty Awesome)

The Portland Gay Men's Chorus is back for its annual holiday spectacle, replete with lights, dancing, and 120 singers radiating holiday cheer. Four chorus members dish on why they're a part of it all.

By Fiona McCann December 9, 2015

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Portland Gay Men's Chorus.

Nothing says holiday cheer like the Portland Gay Men’s Chorus’s annual holiday show, this year titled The Most Wonderful Season. For the fifth consecutive year, some 120 singers will come together at the Newmark to lift the roof with old favorites and new seasonal numbers—think Fleet Foxes’ "White Winter Hymnal" and Stevie Wonder’s "What Christmas Means to Me."

“One of the artistic values of PGMC is eclecticism and we are committed to concerts that explore the widest possible swath of choral repertoire,” says Artistic Director Bob Mensel. “Typically, the holiday concert is our best representation of that diversity. Not only do we celebrate the various holidays of the season—Advent, Hanukkah, Solstice, Christmas, and Kwanzaa—we do it with an incredible breadth of repertoire.”

Now in its 36th season, the Portland Gay Men’s Chorus was founded in 1980, and is the fourth oldest gay-identified chorus in the country and the largest chorus in all of Oregon. Its mission? “To expand, redefine, and perfect the choral art through eclectic performances that honor and uplift the gay community and affirm the worth of all people.” It currently boasts over 150 singing members and over 250 volunteers, and welcomes people of all sexual orientations and genders—the only requirement for membership is to be able to sing and attend rehearsals and performances.

Four chorus members give us the low down on why they lend their voices.

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Wayne Gregory

Image: Wayne Gregory

Name: Wayne Gregory
Vocal Section: Baritone
Additional Role(s) in Chorus: Board Member, Treasurer, Past Chorus Manager
What is it like to be part of PGMC? Being part of PGMC is being part of a community of people who not only work together to create great music, but also provide support and friendship to each other. Being in the group is loads of fun and often a lot of hard work, but something that’s so rewarding and inspiring. I wouldn’t give it up for anything.
Why did you join? I came out later in life and joined PGMC initially to find a community of other gay men where I could belong. I’ll never forget the first night I joined. We stood on the stage at rehearsal and Bob, our director, introduced all the new members. Then, in what almost seemed to be a spontaneous moment, he had the chorus sing a welcome song to us. The song was called Never Ever and talks about seizing the precious moments we have together to give back the blessings that life has given us. When that stirring song poured out of those men’s voices and I looked across the room at their glowing faces, I knew I had found a place to belong.

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Gary Coleman

Image: Gary Coleman

Name: Gary Coleman
Vocal Section: 2nd Tenor
Additional Roles in Chorus: Volunteer & Alumni Coordinator
You’re one of PGMC’s founding members. How did that come about? In the spring of 1980, a member of my church choir had just returned from a concert of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus. He was astounded by what he had heard and asked me to help start a Chorus here. I placed an ad in the local gay newspaper and we had our first concert on June 19,1980. I am a proud founding member of PGMC!
How do you benefit from being a member of PGMC? It allows me to touch people's lives and hearts through music breaking down stereotypes of who we are and building a world where we are all valued. I have gotten to know and share the stage with the 1,319 men and women who have been members of PGMC over the last 35 years. Each individual has enriched my life with their unique talents, perspectives, personalities and commitment to a calling larger than themselves. I am honored and blessed to have found such a supportive family. 
What are you most excited about this season? The holidays always remind me of the 141 members who have passed away, most due to AIDS. So with mixed emotions, I celebrate their lives and their legacy by sharing the gift of song and the spirit of the season! 

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Elaine Huang

Image: Elaine Huang

Name: Elaine Huang
Vocal Section: Tenor 1
Additional Role(s) in Chorus: Tenor 1 section representative
Why did you join PGMC? I usually tell people it's because I'm a terrible alto, but really, I made friends with a few fellows from the chorus, attended a few shows and fell in love with PGMC.  When I tentatively asked about maybe singing with them I was met with such enthusiasm and support that I just went for it and I haven't regretted since. 
How do you benefit from being a member of PGMC? I grew up around music and with music in my everyday life and that got shelved as other things slowly took priority and one day I looked around and realized that performing music was missing and I needed to get it back.  There's not a ton of artistic creativity in my job so PGMC lets me tap into that part of my brain so I don't go crazy. 

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Joel Bradshaw

Image: Joel Bradshaw

Name: Joel Bradshaw
Vocal Section: Bass
Additional Role(s) in Chorus: Bass Section Representative
What is it like to be part of PGMC? At the core, it's singing with a bunch of friends and friendly people every Monday night.  I love chatting at breaks, getting to know people who are new to the chorus, and checking in with old friend—people that I met when I was new.  Then we get back to learning all kinds of music, and at the end I am part of a fantastic production that I love sharing with friends, family, and everyone else who comes to see us.
What are you most excited about this season? GALA, no question. I joined just in time to go four years ago, and I can't wait to go back.  Hearing LGBT choruses from around the world and being part of the thousands of singers at the festival is amazing. Quadrennial festivals aside though, I'm also pretty excited to see what Dave Fleschner and Earl Thomas come up with for our blues concert next term.  I'm interested to learn about and sing a style I don't have much experience with.
Anything else? Well of course if you haven't seen us in action yet, come and see a show — and check out the other local arts organizations while you're at it.  There's a lot of quality art of all kinds to see and experience in this town, you just have to get out there and see it!

Portland Gay Men's Chorus's The Most Wonderful Season runs Dec 11–Dec 13 at the Newmark Theatre.

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