Heartland Men’s Chorus Presents World Premiere of “Quiet No More: A Choral Celebration of Stonewall 50”
In March, the Heartland Men’s Chorus honors the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising as they present the world premiere of “Quiet No More: A Choral Celebration of Stonewall 50.”
Co-commissioned with the New York City Gay Men’s Chorus and Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles, along with over 20 other ensembles, it is the largest co-commissioned project in the history of gay and lesbian choruses.
The eight-movement work, from six composers, honors the events (sometimes termed “riots,” while others prefer “uprising”) that occurred in and around Greenwich Village’s Stonewall Inn. It began June 28, 1969, when a police raid on a gay-friendly bar turned into nights of protests, lighting the flame for LGBT activism. Every year since, the anniversary of the gay liberation movement is marked by Gay Pride Marches in New York City and across the world.
Instead of recreating the timeline of events, the work “celebrates the big ideas Stonewall stands for,” said Dustin Cates, artistic director of the Heartland Men’s Chorus.
“‘Quiet No More’ is starting in the heart of the country, which I think has some symbolism,” said Cates. Predating Stonewall, LGBT rights activists from across the country met in Kansas City in 1966 for the National Planning Conference of Homophile Organizations, the first nationwide meeting of this kind. Today, a historical marker in Barney Allis Plaza designates this meeting. “Some say the gay rights movement began (here),” said Cates, “and that Stonewall is where it took off.”
Jason Cannon is one of the forces behind the creation of “Quiet No More.” He sang with the NYCGMC for 15 years but has since taken a more behind-the-scenes role, writing and directing. He spearheaded the research, which took nine months, and wrote the creative brief for the composers, as well as the dialogue between the works, which serves to set the stage for Greenwich Village in 1969.
“It was fascinating to take a deep dive into the nuances of this event that happened in 1969,” said Cannon. “I have always heard about the uprising in broad terms, and it was interesting to dive into the details. The weather was very hot on the night of the uprising, there was a full moon, the bouncer at Stonewall would flash lights on the dance floor to signal that the cops were in the lobby.”
“What I learned was that it was not an easy thing to trace. A lot of the people who had been at the uprising are no longer living. And because there was such a whirlwind of activity, even amongst people who were there, there are disputes about what actually happened.
“It’s still a little bit of a mystery and we try to maintain some of that mystery. We decided it wasn’t our job necessarily to solve the puzzle, but we did our best to take what the historians had pieced together and present it in a way we thought the audience can try to experience,” said Cannon.
He likens the performance more to a radio play than a historical documentary, letting the music and words facilitate the audience’s imagination. “It was more of a goal to place the audience into, as best we could, some sort of experience that emulates what happened, and let them decide where they would have been standing at that time,” he said.
“Quiet No More” includes contributions from Michael Shaieb, Our Lady J, Julian Hornik, Michael McElroy, Ann Hampton Callaway and Jane Ramseyer Miller, familiar forces in the LGBT chorus world and beyond.
This method, said Cannon, brings together different points of view, different voices and different music styles. “We gave these composers a lot of creative license. We really wanted their voices to shine through,” he said.
In June, New York City Gay Men’s Chorus performs “Quiet No More” in Carnegie Hall, as part of WorldPride, a month-long celebration of LGBT pride. It’s the first time the international celebration will be held in the United States.
A cohort of 400 singers from choruses across the country joins together in this performance. “We are sending a delegation of our singers . . . there’s no venue big enough for all the members of all the choruses, except maybe Madison Square Garden,” joked Cates. Similarly, a delegation will travel to Los Angeles in July for a performance in Walt Disney Hall that also celebrates the 40th anniversary of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles.
Along with “Quiet No More,” HMC performs works that “highlight some things that are uniquely Kansas City and the LGBTQIA community,” said Cates, including the participation of fellow LGBT musical organizations: Heartsong, a small ensemble from the Kansas City Women’s Chorus, and Choral Spectrum, a recently formed Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass (SATB) LGBT chorus.
“The other half of the concert will take a modern day look at the LGBT rights movement, with the narrative that advocacy for these rights is advocacy for the rights of all of us,” Cates said.
Much of that repertoire speaks to the need to live with authenticity and hope, such as “This Is Me” from “The Greatest Showman;” Annie Lennox’s “A Thousand Beautiful Things;” “You Will Be Found” from “Dear Evan Hanson;” to the more humorous “Way Ahead of My Time.”
That half of the concert closes with “All Of Us” from Craig Hella Johnson’s “Considering Matthew Shepard.” This piece was part of the service at the National Cathedral, where Shepard’s ashes, 20 years after his murder, were interred in October 2018.
Though Stonewall was a violent reaction to injustice, spurred by anger and fear, over the past 50 years this legacy has transformed into a message of unity, perseverance and pride.
Thirty minutes before each performance, Stuart Hinds, Assistant Dean for Special Collections and University Archivist at UMKC, will discuss the pivotal role of Kansas City in the national struggle for gay and lesbian civil rights before the 1969 Stonewall uprising. Hinds will also touch on Kansas City’s very active social scene during the same period.
Heartland Men’s Chorus presents “Stonewall 50: All of Us” March 23 at 8 p.m. and March 24 at 4 p.m. at the Folly Theater, 300 W. 12th St. For information visit hmckc.org.
Special thanks to editor Paul Schindler at “Gay City News” in New York for his assistance with photographs for this story.