True confessions IV: Music for gay choruses

February 1, 2006

In 1990 I was approached by Jon Bailey, the director of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles, about composing a work for his chorus: a community chorus that had lost over 80 members to AIDS. He wanted a work that addressed the frustration, sorrow, and terror of this horrifying disease, but one that contained a message of hope, and not just a requiem. I once again approached John Hall to write the lyrics, and he agreed. Bailey didn’t want a work for piano and chorus, he wanted something that sounded entirely new. He had heard some of my “portable” pieces and requested that the work be scored for synthesizer ensemble (4), bass, and drums. We called the piece “Hidden Legacies.”

Hidden Legacies (CD cover)

After John and I finished the piece, we were invited to attend a retreat with the chorus in Lake Arrowhead to be a part of the rehearsal process. It was an amazing event to see how a piece of music could serve to vent rage, exorcize fear, and be a vehicle for mourning as well as hope. It wasn’t just notes floating in the air, it was like spiritual medicine. None of us that were there will ever forget that magical retreat, much less forget the work’s premiere.

The work was premiered at UCLA’s Royce Hall, and later at Pomona College, and Wiltern Theater. Compliments of a lifetime came from a teary-eyed Morris Kight, a memorable thank you from poet, Paul Monette, and later when we performed the piece in Denver, John Corigliano knelt before me and kissed my hand. “Hidden Legacies” was performed all over America over the next two years by many of the men’s GALA choruses to standing ovations. I’ll never forget after the New York City Gay Men’s Chorus did it in Carnegie Hall, I went off the stage after a seemingly unending applause, and a crusty old stage hand told me that she had not heard an ovation like that since Horowitz’s final concert. I had done something for the planet, and it was a tremendous honor to have been involved in this is piece.

The critics were rarely kind. Mr Evil topped the list in his review of April 30, 1992 in the LA Weekly:

“Who among us could not have predicted the result: its text a conflation of ‘A Chorus Line’s’ self-flagellating confessionals and ‘West Side Story’s’ buddy-buddy anthems, its music blatantly predictable Movietone rubbish?

“Lathered onto a Sam Goldwyn Wild West scenario or an afternoon soap, none of this would merit the wrath that is the only proper response to ‘Hidden Legacies’ as the work is portentously called. Sucking the life blood out of the most agonizing human tragedy of our time, oozing its vile content beyond bad music and cornball theatrics; it’s an obscenity. Maybe the personal memoirs were based on fact; they too, like the main text, were frosted over with Hall’s own ick. […] ‘Hidden Legacies’ insults the living and the memory of the dead.”

Ouch.

The scumbag then went on the radio and read his review to the thousands of listeners who likely chuckled as John and I were fed to the lions.

Why does this one mean spirited review slay me, when I should remember the hundreds of letters, conversations, and accolades that surrounded this life-changing event? I write and confess this thorn in my soul and now officially move on.

The most popular number of the set, “Left Behind,” that features 2-stepping in the middle break, I just found out, will be taken on tour this summer by the Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus, starting in Nashville at the Grand Ole Opry (they will be the first “G-word” organization to sing there), then to Birmingham, AL; Jackson, MS; Mobile, AL; and ending in New Orleans, LA. Yay!

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