Dr. Eric Esparza knew he had to address the 2016 Orlando Pulse nightclub massacre when was appointed last year to be the new artistic director of Windy City Performing Arts ( WCPA ).
Overseeing the umbrella organization to both the Windy City Gay Chorus ( founded in 1979 and one of the oldest gay choral groups in America ) and the Windy City Treble Quire ( a women's ensemble recently renamed to be inclusive to all who sing in the alto and soprano ranges ), Esparza dedicated two concerts in WCPA's 2016-17 season to commemorate the Pulse victims. Last March, WCPA performed FaurÃÉ©'s Requiem as a memoriam. For Pride Month, WCPA performs a concert titled Pulse.
"We felt like we wanted to acknowledge the event and the lives of our brothers and sisters who were victims," Esparza said. "We have envisioned a program that is a contemplation of the word 'pulse,' so we've created a concert around the various definitions of the word."
To advertise its Pride concert, WCPA created ads that look like a dictionary entry. The six chosen definitions of pulse range from the medical to feelings of vitality.
"Within each definition, we've been able to amass what is a pretty eclectic programming of different genres and different styles so that the whole concert isn't a somber memoriam," Esparza said. "It was also a way for us to kind of take the word back and channel our feelings about what this word now means. In that way, the program goes through various definitions and we sing songs about those definitions."
In one number, Esparza said the ensembles say the names of the shooting victims and facts about their lives against a pulsing background of notes, drones and tones. He says it "creates this flicker and pulse of sound."
Esparza also encouraged the WCPA singers to research the lives of those who were murdered and to explain why they are singing to honor them. Many singers on their own took to Facebook to remind their friends and family of the Pulse shooting victims and why they've formed a connection to that person in advance of the concert.
Identifying as both a gay man and Mexican-American, Esparza himself was shaken by the Pulse nightclub shooting.
"The fact that it happened at a nightclub's Latin night, it also felt like it was an attack on my ethnic heritagea double assault," Esparza said. "That did make it doubly poignant for me, and in this occasion, one of the songs we're singing in the last portion of the concert is Marc Anthony's 'Vivir Mi Vida.' It resonated with me so I made an arrangement for the chorus. It's not only a salute to living life in the face of an attack on not just LGBTQ people, but I wanted to throw in that Latin flair for members of the Hispanic community."
Esparza said the vitality definition of Pulse forms the ending numbers of the concert with songs about living life boldly.
"We've felt that was one of our important responses to the tragedy," Esparza said. "When these happen, we want to make more beauty in the worldmake more music and embrace life in the face of tragedy and in the face of people who would want to terrorize us and our community."
As he nears the end of his first season as WCPA artistic director, Esparza said it has been a refreshing addition to his fulltime job as Director of Choral Studies at DePaul Universityeven if it means his Monday and Wednesday nights are now taken up with WCPA rehearsals.
"I can't overstate the value of working with a community ensemble," Esparza said. "There is something that just resonates with my core when at the end of the day that deals with people who are doing music for the business of making a life and making a career, to going to a rehearsal with people who elect and choose to include music in their lives even though it is not their career. I find that balance to be very rewarding."
Esparza said he is pleased that the growing membership of both WCPA ensembles means that the organization is on the lookout for a larger performance venue. Esparza also likes how WCPA brings together different members of the LGBTQ community from different generations and backgrounds.
"There are Windy City Gay Chorus members who are still singing who were part of the original group, and to have that connectivity is very special," Esparza said. "And when the two ensembles sing together, a 21-year-old queer-identifying female can stand next to an older gay man who was a founding member and they start talking. It's about the stories that they share and they're people that they might not have encountered in any other waythose relationships are very special."
The concert "Pulse," featuring WCPA's combined ensembles of Windy City Gay Chorus and Windy City Treble Quire, is performed at 5 and 8 p.m. Saturday, June 17, at First United Methodist Church at the Chicago Temple, 77 W. Washington St. Tickets are $25-$35, $15 for seniors and $10 for kids ages 6-17; call 800-838-3006 or visit WindyCitySings.org .
Editor's note: The author of the piece is a former member of the Windy City Gay Chorus and is a current member of the Chicago Gay Men's Chorus.
Pulse Special Section
Remembering the Pulse tragedy one year later at the link: www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/Remembering-the-Pulse-tragedy-one-year-later/59386.html .
Pulse/Orlando events in Chicago at the link: www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/Pulse-Orlando-events-in-Chicago/59385.html .
Aurora carpenter builds crosses for Pulse victims at the link: www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/ORLANDO-SPECIAL-Aurora-carpenter-builds-crosses-for-Pulse-victims/59384.html .
SCOTTISH PLAY SCOTT 'Pulse' becomes a choral response at the link: www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/SCOTTISH-PLAY-SCOTT-Pulse-becomes-a-choral-response/59381.html .