I've been singing with the Windy City Gay Chorus for 10 years and writing freelance for Windy City Times for nine years. In that time, I've rarely written in these pages about Windy City Gay Chorus and its umbrella organization, Windy City Performing Arts (WCPA), unless I disclosed up front that I was a dues-paying member.
Despite past pressure from some WCPA members for increased coverage, I felt it was a journalistic conflict of interest to use my newspaper connections to highlight a Chicago chorus I sang with over others. So why am I throwing my ethics out the window for this feature on the upcoming WCPA concerts titled "A Flood of Hope" at Ebenezer Lutheran Church on Saturday, March 2?
The answer, in part, is due to the fact that the performances are Hurricane Sandy Relief Concerts to benefit the storm-damaged Ali Forney Center for Homeless LGBT Youth in New York City. The other reason is to highlight the arrival of the new WCPA Artistic Director Paul Caldwell, who will conduct both the Windy City Gay Chorus and the women's ensemble, Aria, in "A Flood of Hope."
"Gay organizations like Windy City Performing Arts are particularly well-suited both to assist and to celebrate important issues in the gay community," said Caldwell about making his introductory WCPA conducting foray into a benefit for LGBT youth. "Music gives us such a wonderful opportunity to do that. It is sort of an opportunity missed if we don't direct at least some of our efforts that way."
Caldwell, a South Carolina native who still has the drawl to prove it, comes to Chicago's oldest gay choral organization with many years of conducting and composing experience. Locally, Caldwell previously conducted the Chicago Children's Chorus in the early 1990s and he has been artistic director of the Youth Choral Theater of Chicago for the past dozen or so years. Caldwell is also known for his choral collaborations with composer Sean Ivory that have been performed from Australia's Sydney Opera House to Carnegie Hall in New York.
Like many people inspired by the "It Gets Better" project to encourage struggling LGBT youth to live for a better tomorrow, Caldwell felt it was important for him to be more out and open about his life as a gay man. Caldwell made a very well-produced It Gets Better online video featuring himself and members of the Youth Choral Theater, and he now makes it a point to come out as gay whenever he travels to guest conduct ensembles and at competitions throughout the country.
Realizing that he had previously never programmed a concert solely for an LGBT organization before, Caldwell was also inspired to be more involved directly with Chicago's gay community.
"When the position with Windy City Performing Arts came open, I thought that would be a good way for me to do it," said Caldwell. "I'm thrilled to be here and I think it's a period of great growth and great excitementbuilding on a tradition that is really legendary and imbuing that tradition with new energy."
Now WCPA has seen its share of many leadership struggles, with more than five different choral directors rotating in and out to lead the organization over the past decade. WCPA has also seen fluctuations in membership, with many long-term members and followers of the chorus often bemoaning how the chorus has never been as populous as its heyday in the 1980s.
"You have to make sure that the people in the room are having a good time, said Caldwell when asked about membership retention. "Particularly with volunteer choruses, people are choosing to give their leisure time to this activity and if they don't feel like a burden in their life has been lightened a bit week after week, then there isn't much reason for them to keep doing it."
Caldwell still feels that LGBT choruses have important work to do, even if some of the original founding principles for many have been changed through the years.
"It's a time when many gay choruses are re-examining their purposebecause when the gay chorus movement started, it was all about having a place where people could be out and proud," Caldwell said. "The world has changed enough that it isn't as absolutely immediately urgent and necessary as it was at that time. Now there are a lot of choruses that people can sing in and be out and nobody cares."
However, Caldwell feels that LGBT choruses are particularly poised to celebrate the advancements made in terms of equality efforts toward gay marriage and other issues important to the community.
"Not that long ago, this was unthinkable and the cause has been moved forward by leaps and bounds," said Caldwell. "For any member of the LGBT community who ever sang in a high school or college course, there is a place waiting for you at WCPA."
Caldwell admitted that he's still getting his bearings with WCPA, but he still feels there is plenty of good it can still do for both its members and audiences. A major goal is "having the organization be a part of the larger community and creating a situation where the world is a better place because the gay chorus exists."
"A Flood of Hope"which the Windy City Gay Chorus and Aria will performtakes place at 5 and 8 p.m. Saturday, March 2, at Ebenezer Lutheran Church, 1650 W. Foster Ave. The concert is a Hurricane Sandy relief concert to benefit the Ali Forney Center for Homeless LGBT Youth in New York City. General admission tickets are $20; see www.windycitysings.org . Discounted tickets of $15 for seniors and $10 for students and kids will be available at the door.