Boston Gay Men’s Chorus (Bay State Performing Arts, Inc.) wrote -
The Boston Gay Men’s Chorus (BGMC) will embark on a tour of South Africa in June 2018, a trip that will further the group’s mission to create musical experiences to inspire change, build community, and celebrate difference.
The South African tour will build on the success of the BGMC’s two previous international tours—last year’s groundbreaking trip to the Middle East and a 2005 tour of Eastern Europe—during which the BGMC sang to packed audiences despite pockets of harsh opposition to the idea of a chorus comprised of openly gay men.
“South Africa is a country of rich musical and choral traditions so we’re very excited to perform for audiences there and to honor those traditions,” said Reuben M. Reynolds III, BGMC music director. “Because protest songs were an integral part of the anti-apartheid movement, South Africans believe deeply in the transformative power of music and its use as a tool to effect social change. The BGMC was founded on those same beliefs and we hope our concerts will be received in that spirit.”
In 1994, South Africa became the first country in the world to explicitly protect gay people from discrimination with its post-apartheid constitution. Gay people are free to marry and adopt children jointly, and employment discrimination is banned. Yet, societal acceptance has been slow and LGBT South Africans suffer from high rates of murder, sexual assault and other bias-related violence. Men who have sex with men also face much higher rates of HIV infection than the general population. Even so, South Africa is a bastion of relative safety for LGBT people compared with neighboring countries. As a result, the country is grappling with an LGBT refugee crisis as those fleeing persecution based on sexual orientation and gender identity relocate to South Africa, often without resources for support.
The BGMC is planning a concert in Cape Town that will benefit PASSOP (People Against Suffering Oppression and Poverty), an organization that provides support to LGBT refugees and asylum seekers. The BGMC will also meet with LGBT South Africans, and other organizations that serve them, as well as clinics working on HIV treatment and prevention. Additionally, plans are underway to perform jointly with the Pretoria Gay Men’s Chorus.
With its mission to change hearts and minds through music, the BGMC has a long history of engaging diverse audiences through local and national outreach concerts. In April, the chorus performed at the College of the Holy Cross, marking one of the first times a gay men’s chorus has performed at a Catholic institution in the US; concert-goers described the experience as “revolutionary.” In January, 2015, the BGMC sang at the Inaugural Celebration of Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, becoming the first gay chorus to perform at a gubernatorial inauguration in New England, and the first gay chorus nationally to perform at a Republican gubernatorial celebration.
The BGMC’s international tours are an integral part of the chorus’s mission and its pioneering history. Last year’s performances in Israel and Turkey marked the first time a gay chorus performed in the region. The tour attracted worldwide media attention after a Turkish venue cancelled a performance because of vehement opposition from the Turkish government. The performance was held elsewhere with an overflow crowd. During the 2005 European tour, BGMC’s concert in Wroclaw, Poland was nearly derailed by a massive protest organized by a right-wing group outside the venue. The chorus was escorted to the venue by police in riot gear, but the concert sold out nonetheless. The story was international news (a common headline was “Music Triumphs Injustice”) and sparked important global conversations about LGBT rights.
“The BGMC has never been afraid to engage in difficult conversations and music is a universal language,” said Craig Coogan, executive director, BGMC. “Our concerts are about sharing our stories and our humanity through song, enabling others to find common ground in our experiences. This is how change happens—when we see that there is more that unites us than divides us. We look forward to continuing these conversations, be they in South Africa or in schools, houses of worship, and community centers across Massachusetts.”
About the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus
The Boston Gay Men’s Chorus creates musical experiences to inspire change, build community and celebrate difference. The BGMC is one of New England’s largest and most successful community-based choruses. Founded in 1982, the 200-voice ensemble is celebrated for its outstanding musicianship, creative programming, and groundbreaking community outreach. Under the dynamic leadership of Music Director Reuben M. Reynolds III, the BGMC sings a wide spectrum of classical and popular music and creates social change by providing a positive, affirming image of the gay and lesbian community. The Chorus is heard live by more than 10,000 people each season and thousands more through recording, television and internet broadcasts. CBS-WBZ named the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus one of the top five choruses in the city of Boston. In June 2015, the BGMC became the first LGBT chorus to tour the Middle East.