Dallas — A concert by the Turtle Creek Chorale exists on two levels. It is first and foremost a universally recognized excellent male chorus, 160 voices strong, with a huge discography. But it is also a gay cultural icon whose concerts are a gathering of the clan, so to speak.
For 36 seasons, TCC has been one of the more visible aspects of the LGBT community as we moved from being, as early gay rights pioneer Frank Kameny said, “unindicted and unapprehended criminals” on the margins of society to almost full citizenship with only country-wide protection in employment and housing remaining. It gave us the strength to stand proud, and alone, as an unknown disease decimated us: ignored for way too long, allowing it to spread into a worldwide disaster whose end we have yet to see.
As such, the concerts needed to serve every corner of our world. Many were vaudevillian in nature: a collection of music and skits with everything from comic drag to serious singing.
Last evening’s “Heartland” concert at the Dallas City Performance Hall, under the skillful and detailed direction of Artistic Director Sean Baugh, was wall-to-wall choral singing at the highest level. There was one vestigial Patsy Cline number and some very funny representations of the southern states in the opening number, including a hysterical “over-it” Statue of Liberty, but the overall approach was serious music making—even in the lighthearted moments. Diction was excellent with precisely placed consonants. Intonation was right on target and the choral sound was uniformly rich, full and balanced.
Two other groups joined TCC. One was some members of the Lone Star Wind Orchestra, turning in a sit-up-and-take-notice performance. If this was any indication of the abilities of the entire band, their concert on Oct. 25 at the Meyerson Symphony Center should be of interest to everyone.
The other was 50 women’s voices from the Partners in Harmony, drawn from choir members of welcoming congregations around the Metroplex. This information was gleaned from a brief announcement from the stage. There was nothing in the program about them nor was there anything to be found on TCC’s website.
Locally based soprano Coretta Smith was the guest soloist. She possesses a gorgeous voice, as proven by her finalist finish in the Metropolitan Opera National Council Competition. It is an interesting sideline that Smith, along with some of the soloists, are African-American while the chorus itself only has a few such members.
A small subgroup called Camerata knocked our socks off with the chug-a-chug onomatopoeic “I Am a Train” and other soloists drawn from the chorale were equally impressive. (The program featured songs by the likes of Woody Guthrie, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Bob Dylan and Gershwin, among others). Scott Ayres did a fine job at the piano. An over-amplified bagpiper, as if that battle cry instrument needed any further sonic enhancement, ushered in the grand finale with (what else?) “Amazing Grace.”
While there were some musical things to comment about, pro and con, none rose to the level of mention in a review. One humorous thing: Baugh’s comment that many feel TCC programs to be lopsided with religious (specifically Christian) music was followed by…religious music.
This is a continuing concern for civic and professional choruses because of the wealth of religious choral music and its historical precedent in Western musical traditions. The chorale’s close connection to the Cathedral of Hope may also have something to do with this situation as well as the background of the singers and artistic staff. Note to TCC: other religions and cultures have a strong musical tradition as well and this is an organization that by its very nature needs to be as inclusive as possible.
One last comment. In this season of program snafus, it is worth mentioning that the use of light yellow ink as a second color rendered those bits of information, such as the names of the soloists, unreadable—even in good lighting. Further, a larger typeface, and not in italics, would have been helpful in following the order of the music in the darkened theater.
But none of these side issues mattered on Friday evening. It was, without reservation, a wonderful evening of music and top-notch singing.