Dallas — The concert being presented by the Turtle Creek Chorale this weekend, called “Heroes,” is really two concerts in one. Two excellent concerts, by the way.
One is a tribute to six community service organizations that have a long-standing connection to the LGBT community and the Metroplex at large.
The second concert is the local premiere of Tyler’s Suite. This is a six-movement dramatic work, each written by a separate composer, combining music, dance and theater that honors the life of Tyler Clementi. He was an 18-year-old Rutgers student, in the process of coming out, who was driven to suicide by his roommate surreptitiously taking a video of him in a sexual encounter and posting it all over the Internet.
Part one honored the six chosen organizations with a short video, a carefully chosen choral selection and a stunning trophy: a turtle shell inspired cast glass sculpture, each one custom made by one of the choristers. A short video showed us the complicated many-step process. It is somewhat dangerous as well, since it involves the casting of melted bronze to make the mold and then pouring in the molten glass to make the finished piece. In these tributes, the TCC also features some fine soloists pulled from the chorus, too many to list here.
The first honored organization is Jonathan's Place, which offers a safe place and other services for children who have been abused, abandoned or neglected. The music is the pop hit Fireworks.
Next came the Federal Club, a subgroup of the Human Rights Campaign: the largest LGBT civil rights advocacy group and political lobbying organization in the United States. Stephen Sondheim’s “Our Time,” from Merrily We Roll Along, was paired with “Make Them Hear You” from the musical Ragtime by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty.
The Bruce Wood Dance Project featured an evocative ballet beautifully danced by some of their excellent dancers. Two black-clad figures, out of Georges Seurat's A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, slowly stalked the stage while three couples, male and female, skillfully performed some difficult ballet moves and lifts with an overlay of anguish. The music was Eliza Gilkyson’s minimalist-inspired Requiem, a song she wrote about the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami in December 2004.
They presented a fragment of a new ballet but, unfortunately, used recorded music.
The Susan G. Korman organization is dedicated to the treatment and eventual triumph over the scourge of breast cancer. This impacts everyone, not just the L in LGBT. We all have mothers, sisters, cousins and friends who are affected. The music was Dave Bassett and Rachel Platten’s Fight Song. The lyrics, especially one about taking back your life, combined with inspiring music, really delivered the message.
The Cathedral of Hope is just that, a beacon of love and acceptance for all to see. The TCC, joined by the Cathedral’s Pulse Praise Chorus, rocked the house with Kurt Carr’s gospel hit “I Never Lost my Praise.” The new Senior Pastor, The Reverend Dr. Neil G. Cazares-Thomas, represented the church with some brief, but remarkable words, about accepting the values of Jesus while rejecting the dogma imposed by some in the Christian community.
The last organization honored is the Dallas-based Resource Center, which offers many vital services to the LGBT population, not the least of which is the John Thomas Community Center, a gathering place They offer health services with the Nelson-Tebedo Clinic, HIV testing, counseling and mental heath services. The inspiring music is Bill Withers’ soul hit, “Lean on Me,” was paired with Stephen Schwartz’s “Beautiful City” from Godspell.
Tyler’s Suite is a series of six songs based on poetry by Pamela Stewart. Some of the lyrics are drawn from letters and remembered comments. In addition to the music, there is a mime scenario playing out on the stage by actors portraying Tyler’s parents.
Alex Heika, a chamming youthful actor with a good singing voice, plays Tyler himself. Jodi Crawford Wright, who has an operatically trained soprano, portrays Tyler’s mother. Two actors are listed as playing the father, without saying which one plays which night, so there is no way to know who was up on Thursday. They are Daryl Curry and Douglas Fonville.
This project was curated by Stephen Schwartz, a composer and lyricist with many Broadway hits to his credit in both capacities. Since Tyler was a violinist, a solo violin plays throughout the work. Overall, Tyler’s Suite is a positive celebration of his short life, but it becomes more serious as it progresses.
Schwartz chose the composers and assigned them one song to write. What a distinguished and varied group they are!
The distinguished musicologist and composer, Nolan Gasser, wrote the opening “I Have Songs You Haven’t Heard Before.” The other contributors include Lance Horne, Craig Carnella, John Bucchino, Ann Hampton Callaway, John Corigliano, and Jake Heggie.
Callaway’s “I Love You More” was the three-hanky selection, sung by the mother. The father gets an exploration of death at such a young age with “Just a Boy” by Bucchino. “The Unicycle Song” by Carnella celebrates Tyler’s ability to play the violin while riding the unicycle. Corigliano wrote a touching meditation representing Tyler with a lonesome violin solo, hauntingly danced by some of the Bruce Wood dancers. Heggie’s “The Narrow Bridge” offered a closing anthem.
The stage was set with choral risers, some with railings, framed by four rectangular steel pillars. A matching inverted 130-degree triangle, reminiscent of the roofline of modernist houses in the 50’s. A series of slender rectangles dotted the background with vertical rows of tiny twinkling and ever changing lights. Remote controlled floodlights, constantly repositioning, gave a feeling of motion and were also used for dramatic effects.
The chorus was not positioned as usual, but were scattered on the risers in groupings. They sang the challenging program without music.
Musical Director Sean Mikel Baugh continues to impress. His podium technique, only slightly modified for a choral environment, is clean and expressive. Tempi were right on all evening. A small cadre of other musicians assists Jeff Lankov, a wonder at the piano. The crucial violin part was adequately played by Katherine Kratzer.
The chorus sounds marvelous. Baugh has brought some precision to their singing that was lacking in years past. A singer himself, rehearsals are as much abut vocal technique as learning the music—and it shows.
» Read our feature on Tyler's Suite, which includes interviews with Schwartz, Heggie and Callaway, and a video with members of the Turtle Creek Chorale talking about coming out and the effects of bullying.