Dallas — It is incredibly difficult to denigrate a chorale program that has, running through its core, themes of uplift, support, encouragement, and love. To close out their 39th season, the Turtle Creek Chorale has constructed a program rooted in those very themes. You Are Light, which runs through Sunday at Moody Performance Hall, has been hailed as one of the most important concerts the group has ever done, as it addresses the stark realities of fear, shame, mental illness, bullying, and suicide in the gay community.
As I said, it’s hard to find a reason to criticize such a noble and crucial endeavor. Sadly, though, I must.
Four women are dead, and another is still recovering from her stab wounds. It was only last week that the body of another transgendered woman was fished out of White Rock Lake. In You Are Light, the choir’s central message rings with hints of “it gets better” and “you are not alone,” but fails to make any mention of the very real fear that is currently gripping thousands of our brothers and sisters right here in Dallas.
Instead, the program is rife with testimonies and personal narratives about growing up as a gay man and all of the emotional and mental implications of that struggle. As a black, cisgender, gay male myself, I can attest to that fact. It isn’t easy; and the struggles — mental or otherwise — that shaped who I am today will never lose their importance and impact. I wouldn’t allow anyone to take that from me, and I would never seek to devalue anyone else’s story.
In light of recent events, however, the function and placement of that story takes on new meaning.
I only wish that artistic director Sean Mikel Baugh was more sensitive to that same sentiment during Friday night’s performance. And it is a shame, too, because, from a vocal and technical standpoint, the Turtles bring their A-game to this program.
The show opens with a lovely arrangement of “A Million Dreams” from The Greatest Showman, showcasing some of their most talented solo voices like Jacob Lofland, Joshua Urbano, and Daniel Conti. The first half’s finale, “You Will Be Found” is a vocal triumph for this group. While contrived in staging and choreography, the meat of the concert — the music — holds up solidly throughout the night, with poignant moments of high energy and potent emotional depth.
The program also includes four world premieres, commissioned specifically for this project. One is Great Flowing River composer by James Eakin III with text by Charles Silvestri. Conducted by former TCC Artistic Diretor Tim Seelig, it was written in remembrance of his daughter Corianna. The employment of featured soloists Bobby Jo Valentine, who performs some of his original works, and local superstar Walter Lee, add a bright and engaging vocal dynamic. It’s a very heavy set, sometimes bordering on pandering — but the message is clear and effective. I just couldn’t shake the feeling that this message is, for the most part, preaching to the choir. Pun completely intended.
It is yet another example of business as usual here in Dallas — a warm hug that, however well-intentioned, only manages to placate the status quo through a ham-handed display of those among us who are just different enough to stand out and have a voice, but always retain the option of fitting in.
The last thing I want to do is take away anyone’s experience. Every individual story is unique and has value, but every story also has context. Nothing happens in a vacuum. For this narrative, that context is unfortunately the grim backdrop of transgendered women (mostly of color) being murdered and tossed into lakes right here in our very city.
As one of the longest-running LGBTQ arts organizations in Dallas, the Turtles have every opportunity — and dare I say the responsibility — to shine a light on every letter of that acronym. If there’s any group in Dallas that should be up to the challenge of being challenging, it’s them. In neglecting the “T,” this series misses the sociopolitical mark.