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Behind the Scenes

Gay Men’s Chorus to sing in Rockland

Performing in the spirit of outreach

The Boston Gay Men’s Chorus at a concert in Jordan Hall. The chorus performs in Rockland on March 11. The Boston Gay Men’s Chorus at a concert in Jordan Hall. The chorus performs in Rockland on March 11. (Scarpetta Photography)
February 23, 2012
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Now in its 30th year, the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus gets a lot of invitations to perform. Given the limitations of time with an entirely volunteer group of singers, executive director John Strumwasser admits, “We say no a lot.’’

But the chorus said yes to the First Congregational Church in Rockland, and the high-profile Boston-based arts group will perform there on March 11.

Founded in 1982, and New England’s largest cultural organization in the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transsexual community, the chorus reaches out to suburban and rural communities through concerts “to promote and create a more tolerant society through the power of music,’’ the group states.

“We try to have a presence outside the city to represent an affirmative, positive image of the gay community,’’ Strumwasser said. “It’s particularly important for young people, who often have difficulty in dealing with issues concerning coming out and acceptance. It’s a positive presentation.’’

In line with its outreach mission, Strumwasser said, the chorus tries to appear in different regions. This season the group is also performing in the Groton-Dunstable area and on Cape Cod.

The First Congregational Church in Rockland is a good place for the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus to perform because it has a policy of welcoming members from all backgrounds, said Janet Cann, a member of the church council.

“Our church is an open and affirming congregation,’’ Cann said. “We accept all walks of life.’’

That inclusiveness is consistent with the standpoint of the church’s membership in the United Church of Christ denomination, the umbrella organization that includes most of the region’s historic Congregational churches.

As gays and lesbians sought more visibility and greater participation in mainstream institutions in recent decades, many churches opened their doors, Cann said.

“The churches stepped up,’’ she said. “Acceptance became more public.’’

Her church is also eager to build up its role as a local provider of arts and culture. “Because Rockland is a small town and does not have a lot of cultural events, we’ve tried to make a commitment to begin to have a few concerts here,’’ Cann said. “We have a hand-bell concert and we have a brass concert’’ at Christmas. “We’re doing this concert this spring.’’

The church is a good home for music, she said. “It has a beautiful sanctuary and excellent acoustics.’’

The Rockland Cultural Council, the agency distributing state arts funds to local programs, is backing the concert with an $800 grant.

While the Gay Men’s Chorus has a full membership of 180 to 200 to draw on, about 50 to 60 singers will perform in Rockland, in a church that seats about 300.

The chorus typically performs with 140 to 160 singers for its subscription concert series in large Boston halls such as Jordan Hall and Symphony Hall, Strumwasser said.

The program the Gay Men’s Chorus will bring to Rockland is the same program it is preparing to sing in Jordan Hall next month, a concert titled “Love’s Voice.’’

The first half includes classic American songs by George Gershwin, pieces from the landmark gay musical “Falsettoland’’ (written 20 years ago), and some songs by such singers as Grammy Award winners Adele and Ricky Martin. “A lot of fun stuff,’’ Strumwasser said.

The second half of the concert consists of a relatively new work titled “For a Look or a Touch’’ by renowned American composer Jake Heggie, composer of the operas “Moby-Dick’’ and “Dead Man Walking.’’

Highly theatrical, the work tells the story of the love between two men during the Holocaust. The story is based on the journal of Manfred Lewin, who died in a concentration camp, and from interviews with his lover, Gad Beck, who survived, and with other survivors. Reviewers have called the piece “unabashedly theatrical’’ and “a sharply poignant, deeply affecting work,’’ according to the chorus’s publicity for its concert.

Under the direction of music director Reuben M. Reynolds III, the chorus continues to uphold high standards musically while building bridges by providing a positive image of the gay and lesbian community, Strumwasser said. The chorus has produced 10 CDs, winning awards and selling more than 15,000 copies nationwide. It has commissioned more than 30 works of original music and given local premieres of many more.

Next month the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus brings a big sound and a big heart to Rockland.

Robert Knox can be reached at rc.knox2@gmail.com.

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Boston Gay Men”s Chorus First Congregational Church in Rockland, 12 Church St.

March 11, 3 p.m.

$15

Tickets, 718-878-0060