The BGMC is Ready For Its (Holiday) Close-Up
For 31 years, the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus exists --- as do gay and lesbain choruses elsewhere in the United States and around the world -- to "create a more tolerant society through the power of music."
The BGMC, like other arts organization, has been facing tough economic times. The chorus has confronted the ongoing challenge of remaining relevant in a rapidly-changing social climate that now accepts and celebrates GLBT people as never before. Putting on three full-scale concerts each season along with outreach efforts, often at area high schools, doesn’t come cheap.
With so many other forms of culture and entertainment competing for audiences, the artistic bar is high and perpetually getting higher for director Reuben M. Reynolds, accompanist and arranger Chad Weirick, choreographer Michelle Chasse, and de facto artistic director Bill Casey.
The incoming executive director, Craig Coogan, announced recently that the Chorus has, for the first time ever, purchased commercial advertising time on local television. This might be expensive, but he’s working with Comcast to acquire orphaned ad spots to drive down the cost.
"It’s time for the BGMC to be known to a wider audience and the most efficient way to access that audience is by television," Coogan said during a recent tech rehearsal at Jordan Hall, while a group of singers ran through a number titled "Boogy Woogie Hanukkah."
"It’s time for the BGMC to be known to a wider audience and the most efficient way to access that audience is by television," said Coogan. Potential audience members don’t rely on a single ad message, be it poster, post card, or word of mouth.
The TV ads dovetail well with recent efforts to promote concerts through social media. Longtime singer and BGMC Board member Peter Crosby orchestrates occasional Facebook "flash mobs," and made videos of chorus members sharing their stories for an "It Gets Better" project two years ago.
Indeed, the chorus has taken another novel step this Yuletide season in creating a short film for release on YouTube (and sharing on Facebook). The three-and-a-half minute black-and-white film is presented as a silent movie and ties into the Holiday Concert’s skit, in which a group of monks "sing" the Alleluia Chorus from Handel’s "Messiah" by flashing placards.
At this point, journalistic ethics demand that, as a member of the chorus, I reveal my own participation in the short film, taking on the role of "Brother Buster," a cineaste monk who is conscripted to direct a short film for the brothers of the Sissytine Chapel in order to raise money for roof repairs.
The experience of making a film, even a short film, is far different from the illusion projected by the end result. A video of less than four minutes’ running time required two full rehearsals totalling six hours of filming, not to mention countless hours of editing.
Behind the camera, and at the laptop to assemble the footage, was professional filmmaker Michael Cox, a new but already invaluable member of the BGMC. Longtime member Tom Choinski, who for years has been the creative force behind the group’s skits, wrote the script and co-edited the production.
Cox has made a number of documentaries, and worked as a producer on the TV series "Everwood." The chorus was only too glad to utilize his talents when Choinski hatched the idea of creating a promotional short film.
"Tom Choinski came up and said that he was planning to do this skit, and to promote it he wanted to do a short silent film," Cox said. He told him, "I’m just going to shoot it on my iPhone," to whichI said, "Do you want it to be better?"
As it happened, Cox had the goods ready to demonstrate his ability and familiarity with the silent film genre: He starred in a 20-minute silent short titled "The Salesman," in which he portrays a character very much like silent era giant Buster Keaton.
"I sent him a link to ’The Salesman,’ " Cox recalled, "and he said, ’Yeah, I’d love to use your talents.’ "
Being one of the amateurs Cox directed for the film. I was amazed at his patience and his way of working with the cast to get performances that would work for the camera.
"It’s not at all a challenge," Cox reckoned. "I’ve taught acting before, and I worked with amateurs a lot."
Cox also choreographed the dance sequence. "I would not say that dance is one of my fortes," he reflected. "However, I thought, what would Buster Keaton do? He would use the camera to bring something funny and interesting to this placard gag; he’d make it visually alive and exciting."
To that end, Cox worked out a variety of kinetic sight gags, including a scene in which a number of placards are seemingly flung from one character to another at a rapid clip, spelling out "HALLELUJAH" in time with the soundtrack.
The silent film "is a teaser for what you’ll see in the concert. "It’s a cliffhanger," Cox noted. "It’s got a catchy tune, it’s got ridiculous behavior that people look at and laugh. What make silent films work so well is they cross the border between high and low comedy; they work for all classes of people. That’s also what makes for viral videos: They have something for everyone."
So does the Holiday Concert, "Hallelujah!" The program includes Handel’s "Hallelujah Chorus," but also Leonard Cohen’s "Hallelujah," a Native American Indian "Solstice" chant, Stephen Schwartz’s "The Chanunukah Song," soulfully delivered rockabilly infused selections like Mariah Carey’s "All I Want for Christmas is You" and Irving Taylor’s "The Man with the Bag," and new renditions of old favorites like "Silver Bells" and "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" -- to say nothing of the gorgeous contemporary Gregorian Chant that is Ola Gjello’s "Ubi Caritas" and the roof-raising Gospel fire of "Children Go Where I Send Thee."
According to Coogan, "The BGMC is one of the cultural icons of the city of Boston. Sharing our story consistently through television, internet, social media and on the stage is one way that we fulfill our mission of creating a more tolerant society through the power of music.
"The short film is a terrific example of so many talented members of the chorus coming together and creating a collaborative work," he added. "Putting it out through a variety of distribution channels -- YouTube and Facebook -- has certainly driven traffic. And we’ve sold out for Sunday!"
But fear not: Tickets are still available for the remaining three performances of the Holiday Concert, which will take place on Friday, Dec. 14; Saturday, Dec. 15; and Monday, Dec. 17, all at 8 p.m. and all at Boston’s Jordan Hall.
Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor, writing about film, theater, food and drink, and travel, as well as contributing a column. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.