by Joey Raven 4/13/17
I’m proud to say that I’ve been with the Oakland East Bay Gay Men’s Chorus for over seven months, about to perform my second set of concerts. It has been an amazingly rewarding experience, and for some time now I’ve been thinking about a way to express how important this chorus has been to me.
Before I started singing with OEBGMC, I didn’t know many gay people (aside from myself). I found it pretty easy to feel disconnected from society. Watching the news, or seeing the inescapable political threads on social media, sometimes makes me dispassionate, like the world caters to interests other than my own. It’s frightening, to set out into that world as a young person carrying the feeling that I won’t be accepted for who I am, that there are people out there who hate me for something I cannot and would not change.
Perhaps the intolerance I was feeling was internal, ingrained in me as much as the rest of society. Either way, it drove me to seek shelter from a storm. I decided to find a group of people that, at least in this one way, were like me—somewhere I could feel safe. It didn’t take me long to find the Oakland East Bay Gay Men’s Chorus.
It was as difficult as anything I’ve ever done, writing the email to schedule an audition and showing up in a room full of strangers to sing. Everyone from the chorus was of course incredibly welcoming and helpful, and the audition itself was more about placing new singers in their proper vocal section, but even so, I was completely terrified. I had no choral experience whatsoever, didn’t know how to read sheet music, had never sung in front of strangers before.
Something about the experience, a feeling about what it might become, compelled me to stick with the chorus for a time, even though my nerves begged me not to. I stumbled through my first few rehearsals feeling very much like the music was over my head and that I had just found yet another place that I didn’t belong.
But then something started to change. I put in some solid practice a few times a week, and I started to get the hang of some of the songs. And when that happened, I realized I was starting to read music. The chorus offers a ton of help to its singers, rehearsal tracks to practice to, a compendium of information and a strong, connected presence online. My chorus mates were all so fun and friendly and made me feel at home.
By the time our concerts rolled along, I was absolutely in love with my new family. I realized at some point, gearing up for our winter shows, that we weren’t just weathering a storm together. We weren’t walling ourselves off from the world, making a safe haven for ourselves to block out intolerance and cruelty; we were stepping out, smiling, singing, loving, connecting, and facing the world while wearing silly hats. Our concerts were full of laughter and tears and all that good stuff you want a concert to be filled with. And the joy it brought me to be up on stage with my friends, literally watching happiness spread through our community, was indescribable.
As I was considering how best to express what this organization has meant to me, I decided that this thing I’m writing really had three points. The first, to convey my deepest, eternal gratitude to OEBGMC and each and every one of its members for making me feel like I have a place in the world. I have no doubt that this is the most wonderful group of men in the universe and I am honored to be a part of it.
The second, as a message of encouragement to anyone thinking about joining this chorus, or any other group like it. As I was going into my second concert season, I realized something that, to me, was pretty significant: in the beginning, nobody knows what they’re doing. No one that I’ve ever met walks into a rehearsal, looks at a piece of music for the first time and nails it on the first try. We are all stumbling and bumbling together, and we all put in an incredible amount of work and we all somehow manage to put on a terrific show at the end of the season. While the chorus is filled with amazingly talented people and is privileged enough to work with some truly talented musicians and soloists, it’s really our passion for what we do that makes our shows so amazing.
And the third, as an example of the impact this organization can have. Joining OEBGMC quite literally changed my life, added to my purpose and continues to this day to make me feel more whole. The passion that we all have for our music, the drive of our group, isn’t something we keep to ourselves. Not everyone in the chorus had the same experience when they first joined, to be sure, but the love and dedication for what we do is something we all share, and it’s something we bring with us each time we step out into our community.