New Member Story | Adrian Ray Avalani

Oakland East Bay Gay Men's Chorus

I find that joining a chorus is often, quite literally, like joining a family. From what I’ve seen – though second- and third-hand – of married life, it starts out a little awkward at first, being around strangers about whom you know nothing besides your mutual love for a single someone. But gradually meetups become less awkward, and your conversation topics shift from the person you have in common to topics any two friends might discuss. Like mutual interests, the recent sports game, or whether any of your family members are cute and single. Well… perhaps not so much that last one.

OEBGMC is only the second choral community that I’ve been a part of; my first, in college, was the Caltech Glee Club, and not the type of Glee Club everyone thinks of when I say that – the kind that stands still in formalwear and sings largely classical (and no pop) songs. It was no-audition, and therefore the only vocal ensemble on campus that I dared try and join: though I had an abiding passion for music, my formal music education had ended in elementary school, meaning that I learned painstakingly and slowly, mostly by ear. But our choir director made me feel welcome immediately and I soon found our 3 hours of rehearsal to be the highlight of each week, and slowly the musical community at Caltech was able to provide me contentment if home or school life was particularly stressful – which they usually were. By the time I reached graduation I’d made several close friends from Glee Club, my musical skills and intuition had strengthened considerably, and though I was sad to be leaving my chorus brothers and sisters, I left with two things firmly ingrained in my head: to sit straight with feet flat and hold my folder up, and that I needed to find a musical community wherever I ended up after graduation.

When I found the event advertising OEBGMC’s auditions, I’d simply been looking for a choral group in the Bay Area, not necessarily anything to do with queerness. But as a queer person, I still find it particularly freeing to be in an environment where most if not all participants are variously LGBT, and where acceptance of such identities is a given. In college, my dorm functioned as my queer-friendly family in lieu of the not-particularly-queer-friendly one I’d grown up with, giving me the open, unquestionably accepting environment that I needed to come out and be comfortable expressing myself. By the time I graduated and entered “the real world,” I considered my queerness inherent to me yet an afterthought of my identity, something about as worth mentioning as my hometown or the color of my hair. I joined OEBGMC in the fall, almost immediately after I moved to the Bay, but quickly came to realize that though I didn’t expect to need a space to express my LGBT identity, rehearsal still was a welcome change from a workday where I was wary of mentioning my identity lest someone unexpectedly find it objectionable. Instead, once I auditioned, I found that the community I was accepted into was not only 60 fellow music lovers, but also people who understood the reality of living as someone on the LGBT spectrum in a world that didn’t always appreciate the gifts that allowed us.

I was a little nervous upon showing up to my OEBGMC audition, a little worried because – characteristically for me – I’d committed to auditioning before I had calculated the commute time to Oakland, but mostly excited to be part of a musical community again. My fear that I’d completely forgotten how to sing in the intervening months from graduation to the beginning of the season shockingly did not come true, and the audition was painless and simple. The chorus’ small size – about the same as the 50-to-60-member roster of my college Glee Club – made it feel particularly welcoming, as people quickly learned my name and I theirs, and I discovered that my body still remembered how to sit up straight and hold my binder real high while singing. My first season was filled with a few Latinate songs like those I’d been used to in college as well as peppy, cheesy Christmas earworms that I could never resist swaying back and forth to. The concerts were wonderful as concerts always are, with the familiar excitement of performing a mostly-mastered set combined with being able to go somewhere new, dress up, and hear people applauding us. By the time the season was complete, I knew I’d be coming back for the next.

I’m delighted to now be gearing up for my second concert with OEBGMC, discovering the complexity of Leonard Bernstein and his colleagues’ compositions while still learning quite a bit about music with the chorus brothers who are now rapidly becoming my friends. Just as they were four years ago, chorus rehearsals are still the highlight of my weeks, and though I’m considerably more confident about skills now, I still find that being surrounded by 50 to 60 voices as I do my best to master a tricky piece or phrase is a singularly wonderful experience. I am very glad that when I found OEBGMC I found both a musical community and a place of LGBT openness and acceptance, and through them, perhaps a new queer musical family, and I hope I will be singing with them for many concerts more.