Dayton Gay Men’s Chorus performs holiday concert Saturday

Credit: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Credit: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Troupe celebrates 20 years of music with a mission.

Music has been the medium for a much larger mission since Dayton Gay Men’s Chorus was founded by Fred Poland in 2003. The vocal group, presenting “The Gift That Keeps on Giving” at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Dayton on Saturday, Dec. 3, is dedicated to being a gay-affirming presence in the Miami Valley, one that inspires, encourages and sustains excellence.

“It’s an organization I’m passionate about,” said Drew Huggins, chorus member and president of the DGMC Board of Directors. “There’s something to be said for out and proud, particularly in the political climate we’re in right now. It’s really important to me to be up in front of people and showing what it’s like to be a proud, out, gay man. One of my goals has always been to get young people more involved through different projects and by reaching out to schools. We’ve had a little less success reaching out to junior highs and high schools, but we’ve had some success with universities and colleges.”

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Huggins joined the chorus as a singer in 2014 and moved into a leadership role the following year.

“I was vice president for one year and I’ve been president for six,” he said. “I’ve always been a bit of junkie when it comes to community service. I thought if I could get an opportunity to step into leadership, I could drive the ship a little bit more and I really appreciated that. One of my goals was to focus on the business side of it so we’ve really grown quite a bit. We’ve grown our donor base, which is all about outreach. We’ve had corporate support and I’ve written some successful grants for the organization. It’s a lot of work but a lot of fun.”

Credit: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Credit: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Holiday music

Part of that fun for the members of DGMC is public performances like Saturday’s free concerts at Westminster Presbyterian Church.

“It’s a combination of secular and sacred holiday music,” Huggins said. “We have two original songs that were written by our music director, Kathy Clark. Then, we have several songs that are standards or classic songs that have been rearranged for the chorus by various arrangers and our artistic director. There’s a little bit of choreography. It’s going to be a lot of fun.

“We’re really looking forward to seeing our fans again and unmasked,” Huggins continued. “We were unmasked for our June concert, but we were still masked for our last Christmas concert. It’ll be nice to see their faces. It’s really hard to convey that emotion when you’re masked but we knew safety was important. It’s going to be nice to be out there again and we’re so looking forward to it.”

Fresh blood

DGMC had a slight drop in membership during the pandemic, but the numbers are on the rise. There are 37 singers in this Saturday’s program, up from 27 last December.

“We were really surprised how many new people came in,” Huggins said. “We have six people who have never sang with us before and two or three that hadn’t sang with us for the last several seasons. A couple that stopped pre-COVID, that didn’t even sing with us in the 2019 season, came back. They talked about how they really felt it was important that they come back.”

Huggins is encouraged the organization’s outreach efforts has attracted some younger singers, which is crucial to DGMC’s future growth.

“The average age for all the choruses skews a little older and that’s why I’ve been passionate about trying to get younger folks involved,” he said. “This round we had quite a few younger members in their 20s and early 30s. That’s exciting because ideally, from the outreach point of view, the audience needs to see themselves on stage.

“Having that diversity, whether it be racial diversity or age diversity, is important,” Huggins continued. “If a young person just sees a whole bunch of old guys, they don’t see themselves. Having several young folks now is going to be helpful in attracting more people in their 20s and 30s.”

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DGMC’s outreach efforts has also helped widen its audience.

“COVID notwithstanding, our audiences have continually grown through the years and that’s been nice to see,” Huggins said. “We worked to increase those numbers because that’s a great way to spread our message. This is December and people are busy so we’re competing with so many other arts organizations, but we’ll have 600 to 800-plus attending this concert on Saturday.

“Since this is our 20th year, we wanted to make sure it was accessible to all,” Huggins continued. “The concerts on Saturday and the concert coming up in June are free. We normally charge a nominal amount, $25 to $35 per show, but this year we decided our overarching theme is ‘We Give Back’ so we decided to make both shows free. We’re still going to have a ticketed fundraiser in April but these two are free so just show up.”

Credit: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Credit: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Looking ahead

While DGMC is celebrating its first 20 years, Huggins is also looking toward the future.

“I’d like to see it continue to grow,” he said. “The conversation at some of the leadership retreats I’ve gone to have been about how we may not have the need to have Gay in the name. Like Cincinnati Men’s Chorus never did. Some of the others like Boston Gay Men’s Chorus talked about removing Gay from the name. In this political environment, I think it’s important to continue to have that.

“Young people are still coming out,” Huggins added. “They still need this normalization of sexuality and personal identity, and we have that mission for the foreseeable future. So, 20 years from now, I’d like to see us continue the quality of the shows and entertainment value but also that outreach going forward. We can certainly do it. We’ve got longevity.”

Contact this contributing writer at 937-287-6139 or e-mail at donthrasher100@gmail.com.

HOW TO GO

What: Dayton Gay Men Chorus presents “The Gift That Keeps on Giving”

Where: Westminster Presbyterian Church, 125 N. Wilkinson St., Dayton

When: 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 3

Cost: Free

More info: www.daytongaymenschorus.org

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