Sunday, October 09, 2011

The San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus Crescendo Fundraising Gala: A Unique Musical Artistic Event

Conductor Timothy Seelig, Grand Duchess Kylie Minono, and executive director Teddy Witherington

A unique brunch was hosted by the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus at the Four Seasons Hotel on Oct. 9:  The annual Crescendo fundraising gala in one of the city’s most stylish hotels started at noon, a time of the day on Sundays when many are nursing hangovers at home. The chorus drew an amazingly large turnout for a quiche and fruit parfait brunch, with accomplished musical performances and awards for the organization’s supporters.

Chorus guests who arrived early enjoyed cocktails and hors d’oeuvres on the hotel terrace that overlooks the Contemporary Jewish Museum’s huge tilted blue cube. The chorus’ two ensembles, the Lollipop Guild and the Vocal Minority, performed to kick off the party and they projected the positive mood of the party and enhanced the admiration of the gathered donors.

Board president Michael Tate, executive director Teddy Witherington, and honoree Stuart Milk

The chorus’ new Human Rights Champion Award was given to Harvey Milk’s nephew Stuart Milk by chorus board president Michael Tate and executive director Teddy Witherington for his advocacy of LGBT rights worldwide. Milk’s day job is working with at-risk youth and he founded the Harvey Milk Foundation to fight hate and discrimination. From his base near Ft. Lauderdale, Milk researches and then visits communities where he can do the most good—from Spain to Turkey to San Jose Pride.

The new link between the Chorus and Harvey Milk was revealed when a “Dear Harvey, We’ve Got Hope” project video was screened, and then described by Witherington. Young people are being asked for their feelings about Milk and their submissions will be formed into musical creations for the Chorus’ upcoming 35th anniversary season. Impressive board president Tate then spoke about funding for the organization for the future.

A unique talent, counter-tenor Jacques Snyman, then performed, and the expressions of surprise on faces around the ballroom has been seen before, when other blatantly masculine looking countertenors reach high notes. Diageo Americas’ Phillipa Jones (of subsidiary Sterling Vineyards) said that their commitment to the LGBT community is sincere when she accepted a Corporate Champion Award. The Bay Area Reporter (BAR) received a Media Champion Award, though the decade-long LGBT press boycott of the Chorus led by the BAR’s publisher after a controversial Chorus dinner incident was not mentioned.

The guests were thanked by event co-chairs Paul Olsen and Sean Livingston, and there was talk from table to table about the Chorus’ altruistic tours through small California cities that also finance their local LGBT groups. Providing role models and self-esteem is an important side benefit to areas of the state where that can be lacking.

The Gay Men’s Chorus has managed to prosper during a time of financial uncertainty and much of the credit is due to not only the staff and board, but also the advisory board which includes Molly McKay of Marriage Equality USA, Dr. Betty L. Sullivan of Betty's List and the San Francisco Bay Times, Devesh Khatu of the Horizons Foundation, and Cecilia Chung of the San Francisco Human Rights Commission. Hardworking artistic operations manager Mike Holland also deserves credit for presenting professional light and sound in spaces where it never existed previously.

Artistic director and conductor for the last ten years Dr. Kathleen McGuire was remembered fondly, and her replacement Dr. Timothy Seelig has been embraced by the chorus after changes were made to the repertoire.

The Chorus is also thriving thanks to the monumental talents of Paul Saccone, the music director of the Lollipop Guild ensemble and Carl Pantle, the Chorus' associate artistic director, principal pianist, and the musical director of the Vocal Minority ensemble.

A wonderful event ended with musical interludes from the Lollipop Guild and the Vocal Minority.

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