www.ambiente.us  JUNE | JUNIO 2009

Behind the Scenes | The Miami Gay Men's Chorus
by Armando Diaz Jr.

Chorus \Cho"rus\, n.; in terms and in the tradition of the greatest
of Greek dramas, is defined as the following.  
1. (Gr. Drama) A company of persons supposed to behold what
passed in the acts of a comedy or tragedy, and to sing the
sentiments which the events suggested in couplets or
verses between the acts.

Ladies and gentleman (in a slightly more fabulous nutshell) this is the Miami Gay
Men's Chorus (MGMC). However, the timeless definition above, does not do this group
of very talented and classic men justice.  I was offered the opportunity by Mr. Anthony
Cabrera (the chorus's artistic director and all around visionary) to sit in on their
Thursday night rehearsal, front and center as their only audience.  It was not only
flattering, but impressive as I was highly moved by the passionate nature, with which
every individual member of this group delivers their performance.  Their powerful yet
soothing and collected voices, vibrated through the walls of the small auditorium
behind St. Patrick's Church (Miami Bch.) and consequently moved me.  The subject
matter of their upcoming
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performance is nothing less of intense.  

Christi Hayes (the chorus's marketing chair) writes, "The 75+ member chorus is
celebrating its 10th Anniversary with their Spring Concert, titled Look: back, inward, &
forward with performances June 19th @ 8PM and June 20th @ 2PM and again @ 8PM,
at the Colony Theatre on Miami Beach. It opens with a lively retrospective featuring show
stopping selections from Sondheim, ABBA, Gloria Estefan, and Elton John".  Hayes
continues, "Then the concert turns serious with the performance of a new choral theatre
work by Michael Shaieb, Through A Glass, Darkly, which explores 36 hours in the
unraveling life of a young gay man addicted to crystal methamphetamine".

This MGMC's performance will no doubt be royally excellent, but far more excellent is the
immense contribution the MGMC is making to our entire community (as this is not an
excuslively gay issue).  The MGMC is truly communicating it's mission as Mr. Cabrera
stated, "to change lives through the power of music".  And I must say, from where I was
sitting, it was quite powerful.  Where is this power gathered from? What are the
motivations and inspirations these men draw from? And through their gift, what do they
most want to convey to the audience?

Before taking in the rehearsal, I  had the privledge to meet with and pick the brains a few
of the MGMC's leadership, including Anthony Cabrera (AB, artisitc director), Keith
Cromley (KC, administrative director), and Gregory Crosby (GC, president of the board
of directors). Keith and Gregory are also active singers in the chorus.  Joining them as
well for my assorted questions were a few of the soloists, Freddy Garcia (FG), Erik
DeBusk (ED), Pedro Camejo (PC) and Guillermo
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Morales (GM). I did not however have the opportunity to speak
with Craig Fashbaugh, the original founder of the chorus (aka
the boy from Ohio) and Chris Libdell (assistant director and
accompanist).

We began as the choir was practicing, their voices creating a
calming and very real energy throughout.

AD| How are you guys feeling? Are you psyched about your
10th Anniversary Show?
KC| The last few weeks as we build into the production and
start moving off our music books and working on the
memorization of some of the key parts of the concert, and the
costumes and all of the make-up and all the pieces coming
together the excitement just starts to build.
|PC| I feel good! A little anxious.

AD| And your last name is Casejo?
PC| Tampoco, ni Cangrejo, ni Camello, es Camejo.  
AD| A bueno Camejo, perdoname.

AD| What brought you to the MGMC?
PC| I was looking for a date..., um, I wanted to expand my social circle of people...I was
hesitant when I came in.  I tell you what, it was a very welcoming chorus.  I joined last
summer and I've met some really great guys and have had the privilege of forming
some really incredible bonds.  I look forward to every Thursday.

AD| If you don't mind me asking what nationalities are your backgrounds?
GM| I'm Cuban...Cuban-American.  (PC) I'm Chinese...no, I'm Cuban, Cuban.
FG| I was born in Miami Beach, and my parents are Cuban and Colombian.

ED| I was born in a very small town in rural Virginia, right on the border of
.
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Tennessee.  My background is comprised of Dutch, German, and Cherokee.

AD| Do you ever do any numbers in Spanish? What kind?
KC| Yes! The big concert that we did in July downtown, at the opera house, we
performed a piece by Garcilaso de la Vega and it was called, um...Amor de mi Alma. It's
a beautiful love poem from the 17th Century that was put to music...and it was
spectacular. And we learned the entire thing and sang it by heart and we brought down
the opera house!

AD| When did you first start singing?
FG| When I was 9 years old I used to sing along with the radio whenever Debbie
Boone's "You Light up My Life" was played. My parents and siblings started asking me
to sing the song whenever we have a family get-together, which in my family was often. I
have over 100 family members here in Miami! Eventually they started bribing me to sing
it when I was embarrassed, so I started learning more songs. I sang at my two older
sisters' 15s in front of a lot of people, and got hooked on the adrenaline rush
GC| When I was seven. Done a couple things on television, I've sung for 30 odd some
years.  I was on Good Morning America once before from a show I had
.
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PC| I haven't in a long time, since I was 12 lips synching to songs I can't
mention.
AD| Do you invoke a diva at all? If so who?
AC| There are a lot of people that have influenced my approach to music…there are a lot
of people who have changed my life in terms of viewing music and developing
programs and developing choirs…and those are the people that I invoke on a regular
basis.
GC| You're probably gonna laugh...Liza Minelli would be one of them just because she's
really fabulous and wonderful.  And Ethyl Merman, she was really a great lady.
ED| I suppose I consider Elton John a diva of sorts, especially among the gay
community....based on his very flamboyant style over the years.  I tend to sing many of
his songs as part of my repertoire and what greater honor than to consider him my diva!
PC| Jennifer Hudson, honestly.  
FG| I've always loved Bono, from U2. I also loved Marc Anthony's voice. People have also
compared me to Rod Stewart, Jon Bon Jovi, and Andrea Bocceli.

AD| A powerful message in your upcoming Spring concert, is the 2nd half of the
program, Through A Glass, Darkly , includes the continuing crisis of crystal meth
addiction in our community.  What would you like to communicate to the world about this
issue?

AC| In putting this program together, my thought process was where are we headed.  
This summer at the GALA Festival I heard this piece and I knew that, it had been
commissioned and that Twin Cities had done it already and had heard stuff about it
already at a conference...but it really seemed like the perfect piece to put in this 10th
Anniversary concert, since its such a tough subject to deal with, but its set with such real
cool music and really cool vocal lines...it really sounds pop it really sounds attractive to
people.  It was an excellent way to say the MGMC ha been doing this for the past 10
years...and we will continue doing things like this but now as part of our mission and
our gift back to the community we're going to address certain issues that need to be
addressed...and we're going to find a nice way to do it.
                                                                                   done in New York.
                                                                                  GM| I first started singing in the
                                                                                   7th grade, in our middle school
                                                                                   choir.  I stayed in the choir until
                                                                                   high school. I met Freddy and
                                                                                   he said I should come and
                                                                                   check out the choir, and here
                                                                                  I am.

                                                                                  AD| Do you remember the first
                                                                                  album record you ever bought?
                                                                                  FG| Yes, it was "Under a Blood
                                                                                  Red Sky", by U2. , a live album.
                                                                                  ED| The first album I ever
(from left to right)Guillermo Morales, Freddy Garcia,
Eric DeBusk, Pedro Camejo, Gregory Crosby, Keith Cromle
owned was the Tammy Faye Baker single "Jesus Takes a Frown and Turns It Upside
Down".  The first album (cassette) that I remember ever purchasing was an Elton John
Greatest Hits album that I pulled out of the bin at the registers at K-Mart.
AC| It was the Thriller album!

AD| Really did you feel that album had an influence on you?  
AC| Not really but it was fun!

AD| How do you prepare for your performance?
(GM) Like a ritual? Um...I just pray before I go on stage.
(GC) Singing the different songs that we do brings out emotions in all of us, and each
song conveys different emotion that comes fromm your heart and your mind. So the
music has to come from your heart.

AD|Do you ever practice in front of your mirror?
ED| This is a little embarrassing to admit, but I do sing into a hairbrush.
GM| Uh...yes. I actually record myself a lot. <Laughs> With my webcam, I record myself
to see my expressions, to learn and give myself an idea of what I look like
.
                                                                                                   FG| walks back in with
                                                                                                    a glass pipe and a
                                                                                                    lighter as another
                                                                                                    chorus member takes a
                                                                                                    picture of him holding
                                                                                                    the flame under the
                                                                                                    pipe, and the pipe to
                                                                                                    his mouth.

                                                                                                   AD| That has totally
                                                                                                    distracted my train of
                                                                                                    thought, that is NOT
                                                                                                    right! <Laughter>

AC|Well there a couple of things in that particular piece that will be intense and that’s
the point.

KC| We know that crystal meth is a problem across all communities across the country...
as we look at our situation on South Beach and in South Florida in general, we know
very well that's it's been part of some of the things our community struggles with.  We
thought that the kind of involvement we want to be doing in our community, that it was
something that we wanted to bring.  It's a very powerful message about how destructive
crystal meth can be, and how it affects relationships and individual...and finishes up
with a really wonderful note of hope and understanding, you know, that we can live
through this and get through it and that there is a better day tomorrow.
PC| This show, part of it is being able to connect to someone.  A lot of times we're stuck
in a rut and I think people that are on meth don't, they don't see it for what it is.  Hopefully
with the message that we're conveying, they can understand...they can see themselves,
regardless of who they are.  If we can change one person in the audience's opinion of
what's going on, then it's all worth it.
.
GC| I would hope that what we convey on stage that night to everyone in the audience,
reaches them and let's them know that, first of all, they're not alone.  And it's not a
secret...and that there is a solution.  I hope that our message is to let them know...that
by looking at themselves through that mirror we can help them find a solution to crack
that mirror and bring them out of that addiction.

AD| Can we expect any future performances tackling GLBT issues such as achieving
the equality of marriage and adoption rights?
AC| <Laughs>  There’s a concert November 10th and its called Love Songs , and it’s
about marriage and it actually approaches gay marriage from a biblical standpoint.  The
centerpiece for that concert is a piece called Jonathan and David…King David as King
David in the Bible, um, his relationship with King Saul’s son Jonathan, and how they
loved each other. It can be interpreted many ways but we’re taking it, a biblical approach
to gay marriage. So that concert will be in November…we will be addressing things like
that over a period of the next few years, or at least once concert in our season that deals
with an issue.

AD| How do you all feel about being role models, especially to the GLBT audience, and
more specifically to young GLBT Latinos and Latinas?
KC| I think it's one of the most important things we can do. So many young people in our
community struggle with identity, struggle with acceptance issues, they have cultural
issues as well.  In Miami, we have organization like the chorus that has developed
outreach. In fact, this summer...we're going into a joint venture with Pride Line Youth
Services, and we're going to help put together a Gay & Lesbian Youth Chorus.  It's
planned to get off the ground in September, start rehearsals and have them perform at
least a couple of numbers in our Holiday concert in December.

AD| That's awesome!
KC| Yeah! This is moving forward...good stuff!
GM| I feel it's a great opportunity, because I've always wanted to be a role model and I've
always wanted to express how I feel.  Hopefully have someone, you know, listen to the
words of the song and understand or change their minds
.
maybe even make them cry, make them realize something good...that can change them
for the better. It's something that I've always had such a passion for, and music is (to
me) the best way to deliver that.

AD| What advice would you give anyone, any age, anywhere interested in singing or
thinking about joining the chorus?
PC| Get off your ass and do it! Get over your reservations. It's a great thing.
GM| Since I'm 25...I know a lot of young adults who are close to my age are really
worried about being seen, or coming out so to speak.  I thought maybe I shouldn't do
this because I really want to get into the industry and I don't want to be judged...but I
really don't want to do that.  Because then I'd end up like Ricky Martin! <Laughs> Sorry if
you read this, but that's just not the lifestyle…
PC| <aghem> …Ricky's last name is Morales too!
GM| I know that! Let's not go there! That's not the lifestyle that I'm going to be happy in. I
want to be myself, and I want to be on stage, and I want to reach out to that young guy
sitting at home crying...it's pretty tough and I really feel like I have a responsibility, you
know, and I'm not going to hide myself.  I want to be the next "gay" Justin Timberlake.  I
really want that in my life.

AC| Come and do it, doesn’t matter if you’ve never sung before, it really doesn’t matter.
My philosophy is this.  There’s only 1/10th of a percent of people on this planet that are
physically unable to sing. You come and even pretend to sing, and you’ll learn to do it.

I continued on to snap a few pictures and enjoy the energy in the hall.  These men are
more than just talented and gifted, they are a family.  It was a wonderful experience and I
for one will be attending the 10th Anniversary show Look: inward, backward & forward.  
There’s an intimate vocal dance between Freddy Garcia and Jesus Figeuroa that can’t
be missed. As well as a lovely solo, “If You Only Knew” featuring Eric DeBusk’s vocal
styling.  The entire group is simply an over saturation of musical passion and
entertainment.
.
Come support the Miami Gay Men’s Chorus and visit their website
www.miamigaychorus.org

As long as we live, there is never enough singing.  
                                                                                                           ~Martin Luther


Anthony Cabrera is a member of the Florida Vocal Association (FVA), Music Educator’s
National Conference (MENC), and the America Choral Director’s Association.  Cabrera
has worked under the baton of a number of conductors, including James Judd (FL
Philharmonic Orchestra) and Michael Tilson Thomas (The New World Symphony).  
Among many other leadership positions he is the Choral Director and Humanities
teacher at the Young Women’s Preparatory Academy and Asst. Director of Music
Ministries at Coral Gables Congregational Church.
Look: back, inward, and forward is presented with the support of the Miami-Dade
Department of Cultural Affairs and the Cultural Affairs Council, the Miami-Dade County
Mayor and the Board of County Commissioners.
The Miami Gay Mens’ Chorus is an inclusive, community-based organization of gay
men and gay-supporting people that inspires and changes lives through the power of
music. With humor and heart, proudly entertaining audiences while striving for artistic
excellence.

NOTE* Season starts in September with voice placements in August (anybody who
would like to join the chorus can come at the end of August evenings from 6p – 6-45p.
Rehearsals begin the first week of September. There is another cycle of voice
placements in January which concludes with the Spring Concert in June*

For more information on joining the chorus, and any additional information.
Please contact Sandy Allen  through http://
www.miamigaychorus.org/contact   

CLICK HERE for more Armando Diaz
Copyright 2009| Ambiente.   Do not reproduce without prior authorization.