Fewer things can evoke such strong emotions as music. From a single line or lyric, a mountain of feelings can build and take listeners down a unique journey of thought and self-exploration. Often, it is through the soulful sound of voices blending with a melody so sweet that barriers are broken and hearts open. The Rocky Mountain Arts Association (RMAA) knows exactly this, and are arranging a musical experience unlike any other before.
The RMAA has curated a powerful, musical celebration of historical proportion with the combination of the Denver Gay Men’s Chorus (DGMC) and the Denver Women’s Chorus (DWC) performance honoring the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots. The combined choruses are excitedly anticipating the Denver premiere of “Quiet No More: A Choral Commemoration of Stonewall” on June 7 and 8 at the King Center Concert Hall as part of their Pride Concert celebration of World Pride 2019.
“This piece was commissioned by the New York City Gay Men’s Chorus and the Los Angeles Gay Men’s chorus, and choruses across the country have been co-commissioned to perform this piece all over the country,” James Knapp, DGMC’s artistic director, said.
“It’s really exciting and really kind of historical.”
Six composers created “Quiet No More,” a 40-minute piece of cohesive music which provides a framework that explores the elements of Stonewall in ways that haven’t been visited before. In a historical paradigm, the piece begins with a glimpse into the life of an LGBTQ person in the 1960s and the hostility, harassment, and tension of the time.
It then travels through eight movements of the composition, transporting the listener from era to era and through the events of the riots. It finally delivers the audience to present day, the challenges of the current political climate, and serves as a reminder that the work still is yet to be complete.
“The goal of it is to create a really passionate, original, music celebration of the unheard voices of Stonewall,” said Knapp. “It’s a nice range of queer and other minority perspectives, and it promises to be really groundbreaking work. The relevancy of what happened 50 years ago is as important today as it was then. We have made remarkable progress, but the work is not done.”
Coming from six different composers, the full piece truly embraces different stories as well as music styles: from classical foundations to pop elements and even weaving in musical theatre tempos. As well as making this piece accessible for choirs across the country to perform, the composers really wanted to ensure that it was approachable for audiences of all age ranges and historical context to follow.
“One of the things that has been really exciting for me, and challenging too, is making Stonewall relevant for our younger members,” said Knapp.
“We have a lot of influx of younger singers in the Denver Gay Men’s Chorus, and a lot of them were not even not even born yet (during the riots), so it’s been a really wonderful opportunity for us to share what Stonewall really means.”
RMAA executive director Michael Sattler agreed that often he encounters people who aren’t even familiar with Stonewall at all, and that’s why a show like Quiet No More is so important.
“I think the first thing that’s important is to be able to tell people the story of what happened,” said Sattler. “What is Stonewall? It’s a bar; it’s something very common in ordinary life, but for the life of a gay man in New York in 1969, it was a place where you could get arrested. Just the fact that you could get arrested for dancing with a person of the same sex, I don’t think we should ever forget that. The people who stood up had nothing to lose; transgender people and drag queens, they had the courage to say:
‘Enough is enough. We’re human, and we deserve respect as much as anybody else.”
Music has that ability to really transport you to another place that bears your emotions and lets you feel the passion, the pain, and the joy of what was happening.”
“Even though it is definitely an LGBTQ-driven history and perspective, it also reaches out further to a social justice issues,” said Knapp. Through the music, the Stonewall spirit of community comes through and serves as an emotive reminder of how difficult the trail was to blaze during the early years of the LGBTQ equality movement.
In addition to the two performances honoring Stonewall in June, members of the Denver combined choruses have been invited to join the New York City Gay Men’s Chorus at Carnegie Hall in New York City on June 27, the day before the anniversary of the riots.
“I am nothing short of thrilled that RMAA is part of this project,” said Knapp. “This is not an easy piece of music, but it has a beautiful story to it. It’s scrumptious, beautiful, and dramatic and will be a wonderful journey for the audience.”
Visit rmarts.org to buy tickets.