Keep your ears tuned and hearts open — we’ve got a new Gay Men’s Chorus in town, and they’re getting ready to give us a show.
Led by UCSB’s Director of Choral Music Nicole Lamartine, whose conducting experience stretches nationally and internationally, the Santa Barbara Gay Men’s Chorus (SBGMC) is a tenor-based group, meaning it is composed of people with lower, deeper voices. And I say “people” intentionally. Despite its name, the SBGMC aims to be inclusive and welcomes anybody who can hold a tune in tenor, baritone, or bass.
I’ve always loved music. I was one of the first among my high school friends to get their driver’s license, and it made me giddy to refuse to move the car until my passengers sang with me. But I don’t think I can say I was ever good at singing. I just really loved watching people try their hardest to keep up to Whitney Houston’s “I Have Nothing” as we drove with our windows down.
When I first learned about the new men’s choir, I considered joining but was, admittedly, a little apprehensive. But one thing that Nicole and boardmember and singer Bob Nieder really emphasize for those curious is that it’s a non-audition choir. So if you’re like me and have always wanted to learn how to sing but also get anxious at the idea of bombing an audition, you don’t have to worry. Bob described Nicole as “the most inviting and welcoming person…. She is the most patient of teachers.” After our conversation, I couldn’t shake the curiosity, so I figured one night of embarrassment was not the worst thing that could happen to me, and I went.
Everybody who loves music knows the visceral power contained within the notes, and how sometimes it’s all you need to get through a hard time. Even though you can never see it, you can feel it. The day I went, it was really a spectacle to listen as, one by one, the voices joined in until the entire room was buzzing, and you could feel your own voice resonating in your chest. “I was quite literally brought to tears by the physical feeling of people singing together in a room,” reminisced Bob of the group’s first post-lockdown meeting. I really understand how he was moved so deeply. We’ve all had to square off with the shape of our own loneliness these past couple of years, and music helps sand the edges down.
For me, trying to learn how to read music and sing it at the same time had my brain swirling. Toward the end of my first session, though, I felt like I had started to pick up some things, and I must say it does feel nice to be in a position to learn something new. Especially to learn and apply what I’m learning within the same window of time. Some of the more experienced members of the choir answered whatever questions that I had and made me feel much more at ease about singing than when I had first arrived.
Rehearsals will take place at the First United Methodist Church at 305 East Anapamu Street on Mondays from 7-9 p.m. (doors open at 6:30 for you early birds out there). Though the official stance of the Methodist church is that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teachings, First United has visibly aligned themselves with the LGBTQIA+ by painting their doors in a rainbow pattern, and the SBGMC has been embraced by First United, who “show the way that Christianity should be practiced,” Bob told me. He was raised Roman Catholic and grew up feeling like there was no place for him in the church, but he wanted to assure anyone who might have adverse feelings about stepping into a church that the SBGMC will provide a comfortable experience for them.
The SBGMC is preparing for their first-ever recital at the First United Methodist Church on Monday, December 13.