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05 Dec 2014

Sounds of the Holidays: Palm Springs' Two Gay Men's Choruses Offer Different Concert Experiences

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The Palm Springs Gay Men's Chorus. The Palm Springs Gay Men's Chorus.

When announcements started to pop up for two different gay men’s choruses last year, many people wondered why a not-so-large area like the Coachella Valley had two such choruses.

Turns out the groups have different philosophies—and the two choruses are offering two very different holiday shows this year.

The Palm Springs Gay Men’s Chorus—the older, more established organization—will be doing a modernism-themed show.

“The theme of our show this year is A Mid-Century Modern Holiday, said Doug Wilson, the artistic director of the Palm Springs Gay Men’s Chorus. “If you look at midcentury architecture, it’s usually thought of being from 1945 to 1965, and we looked at the music written during that time period. We’re doing ‘Winter Wonderland,’ ‘It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas’ and ‘You Better Watch Out.’ We’re doing a lot of the songs that are really familiar to everyone. We’re also doing three Elvis Christmas hits.”

The program being offered by the newer group, Modern Men, is more relaxed in terms of a production, and is focused on the sentimental aspect of Christmas. After a show on Wednesday, Dec. 3, the chorus is offering a second performance on Saturday, Dec. 6.

“The concert title is Stars I Shall Find,” said Bruce Mangum, the artistic director of Modern Men. “We’re doing a mixture of traditional Christmas carols and holiday songs combined with some newer songs from the past 10 years or so. We’re including one powerful number called ‘Not in Our Town,’ which is based on an incident in Billings, Mont., where the town gathered around a Jewish family in support of them after being victims of a hate crime. We also do the traditional holiday songs.”

Back to the reason why there are now two gay men’s choruses in Palm Springs: There was a split due to the aforementioned differing philosophies. Someone who has been part of both choruses and who wished to remain anonymous said the Palm Springs Gay Men’s Chorus had reached a huge 117 members at one point, and there was a disagreement between the artistic director at the time and the board of directors over the music, as well as other issues. The rift led to the formation of Modern Men. Some members have gone back and forth between the groups, and both groups have gone through recent leadership changes.

The directors offered their own perspectives.

“My answer is that it gives the guys a choice to select which group they want to be part of,” said Modern Men’s Mangum. “Palm Springs Gay Men’s Chorus is more known for their production-type concerns, and Modern Men is more known for just stand-and-sing. I just consider it the same as: Why do we have more than one restaurant or more than one real estate agency? It just gives people a choice. We invite people to find their niche.”

Mangum added that everyone is welcome in Modern Men.

“We have three straight men who sing with us, and that’s part of our credo, which is we invite all men, gay and straight, to consider Modern Men for their choral group,” he said. “We don’t even have the word ‘gay’ in our title. We reach out to the straight community as well for any men who like to sing and enjoy men’s choral music.”

Wilson said there are two choruses because there are two different visions of what a men’s chorus should be.

“There are enough men and enough diversity in thought of what a chorus should be that two choruses came out of that,” said Wilson. “People have different ideas of what a musical chorus should be doing, and we wanted to something that was a little more fun, and we also wanted to do a wider range of music. Sometimes other choruses want to do something that’s more a narrower range of music.”

Both choruses seem to have a lot to offer the community, and both have a committed group of volunteers.

“The volunteers really make a big difference,” Wilson said. “They want to contribute something to the chorus, and this is how they can contribute. They are probably not singers, and a lot of them have the skills we need to do a lot of the work.”

Mangum said Modern Men’s volunteers are also very dedicated.

“Most of our volunteers are spouses or partners of our members,” Mangum said. “We rely on them for last-minute details, and I’m very proud to say that this year, we are ahead in our ticket sales. ... We were ahead in the schedule, and that was thanks to our members getting the word out. They are invaluable, for sure.”

Both choruses are also looking ahead to their spring programs.

“We start right away in January in rehearsals for our spring concert, which is in April,” Mangum said. “The title of that is Get Your Kicks, and it will feature songs of basically the ’40s through the ’60s. It’s going to be a fun concert and kind of nostalgic for people.”

Meanwhile, the Gay Men’s Chorus will head to the 1970s for their spring show.

“In the spring, we’re doing what’s called ExtrABBAganza,” Wilson said. “It’s going to be all music from ABBA. I think it’s going to be great fun.”

In a related story, also see: Christmas With the Band: The Desert Winds Freedom Band’s Holiday Show Focuses on Classics.

Modern Men will be performing at 3 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 6, at Temple Isaiah, 332 W. Alejo Road, in Palm Springs. Tickets are $25. For tickets or more information, visit www.modernmen.org. (Pictured below.)

The Palm Springs Gay Men’s Chorus will be performing at 8 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 13; and 3 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 14, also at Temple Isaiah, 332 W. Alejo Road, in Palm Springs. Tickets $25 to $50. For tickets or more information, visit www.psgmc.com.

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