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Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington: Taking Action through Song

May 4, 2015

Here at CHAW, we are always thrilled to welcome diverse voices to our building, our programs, and our online community.  Today, our guest blogger joins us in the midst of Supreme Court hearings and much discussion about justice and equal rights.  In light of all of this going on in our city, we are especially proud to welcome this week’s guest blogger: Craig Cipollini of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, DC.  Read on for stories, behind-the-scenes thoughts on special GMCW songs, and an upcoming concert alert!

The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, DC has a mission of championing gay equality and equality for all through music. Coming up this month, we have a concert dedicated to that very statement – a concert of songs and stories from civil and equal rights movements. The concert is entitled Born This Way.

The song list for Born This Way was inspired by the lyrics of The Impossible Dream, from the musical Man of La Mancha, written in 1965. When we sing it, we ask you to listen to the lyrics through the lens of the fight for civil rights, equality and social justice:

To dream the impossible dream, 

To fight the unbeatable foe,
To bear with unbearable sorrow
To run where the brave dare not go;
To right the unrightable wrong.
To love, pure and chaste, from afar,
To try, when your arms are too weary,
To reach the unreachable star! 

This is my quest, to follow that star…

Over the Rainbow has been an anthem of the LGBT community since it was first heard on the silver screen in The Wizard of Oz, sung by the incomparable Judy Garland at the age of 16. Our arrangement is adapted from Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s renowned version of the song, in the style of traditional Hawaiian folk music. We chose it for the show with the hope that the dream of equality for all continues to come true.

Our guest artist for the concert is Maiya Sykes, a vocalist recently seen on NBC-TV’s The Voice, where she was selected by all four judges during the Blind Auditions. Ms. Sykes took the stage by storm with her rendition of Stay With Me at her audition in the fall of 2014. Among the songs she will sing with us is “Glory,” a song that appeared in the motion picture Selma, and won the Oscar this year for Original Song. The rap lyrics tell the story of the March on Selma, acknowledging the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks and those whose proud fight for freedom has made a positive impact on the progress of civil rights. She’ll also join us for the song Proud, which is the official theme song for several organizations, including the Olympics (London, 2012) and The Opera Winfrey Show. It has become an unofficial anthem of the LGBT community and our decision to include it in the show is to ask, “What have you done today to make you feel proud?

Maiya Sykes, Guest Artist

Not My Father’s Son is a powerful ballad from the musical Kinky Boots. The lyrics depict the journey of learning to be ourselves, rather than the image a parent has for us, as emphasized in the lyrics “The endless story of expectations swirling inside my mind wore me down; I came to a realization and I finally turned around to see that I could just be me.” Similar in theme, Ryan Amador’s poignant Define Me was debuted in 2012 at his live performance at the True Colors LGBT Youth Conference. He then created an emotional video with Jo Lampert, in which the singers methodically wipe from their skin derogatory labels in reference to their sexual identity. The song encourages a stop to labeling and a start to seeing people for who they are, without judgment.

We should also note that this concert will feature the debut of our new GenOUT Chorus, the first LGBTQ youth chorus in the DC area. Christina Aguilera’s song Beautiful was chosen as one of the songs for the GenOUT Chorus’ debut, for its important message for our youth that they recognize that love knows no age, race, gender, or sexual identity. Lady Gaga’s Born This Way was the inspiration for the title of tonight’s show. The lyrics discuss the self-empowerment of minorities, including the LGBT community as well as racial minorities. The choice to have members of the GenOUT Chorus recite it as a poem empowers the youth to raise their voices with spoken word.


A song that has become an anthem for the Gay Men’s Chorus is Make Them Hear You, first sung by GMCW at LGBT activist Frank Kameny’s memorial service in November 2011. As the chorus sang, Lieutenant Dan Choi placed the sword from his military uniform at the base of a photo of Dr. Kameny, and when we sang the lyric “…and I could not put down my sword ‘til justice was my right,” the words immediately resonated in a new light. GMCW sang Make Them Hear You in front of the Supreme Court on June 26, 2013, when the Defense of Marriage Act was voted unconstitutional and we sang it again on April 28, 2015 as the Supreme Court heard arguments for National Marriage Equality. We were heard by millions of people around the world, including its composer, Stephen Flaherty. After hearing us sing his song, Mr. Flaherty wrote to express his gratitude:

I just had to write and let you know how honored, moved and proud I was this past Wednesday when your group sang my song MAKE THEM HEAR YOU in front of the US Supreme Court following the landmark decisions. It was truly an historical moment for this country and the LGBTQ community in particular. I join with my partner, Trevor Hardwick, and my RAGTIME collaborators, Lynn Ahrens and Terrence McNally, in thanking you for your beautiful singing on a day the world truly changed. Continue to sing loud and proud, guys!

It is our hope that the lyrics of these songs will inspire hearts and minds to open, and that we are inspired to take action for diversity, tolerance and acceptance of all people, regardless of race, gender, religion, nationality and sexual identity.

Born This Way

May 15 at 8pm
May 16 at 3pm (ASL) and 8pm