LGBT youth choir caps surprisingly successful 1st year with Canada trip
In less than a year, the idea for a Dallas-based LGBT youth choir has gone from an idea to a reality. And no one could be more surprised — or delighted — than its founders.
"We never had anything like this when I was growing up. What a wonderful thing it is," says Jonathan Palant, the founding conductor for Dallas PUMP.
Palant first approached organizers at Youth First Texas about establishing a LGBT youth chorus last year, around the same time David Negrete, who had been attending YFT regularly for a year, expressed an interest in starting some form of arts program.
"I had mentioned to Bob and Judith at YFT that we should start a choir and Jonathan was thinking about the same thing. It was pretty coincidental," says Negrete, 19, a senior at Hebron High School in Carrollton.
"Being a musical freak, I wanted something musical or fine arts related. There was talk of a drama team, but I thought music was a good thing," says Negrete, who is a member of the varsity choir at Hebron and serves as student director of the school’s women’s choir.
But Dallas PUMP is more than — and very different from — a school-sponsored glee club.
"There’s a certain allowance in language — things can get foul-mouthed," Palant concedes. And many of the youth face challenges even beyond those associated with coming to terms with sexual identity.
"Some have had struggles on their own with addictions, or have family members who have. Most have jobs and support themselves," say Palant.
For Negrete, it’s a chance to pursue his interest in more serious music.
"In high school choir, our last concert is Broadway music," says Negrete. "But surprisingly, I’m a really big classical nerd. Number 1 on my car radio is WRR and about 90 percent of my iPod is classical."
Palant describes his approach as being "very much in the same vein as athletics, playing on a sports team: It’s hard work and you get tired doing it. But the satisfaction comes from the winning, when you score. During a choral performance, it’s the epiphany when you ‘get it.’"
"Anything I do at YFT is what I need to get away from everything. When I’m having a really tough week or feel extremely stressed it’s what I do to let go of all my stresses," adds Negrete.
Membership in the choir is constantly changing, as some singers move away or develop other interests; some have left only to return several weeks or months later; of those going to Vancouver, four have been there since the first rehearsal.
No matter — all are always welcomed back into the fold.
Already, Dallas PUMP — an acronym for pride, unity, music and power — has had several public performances, including several YFT events, the North Texas GLBT Chamber of Commerce anniversary dinner and even an appearance at the Meyerson Symphony Center last December alongside the Women’s Chorus of Dallas and the Turtle Creek Chorale, for which Palant also serves as artistic director.
"We definitely got noticed at the Meyerson," says Negrete.
But this weekend, the freshman choir takes a leap forward as members travel to Vancouver to perform Sing for the Cure with 240 other GLBT youth and adult choruses.
"This is the very first international trip through YFT ever," says Palant. "The trip includes kids who have never been on an airplane or seen the ocean."
Indeed, the trip wouldn’t have been possible on the members’ own dimes; contributions were raised throughout the community.
There was what Palant calls a "bump in the road on funding" the trip, but he credits George Carrancho at American Airlines for "making this happen for us" by providing airfare to Seattle for all the teens.
"Jonathan was always trying to be positive about it — I myself thought it might not happen," says Negrete.
"But it did turn out we got sponsored completely."
"The financial support has been wonderful — people have written us checks who have seen us perform," says Palant, noting that everyone associated with Dallas PUMP, including himself and the choir’s accompanist, are volunteers. Money goes toward purchasing "music, folders for the youth, T-shirts for the youth. For some of them, we buy their DART pass so they can attend rehearsal."
The concert has special significance for the Dallas group. Sing for the Cure was commissioned by the Turtle Creek Chorale in 2000 to honor those who have suffered from breast cancer. Although it has been performed throughout the United States, this is its first performance in another country.
"I was familiar with it being written but not singing it," says Negrete. "It’s definitely something exciting. Personally, as soon as we got the packet I learned as many of the songs as I could on my own. I think it’s going to be a wonderful experience."
The excitement is widespread among the singers. Each participating chorus studied the score and has been rehearsing separately; the full complement of singers will rehearse twice this weekend before the full concert on Saturday. PUMP members will also get a personalized tour of the city.
Palant concedes that, as a young choir with rotating membership, it is not yet at a professional level. But that’s almost beside the point.
"Do they have the passion for the music? Absolutely. Do the audiences appreciate the passion and the courage? Yes," he says.
"I think a big part of [our appeal] is, so many people in the audience never had a chance to be out like we are, to be accepted at our age," offers Negrete. "I think seeing us, they realize all their hard work is paying off. Things are a lot better than what they used to be" for gay youth.
Certainly the passion is there for Negrete: He has been accepted in the Juilliard School’s vocal studio and accepted at Southern Methodist University to study music and piano. He’s not sure where he will be able to attend, though. "It really just depends on money," he says.
Until then, Negrete will continue with Dallas PUMP, making music any way he can.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 24, 2009.