Lightning strikes again

Posted on 16 Dec 2010 at 8:45pm

Tim Seelig felt blessed to lead the chorale for 20 years. But he begins a new stage of his life and career outside Texas with his post at the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | jones@dallasvoice.com

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PICKING UP THE BATON  | After 24 years in Dallas, Tim Seelig leaves his Texas home to take over as artistic director of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus. But as excited as he is about the move, he’ll really miss eating good Tex-Mex. (Photo courtesy Shawn Northcutt)

Timothy Seelig is all about reinvention.

He’s done it almost too many times to count. The first, of course, was when, as a married adult with children active in the church, he came out of the closet and moved to Dallas to lead the Turtle Creek Chorale. For 20 years, he helped build it into one of the preeminent men’s choruses in the world. While there he became something of a musical entrepreneur, releasing albums, commissioning new works and teaching voice at SMU.

After he stepped down from the TCC four years ago, he continued to be active in Dallas life, as director of Art for Peace & Justice at the Cathedral of Hope and serving as the founding artistic director for a new mixed vocal ensemble, Resounding Harmony.

But the change this month is big even for him. He’s moving to California to assume the baton as artistic director of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus.

“Wow,” he said just hours after inking the agreement. “I mean, the history of that chorus! Gosh.”

A month later, he’s fully packed and sharing a much smaller space in Dubose Triangle near the Castro District where his partner, Shawn Northcutt, has lived for 18 months while working a long-term contract with Apple. On Jan. 10 — his 60th birthday — he’ll lead his first rehearsal.

“It hasn’t soaked in at all,” he says. “We did not sell our loft [in Dallas] so I’ll come back a lot.”

It’s a major feather in a cap already plumed more than a peacock.

“I loved, loved my time in Dallas,” Seelig gushes. “At the end of my 20 years at the chorale, I felt if I never did anything more significant, I would have lived a life more gratifying that most. It was a life that was full. If I’d had the money, I could have rocked on a rocking chair. But to start back over is icing on the cake and an opportunity not many people get.”

“I could speak about Tim’s legacy, his accomplishments, his infectious personality or his energy,” says Jonathan Palant, who took over from Seelig as artistic director of the chorale.  “It was under Tim’s baton that our mission changed to include the four pillars against which the Turtle Creek Chorale measures everything today: to entertain, educate, unite and uplift. We wish him all the best!”
Seelig steps into a chorus with a storied history.

“In the GALA Choruses network, they are the grandfather,” he says. “In June of 1981, they were two years old and decided to take a national tour to spread the gospel of gays singing. It was a legendary tour — they went to Dallas, Minneapolis, Bismarck and planted the seeds of all these choruses. Many looked to SFGMC for their motivation 30 years ago.” The tour was even detailed in Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City.

With such a legacy, “anytime [the artistic director position] has come open, everybody considers it,” Seelig says. So last August, when the SFGMC announced that Kathleen McGuire (who led the group for 10 years) would be stepping down, Seelig jumped.

It was a bit of déjà vu for Seelig, who had considered the post a decade earlier, “but it was the year we were commissioning Sing for the Cure, and I couldn’t step away. But this time was different. I had to think long and hard, but it was a door I could not not walk through.” He was selected as one of the three finalists and got the job last month, just days before Resounding Harmony’s final concert of the season.

Still, leaving Dallas —  Seelig has lived only in Texas and comparatively brief stints in Europe and Oklahoma — was not an easy decision for him.

“I love my life in Dallas and Shawn has had a fabulous career. Life is happy and Resounding Harmony is one of the most fun things I’ve ever done in my life.” His son and parents, who are elderly, are also local. But he knew it was the right move. His daughter lives in San Francisco; she had Seelig’s first grandchild prematurely, just days after Thanksgiving.

“The biggest factor of all was the birth of my granddaughter, Clara,” he says. “They’ve already picked out names for me and Shawn: Honey and Bubbles. I’m Bubbles. The fact I had conducted that chorus for four months a year-and-a-half ago gave me a real taste for the city, too, though living there will be different.

But I could see myself there.”

Still, there’s a lot he will miss.

“Leaving Resounding Harmony is really, really hard — they are doing just wonderfully. The board members are staying, I think they’ll do a wonderful job,” he says. “It was hard to leave SMU and my students and leave the cathedral as well. I was really enjoying working with Jo — I am a big Jo Hudson fan. But I’m not the kind who looks back. There’s no time for that. SFGMC is like jumping on a moving bullet train. Getting up to speed is incredible.

“And I can tell that fairly first hand, I will miss chicken fried steak and good Tex-Mex. And I’m gonna miss a lot of the musicmaking from the wonderful music community that Dallas has provided. It ‘s wonderful place to be gay and be a musician. Also, Dallas is wide open — if you can dream it up and raise the money, you can do it. I’m gonna miss that.”

There are also things that make him apprehensive about going to a new city — like, his bigger-than-life personality and cheeky turn-of-phrase.

“So far, they find my Texana adorable — they think it’s real cute, like saying y’all. I just hope that’s not gonna wear off,” he says.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 17, 2010.

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