The new guys

The Turtle Creek Chorale bounces back with a new management team but the same commitment to being forever turtle

Concerts

SYNERGY OF NECESSITY | Trey Jacobs, front, was chosen as the interim conductor of the Turtle Creek Chorale only weeks after David Fisher, rear, assumed his position as its new executive director. On Sunday, they will oversee the inaugural concert for both, launching the chorale’s 32nd season. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

David Fisher hadn’t even started his first day on the job as the new executive director of the Turtle Creek Chorale last summer when the word came down: The then-current artistic director, Jonathan Palant, was leaving his post, effective immediately. Forget about setting up pictures of his husband and son on his desk; there would be time for housekeeping later. Right now, they had a bigger priority: Finding someone to lead the 180-member gay men’s chorus.

If ever there was a definition of hitting the ground running, this was surely it.

Arts administration is nothing new Fisher, who for years has worked with Dallas’ Office of Cultural Affairs and founded the Festival ofIndependent Theatres. But managing the chorale was uncharted territory for him. Before he’d even learned the names of all his co-workers, he and the chorale needed to find an interim conductor.

In walked Trey Jacobs.

Jacobs had worked in choral music since 1980, although his closest connection to Texas before now was living in Fort Worth for a time in the mid-1980s. Then, while attending a choral convention in San Antonio in 1993, he heard, for the first time, the TCC sing live.

“I was so moved by the beauty of these men’s voices,” he says. “I became a huge fan and started collecting their CDs.”

For the last four years, Jacobs has worked at Eastern Michigan University, but two-plus years of that has mandated a long-distance relationship — his partner had taken a job in Mobile, Ala. — grew too much. In July, “I took a huge leap of faith and resigned” from the university without having a new job in place. Two weeks later, the chorale called. He jumped at the opportunity.

Together, Jacobs and Fisher, along with interim assistant conductor Sean Baugh, formed a quick partnership. Both newcomers in their own way, they have leveraged their skills to manage a smooth transition.

“Trey has such a long history with chorale music, and the chorale fits all of his artistic sensibilities,” Fisher explains, while “I know the

Dallas scene and the community, but little about choral music.” Such symbiosis has helped them go from greenhorns to concert in barely nine weeks. The proof will be the performance this  Sunday of Messiah, the inaugural concert for both at the TCC and the season premiere for the 32-year old chorus.

Although the chorale’s season had already been planned by Palant before his departure, Jacobs says the specific programs had not been laid out. That has allowed him the flexibility to add his own artistic elements and opportunities to express his own ideas.

The cornerstone of the performance, of course, will be selections from Handel’s Messiah, sung in conjunction with other local choruses, but the first act will be a set highlighting favorite numbers from the chorale’s storied repertoire, including “We’re Not Lost, We’re Here” — the first song the chorale ever performed in concert.

The process has been complicated. Jacobs quit his job in Michigan to spend more time with his partner in Alabama. Presently, Jacobs is still living in Mobile, commuting in to Dallas about once a week for rehearsals, while working remotely with Baugh to get the singers prepared. He’s in town more this week leading up to Sunday, and expects he’ll be here almost constantly in December as the holiday concerts approach.

“The [singers] have been incredibly receptive,” Jacobs says, saying his partner has also been unendingly supportive. “I see it in their eyes — they are so excited.”

But while the chorale has an eye toward the future, including a nationwide search for a new permanent artistic director, Fisher and Jacobs stress that for now, Jacobs’ focus is solely on the task.

“One of the stipulations of the contract is not to focus on next season,” Fisher says.

“The interim position was an 11-month contract or until a new artistic director is hired,” Jacobs adds, noting that he has not applied for the permanent post. Instead, he’s concentrating on Sunday’s concert.

“First and foremost I want, from the first night, the audience to be struck thinking, ‘BAM! That’s the Turtle Creek Chorale.’ That sound that is so specific to them, I want recognized from all who attend.”

But there’s another factor everyone who knows the chorale is familiar with, and it’s not about the music per se; it’s about showmanship.

“It’s absolutely crucial,” Jacobs agrees. “I’m stealing this from [former TCC artistic director] Tim Seelig, but what I heard from him is: Every concert should have a gasp, a tear and a chill bump, in whatever capacity. That’s something I’ve always believed in, too.”

When the concert’s over, maybe Fisher will finally take a deep breath and find time to put up those pictures.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 21, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Let’s misbehave

Turtle Creek Chorale, from Cole Porter & beyond

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer
lopez@dallasvoice.com

OLD  KING COLE | The Turtle Creek Chorale, led by artistic director Jonathan Palant, above, closes the season with an ode to queer American composer Cole Porter.

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NIGHT AND DAY
Meyerson Symphony Center, 2301 Flora St. June 23 and 26 at 8 p.m. $37–$65.
TurtleCreek.org

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The name Cole Porter conjures in most people an erudite American composer, the one who wrote the witty ditty “Anything Goes.” But who knew he was kind of a perv — at least, as a lyricist?

While the members of the Turtle Creek Chorale plan to keep their composure in the upcoming concert Night and Day: The Music of Cole Porter, artistic director Jonathan Palant reveals that Porter had an edgy side. His song titles alone are some obvious giveaways, but hidden lyrics about penises and post-op eunuchs are shocking.

“He was really smart, but yeah, a little dirty,” Palant says. “We’re not singing those lyrics of course, but it’s not hard to figure it out with songs like ‘I Wanna Be Raided By You’ and ‘Rub Your Lamp.’”

And then there’s the snicker effect when Palant discusses the tunes that thread throughout the concert.

“The songs that link the show include ‘Blow Gabriel Blow,’ ‘You’re the Top’ and… yes, I know,” he says. “The TCC blows and tops Cole Porter — that could be your headline!”

The concert will, in true Turtle fashion, feature a heavy dose of fabulousness. It isn’t just a celebration of Porter, it’s a choral romp with showmanship. Michael Serrecchia directs and choreographs the show, which will feature the Turtle Tappers, a group of 15 dancers with a twist, dueting puppets, circus clowns and strongmen. Add featured vocalist Denise Lee and lead dancer Jeremy Dumont, and it will become an event.

Even while steeping in standards from the American Songbook, Palant and Serrecchia bring a modern take to the program with some mashups, like Lee fusing “Let’s Misbehave” and “Let’s Fall in Love” in what Palant calls “a duet with herself.” Yeah, and puppets.

“She’s so funny and clever,” he says. “The puppets are twins but she’s the voice. We’re thrilled to welcome her back to the stage. She has such a rapport with the men and the audience. You just fall in love with her.”

“This is very much a fun, Friday night out at the movies show,” Palant says. “It doesn’t pull at heartstrings, there’s no memorial, no loss but not ‘ooey gooey.’ It’s just fun and people can come and enjoy. They don’t have to think, they can just be entertained — which is one of the pillars of our mission.”

With that, he does hint at what to expect in the near future. The chorale will mark its upcoming 32nd season with special guests including the Fort Worth Symphony and the return of the United States Army Chorus.
And, Palant promises, “an ode to Madonna.” Both Madonnas, actually.

Until then, it’s about Cole Porter and what he wants the audiences to not only enjoy, but learn from. Palant bets people are more familiar with Porter than they think: His melodies permeate everything from commercials to elevator music. For Palant, that is part of Porter’s legacy and magic.

“When I listen to the radio, I go through the station until I find a song I like,” he says. “Then I stay on that station to hear other songs. Porter’s music transcends through history and sparks familiarity, so people will hear his popular songs but learn about new ones.”

Which is just de-lovely.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 17, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Review: Turtle Creek Chorale’s ‘O Holy Night’

Last year, the Turtle Creek Chorale performed their holiday concert — because they kinda had to — at the newly opened Winspear Opera House. It was not a success. The acoustics in the hall did not suit choral voice. The hall, larger than the Meyerson, was not filled. The show itself was goofy, with a plot-line (I’ve forgotten what) that wasn’t very funny.

Artistic director Jonathan Palant has said this year’s concert was a kind of greatest hits — favorite songs from past seasons — as well as a homecoming to the Meyerson. And it’s not a funny show … or at least, not filled with shtick. It’s a classic holiday concert, and one well worth seeing. The final performance is tonight.

Of course, there’s the finale, “Silent Night/Peace, Peace,” which includes a soundless verse performed by the entire chorus in American Sign Language; there’s Santa (one of the best out there); there is the poinsettia dedication (182 now fill the stage representing past members). But there are few gimmicks (just the ones we like, such as flamboyant performances by a few members set to the tune “Single Ladies” and the snow effect that ended Act 1). Still, it’s not a somber concert, just a beautiful one; at intermission, I overheard several attendees remark how they enjoyed sticking with the music (Palant himself noted from the podium that he’s not the funniest guy when he’s unscripted) — and they were right.

The performance of “Auld Lang Syne” stood out most of all, as it takes a tune we think we are familiar with an added a lovely, ethereal quality with a tin whistle accompaniment that left a haunting memory in the auditorium. It’s a great way to spend an evening before the holidays.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Best Bets • 12.17.10

LoniLove_MG_6016
Loni Love

Friday 12.17

It’s gonna be a Love fest
When Loni Love speaks, you better listen; especially if she’s talking about celebrities on Chelsea Lately or The World’s Dumbest. Her stand-up isn’t too bad either.  When Variety and Comedy Central name her as one of the top 10 comics to watch, well, that goes a long way. But it’s her snarky wit and diva fab humor that will keep you laughing for days after.

DEETS: Improv, 309 Curtis Mathes Way, Arlington. 8 and 10:30 p.m. Through Sunday. $15. Symfonee.com.

Saturday 12.18

Not the time to be modest
Being humble is charming, but it won’t get you anywhere in the Dallas Voice’s search for DFW’s Ultimate Diva. Don’t think diva and drag queens. Musicians, activists, allies; If you’re the best at it then go for it. The incentive? How about winning $1,000 for your favorite nonprofit or charity. Gotcha.

DEETS: Deadline is Dec. 23. Visit DallasVoice.com/Diva for rules and application.

Sunday 12.19

These herald angels sing with glory
TeCo Productions stages Black Nativity, the retelling of the story of the birth of Christ by gay playwright Langston Hughes. With gospel, dance and poetry as elements of the show, Hughes’ version is both stirring and uplifting.

DEETS: Bishop Arts Theater Center, 215 S. Tyler St. 3 p.m. $15–$20. TecoTheater.org.

Monday 12.20

The Chorale keeps tradition going
Director Jonathan Palant says this year the Turtle Creek Chorale is going back to basics. O Holy Night will feel like going home for the holidays with all the songs and carols we know. But it wouldn’t be a TCC Christmas without some flair. With some new arrangements on hand, we figure they won’t disappoint.

DEETS: Meyerson Symphony Center, 2301 Flora St. 8 p.m. $20–$65. TurtleCreek.org.

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

—  Kevin Thomas

On the road to Tyler with the Turtle Creek Chorale

Gay men’s chorus went to East Texas prepared for protest, but instead found a warm welcome

DAVID TAFFET  |  taffet@dallasvoice.com

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NEW IN TOWN | Members of the Turtle Creek Chorale get off the bus in Tyler for their concert at First Presbyterian Church. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

TYLER — After their trip to Spain last summer, Turtle Creek Chorale Artistic Director Jonathan Palant invited me to join them on their next trip. With expenses approved, I was ready. Little did I know that the group’s next tour would be a bus trip to Tyler.

On Saturday, Dec. 11, I accompanied the chorale members as they traveled to East Texas for an out-of-town tryout of their upcoming holiday concert.  One chorale member on the bus assured me, “It’s just like Spain — except nothing like it at all.”

Controversy surrounded the Tyler trip since the church that was originally to host the concert rescinded the invitation. That happened after several large donors threatened to pull their support, causing Marvin Methodist Church to inform the chorale they were no longer welcome to perform there.

But nearby First Presbyterian Church stepped in and welcomed the group to perform a concert as part of that church’s December music and fine arts series.

On Saturday afternoon, Dec. 11, the Chorale left from Cathedral of Hope at 2:30 p.m. in two buses. Several members drove separately.

The group started off for Tyler with at least a little nervousness. Demonstrators had protested the performance of The Laramie Project in Tyler over the summer.

The play about Matthew Shepard recalled a similar incident that occurred in Tyler in 1993 when Nicholas West was kidnapped and murdered in Bergfeld Park. On World AIDS Day this year, a plaque was unveiled in the park memorializing West’s death. That mere placing of a marker to remember a murder also stirred controversy in this East Texas city.

And the demonstrators had threatened to return to protest Saturday night’s chorale performance. Singers said that threat was on their minds as they drove to East Texas that afternoon. In its 31-year history, the chorale has never been protested.

When the buses pulled up to the church right off of Broadway, Tyler’s main street, only church staff greeted the chorale. No protesters in sight.

Chorale members retrieved their garment bags from under the buses, filed into the church, laid their concert attire down over the pews and quickly gathered at the pulpit to begin blocking and rehearsing.

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GETTING READY | The Turtle Creek Chorale rehearses at First Presbyterian Church in Tyler before their performance there Saturday. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

Several songs got full run-throughs. The singers’ entrance and exit from the pulpit-turned-stage was quickly improvised. Small groups like Encore, soloists, a drum group and a tambourine quartet figured out how they would make their way from various positions among the chorus to front and off-center on the main floor.

Betelehemu, a Nigerian Christmas song, required foot motion and hand gestures during the performance. A few members weren’t coordinating their motions. Palant suggested those singers only do the hand gestures. A second run-through of the song went smoother.

At 6 p.m., the church served dinner in the Fellowship Hall. By 6:50 p.m., most of the singers were upstairs in the classrooms, changing into their tuxedos.

I checked the sidewalks around the church. Still no protesters.

The pews were already filling up.

At 7:10 p.m., everyone met in the chapel behind the main sanctuary. Don Jones, who signs every concert for the hearing-impaired, rehearsed the group’s signing of Silent Night.

Then Palant reviewed what he called stage etiquette.

“Jackets unbuttoned,” he said.

Someone joked that was because Palant could no longer button his.

“Never applaud our own singers,” Palant said. “Smile.”

Don’t wipe tears. Emotion is good. Wiping is distracting. Place hands down when jazz hands aren’t required.

For the chorale, no gesture, no motion, no entrance on stage goes unrehearsed.

Before leaving the chapel, everyone joined hands for a pre-performance chorale ritual: Palant said the Jewish prayer of thanks that marks special occasions called Shehechianu.

He said the prayer was a favorite of his in his own tradition and it became a chorale tradition in his second season. Members embraced it and several explained its beauty to me.

Palant told the singers that this concert was an example of “the power of harmony to tear down walls.”

Some audience members had arriving early because of a mix-up in the newspaper. The Patriot Singers and Chorale of UT Tyler were scheduled at 6 p.m. the following night. The newspaper switched the Dallas group and UT’s appearances.

When told who tonight’s performers were, one couple left. Another several shrugged and decide to stay anyway.

By 7:30 p.m., the sanctuary was standing room only. Although no protesters showed up outside the church, the audience was as aware of the controversy as the chorale.

Cecily Luft is a board member of the church. She said that two weeks earlier, the chapel where the chorale was now gathered was the site of a World AIDS Day service and the dedication ceremony for the Nicholas West plaque.

Rabbi Neal Katz from Tyler’s Congregation Beth El and the Rev. Stuart Baskin, First Presbyterian’s pastor, conducted the service, said Luft. Sheriff Lupe Valdez also spoke at the event in the church.

Luft said that when Music Director Donald Duncan told the board about what happened at the Methodist church down the street, they unanimously voted to invite the chorale to perform there.

“Gay” never entered the discussion, she said.

“This is the most gay-friendly church in Tyler,” Luft said. “It just was never an issue.”

Then she boasted, “And we have the best acoustics in Tyler.”

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READY TO TAKE THE STAGE | Turtle Creek Chorale members dressed for performance wait to begin their concert at First Presbyterian Church in Tyler. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

The acoustics were magnificent in the church and the chorale sounded best from the choir loft or balcony at the rear of the church.

After the chorale filed into the sanctuary and sang its first number, Deck the Halls, Duncan welcomed the group to Tyler.

“Despite the controversy surrounding your venue, we are very glad you are here,” he said. “As you can see by the crowd, a whole lot of people in Tyler are welcoming you, too, and you are welcome back anytime.”

His remarks were interrupted by applause several times.

Later in the concert, Palant introduced several people, including the group Tyler Area Gays, which filled several rows and had done much of the publicity for the event. Loud applause from the crowd greeted Tyler’s gay group.

Duncan acknowledged NPR reporter Wade Goodwin, who was there working on a piece about the chorale for Public Radio.

The audience took Palant’s jokes in good humor, including calling Tyler “the bastion of liberalism,” although his question, “Are there any Latin scholars here?” met silence followed by uneasy laughter.

Throughout the show, the applause was warm, but Betelehemu brought a number of audience members to their feet. If any of the swaying on stage was not coordinated, no one noticed.

After the concert, CD sales were brisk.

One audience member filing out of the church made a point of saying, “We’re Methodists and we loved it,” indicating that not everyone at Marvin Methodist agreed with that church’s decision to uninvite the group.

On the return bus trip to Dallas, everyone was excited about the day.

“I thought it was a great performance,” said chorale member Kevin Hodges. “I told a woman who said ‘thank you’ that it’s a joy for us.”

“I was choking back tears,” said singer Gene Olvera. “Invigorating,” added Darrin Humphrey, another chorale member.

“To me, it’s the sort of thing that made me stay in the chorale 17 years,” said C. E. Bunkley. “There’s purpose to it.”

Palant told the riders in his bus that he wants to do another out-of-town performance next year in another city that might not be completely welcoming.

He said that unlike many other gay men’s choruses around the country, the chorale gets out of the gay ghetto: “That’s part of our mission.”

“It was fun,” said chorale President Dean Baugh. “Up until the point I looked out and people were crying.”

“I was very proud,” said singer Hank Henley.

On the return bus ride, chorale members discussed the lack of protesters. Several suggested that as much as some might have been offended by the chorale’s appearance in town, maybe that group has more shame than Fred Phelps’ notorious Westboro clan and just wouldn’t protest a church.

Palant commented on the energy he felt from both the audience and his group. “As a performer, you perform with your dukes up,” he said. “You puff up your chest and it influences the performance. Tonight was a good example. They fed off our energy and we fed off theirs. We wanted to give them more.”

He said he consciously did not bring up the controversy of the location but was glad that Duncan had.

“I wanted to make an issue of it earlier on,” said Stephen Tosha, the chorale’s senior executive director. He said he wanted the chorale to move more in that direction.

But singer DiMarcus Williams summed up why most of the members of the chorale devote so much time and energy and why they spend so much of their own money to continue performing with the group.

“It was nice to be performing in front of such a welcoming and receptive audience,” said Williams.

Turtle Creek Chorale Holiday Concert, Meyerson Symphony Center, 2301 Flora St. Dec. 20 and 22 at 8 p.m. $30–$67. TurtleCreek.org.

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

—  Kevin Thomas

Shearith Israel synagogue hosting TCC performance

Concert will mark gay chorale’s 1st-ever appearance at a Conservative Jewish temple

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer taffet@dallasvoice.com

Turtle Creek Chorale Director Jonathan Palant, left, and Shearith Israel Cantor Itzhak Zhrebker
PLANNING THE PROGRAM | Turtle Creek Chorale Director Jonathan Palant, left, and Shearith Israel Cantor Itzhak Zhrebker discuss details of the chorale’s upcoming concert at the synagogue. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

The Turtle Creek Chorale will perform in a Conservative synagogue for the first time in its history. But the relationship has been developing ever since Jonathan Palant became TCC director.

Four years ago, Cantor Itzhak Zhrebker of Congregation Shearith Israel, the Conservative synagogue in North Dallas, sang the Hanukkah blessing at the Chorale’s Christmas concert at the Majestic Theater.

“About a half a year ago, I came to Jonathan,” Zhrebker said. “I wanted to continue our professional relationship. I asked if it would be possible for TCC to perform at Shearith.”

“And we’re members of Shearith,” said Chorale director Jonathan Palant. He said he and his partner joined the synagogue when they moved to Dallas four years ago.

The show will feature music by Jewish composers, many of whom are gay. Among them are William Finn, who wrote Falsettos, Leonard Bernstein, Jerry Herman and Steven Sondheim.

Although he initially included Harold Arlen in the group of gay, Jewish composers, Palant couldn’t actually identify him as gay. Arlen wrote “Somewhere over the Rainbow.”

“Close enough,” Palant said.

Palant and Zhrebker discussed repeating a Chorale commission called “Our Better Angels,” which brought together five minority communities.

“It demonstrates that oppressed people have the same emotions no matter why they’re oppressed,” Palant said. “The pain is the same.”

The piece brings the groups together by rallying behind the hatred and lack of acceptance rather than the reason for it. The five groups included are Muslins, Jews, African-Americans, Hispanics and the LGBT community.

“The texts tell the plight of each and how we’re similar,” Palant said.

He hopes they will perform this piece at a future concert with the synagogue.

The synagogue’s choir will open the concert with two medleys and the cantor will close with the only piece written by a non-Jewish composer.

“The cantor is a spectacular tenor,” Palant said. “He will sing an aria from Turandot.”

Palant describes this concert as an effort to build bridges into an untapped community rather than to tear down walls.

“We have Jewish members but have done no outreach into the Jewish community,” he said.

He called the concert a sort of show-and-tell.

“This is my synagogue,” he said. “Bringing my work life into my home life.”

Palant said the Chorale has performed at a number of churches over the years, including numerous performances at Cathedral of Hope. He recalled one time that the Chorale was scheduled to perform at First Baptist Church for the American Choral Director’s Association. That church canceled the performance at the last minute, which was hastily rescheduled at First Methodist.

“This is not about tearing down the mighty walls of prejudice,” he said. “It’s about outreach. We have not been to this venue before.”

He said that Shearith is a member of the Chorale’s Partners in Harmony program that has signed an “all people are created equal” statement.

He pointed out that the term Conservative refers to the service, not social issues. The Conservative movement ordains woman as rabbis, just as Reform does.

“Just in the last five years, the rabbinic assembly approved the ordination of gay rabbis,” he said. “That gives them the liberty to give honors to gay Jews.”
The honors would include calling a same-sex Jewish couple up to read from the Torah or to marry.

Zhrebker called the Chorale’s performance a gift and has been promoting the concert to church choirs across North Dallas. Other synagogues in North Dallas have been promoting the event as well.

“I’m looking forward to taking this relationship into the future,” Zhrebker said.

Palant is excited about the concert for one more personal reason as well.  “It’s made my mother the happiest Jewish mother ever,” he said. “She’s kvelling.”
“Kvell” is a Yiddish word that means beaming with pride, usually by a parent over a child’s achievements.

Turtle Creek Chorale Concert at Congregation Shearith Israel, 9401 Douglas Ave. Nov. 14 at 7:30 p.m. $15. $12 for students and seniors. 214-361-6606.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 12, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

It is ON: Gay choral groups wager on World Series

During major sporting events, we’re all used to the “friendly” bets between the mayors of the competing towns: Mayor X will wear a cheese hat if his team loses, and Mayor Y will ride to council meetings on horseback for a week.

But now the gays are at it — and not just the publishers of LGBT newspapers.

The Turtle Creek Chorale has a wager going with the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus over the eventual outcome of the Rangers-Giants series. The bet: The artistic director of the chorus in the losing team’s city will have to wear the other chorus’ garb — whatever that might be — for a rehearsal to be taped and provided to the winner chorus, and maybe even sing a pro-winner song. And as you can imagine, the gays are taking it seriously. “Bring it!” taunts the Frisco team on their Facebook page. “Fear the Beard!”

Of note is that the director of SFGMC is a woman. You might think that this would cow TCC director Jonathan Palant. But we have it on good authority he kinda likes dressing in women’s clothes — just look:

—  Arnold Wayne Jones