Making ‘Suite’ music together

How the legendary Broadway composer Stephen Schwartz marshaled giants of the music world to create a chorale work about anti-gay bullying

StephenSchwartz-11-copy

DEFYING BIGOTRY | Broadway composer Stephen Schwartz helped gather his famous composing friends to create a choral work about anti-gay bullying and suicide.

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Executive Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

Stephen Schwartz remembers quite clearly the first time he heard the name Tyler Clementi.

A college student in New Jersey, Clementi was having sex with another man when his roommate surreptitiously streamed it online on two nights.
The resultant humiliation led Clementi to kill himself by jumping off the George Washington Bridge.

“That was in my neck of the woods,” says Schwartz, who lives in Connecticut but maintains a pied-a-terre in Manhattan. “It was a local story — and a huge one. I don’t know how long national coverage extended, but it was covered extensively here from the arrest to the trial. It was a story with what they call legs.”

Flash forward: Schwartz received a commission from the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus to create a piece Testimony. The man behind the request was the SFGMC’s artistic director: Tim Seelig, the long-time head of Dallas’ Turtle Creek Chorale. That experience led to a personal friendship between the two men.

About a year later, “Tim was in New York and while we were having breakfast, he told me the idea of commissioning a piece about Tyler Clementi to raise awareness of bullying,” recalls Schwartz. A woman named Pamela Stewart had already been interviewing the Clementi family and had the basics of a libretto. “As we spoke, [I realized] an interesting approach would be to ask multiple composers to do a piece [and turn it into] a suite. Tim liked the idea of approaching different composers and since most of them were people I knew, I volunteered to get in touch with them.”

Schwartz is underplaying the impressiveness of the composers being “people he knew.” As one of the titans of Broadway theater — he’s written some of the signature musicals of the last 50 years, including Pippin, Godspell and Wicked, and has won three Oscars for his film work — Schwartz’s Rolodex

is a who’s-who of contemporary music-makers. Among those he contacted, and who ultimately contributed pieces, are John Corigliano and his partner Mark Adamo; Jake Heggie; Ann Hampton Calloway; and Stephen Flaherty. They formed the basis for what became know as Tyler’s Suite.

DrTSeelig

Former Turtle Creek Chorale artistic director Tim Seelig initially approached Schwartz about creating a work for men’s choir.

Schwartz took the lead in coordinating the pieces, serving, as he puts it, more as curator than major-domo. “I got in touch with the various composers in consultation with Tim, and they [each] decided what they would do. [We] then left everyone to their own devices.” But among those missing from the initial lineup of composers? Schwartz himself.

“I think originally there were going to be five or six sections and I was not intending to write any of them,” he says. But as it started to expand, “I became forlorn about not writing one. Now I think it is eight or nine sections.”

The process has been an organic one; as it has progressed, Tyler’s Suite has changed and evolved with each contribution, each performance.

“As you might imagine, in the early days, as things came in, the overall piece took a while to find its own coherence,” Schwartz explains. “We played around with different orders of pieces, individual composers did some changes and editing to their own. I would make some suggestions to individual composers. Some of the contributors were able to see early performances; some were not and were enthusiastic about getting feedback.
Everyone was taking a shot in the dark.”
One of the additions was to include an explanation of who Tyler Clementi was as part of the performance. “One of the things Tim and I realized was that while we knew Tyler’s story, many in the audience didn’t.” Now, though, Schwartz describes it in good shape, and basically in a final, polished state.

“I love the sound of a chorus. I love a lot of voices singing together — maybe my favorite sound in the world is a chorus singing very quietly,” he says.

Screen shot 2016-03-31 at 11.20.30 AM“I’ve [written choral parts] a good deal both for men’s chorus or mixed chorus in a lot of my shows. The way vocals combine, how they will blend with one another, is a whole craft in itself. And writing for men’s chorus is very different than writing for SATB [soprano-alto-tenor-bass]. It’s different working out the blend.”

And this work in particular is one of the more rewarding projects he has worked on.

“I’m very happy to talk to you and very proud of the part I played in bringing to life Tyler’s Suite,” he says. “It’s an important piece that helps people be aware of bullying and its important implications.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 1, 2016.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Turtle Creek Chorale’s 35th anniversary concert: The boys are back

IMG_9683Sometimes you don’t know how much you miss something until you find it again. That’s what it felt like Saturday night at the Turtle Creek Chorale’s 35th anniversary concert at City Performance Hall. When the curtain rose on the first half, audiences were pleased to see a full complement of tuxedoed men, ably led by interim artistic director Sean Baugh. They were delighted by the singing. But when Act 2 opened and the ranks had increased by 50 percent — and, at the end, with the addition of members of The Women’s Chorus of Dallas, fully doubled if not more — there were audible gasps from the audience. This is the chorale longtime fans remember. And many were there to walk down memory lane with Tim Seelig.

Seelig led the chorale for 20 years — from 1987 to 2007 — and has been the head of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus since 2011, so this reunion was filled with memories … not the least of which was Seelig’s gift for gab and his snarky humor, which he amply shared from the stage.

IMG_9687But it was also the performance of the chorale — not just during Seelig’s set, but Baugh’s as well — that seemed invigorated, inspired. The past two seasons have been hard ones. Baugh spoke more from the stage in six songs than I think former director Trey Jacobs did in two years, and while no one can imitate Seelig, the chorale is always best when its whimsy, sincerity and Texas personality come through. Just as important is its commitment to the gay character of Dallas, something the recently departed executive director shied away from during her disastrous tenure. All that made these past years unmemorable ones for the chorale; Saturday night was not only a concert for remembering past glory days, but — with Baugh and new interim E.D. Bruce Jaster in place — a reason to feel excited that more such days are destined for the future.

At the end, Seelig made an spontaneous plea to the audience to commit to giving — “$5, $10, $100, $10,000 if you have it” — a donation to the chorale within the next three months to keep this significant group (one of the oldest gay men’s choruses in the country, and perhaps the world’s most recorded men’s chorus of all time) alive and kicking for another 35 years. “I won’t be here then,” Seelig said, “but the chorale needs to be.” And after Saturday’s concert, it feels not like empty hope, but an actual, achievable mission.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Bruce Jaster named interim executive director of Turtle Creek Chorale

Bruce Jaster

Bruce Jaster

Bruce Jaster has been named by the board of directors of the Turtle Creek Chorale as its interim executive director, replacing Kim Sosolik, who resigned this week to pursue other business interests.

Jaster was on the board of the Chorale for 10 years and sang with the group for 15 years. He also established an endowment for the Chorale.

He leaves a position with Price Waterhouse to take this job with the Chorale.

In the LGBT community, Jaster was known in the 1990s as an owner of The Reservation Desk, a travel agency based in Oak Lawn that specialized in gay travel. He serves now on the board of The Dallas Way.

Jaster begins his new position on Jan. 27, just two weeks before the Chorale’s 35th anniversary concert that long-time Chorale artistic director Tim Seelig will conduct. Tickets for that concert are available here.

—  David Taffet

WATCH: Sam Smith parody ‘Please Go Home’

Please Go HomeSam Smith, the amazingly talented gay British pop star, will be performing tonight in Dallas, the final leg of his limited North American tour. To help get you ready for the concert, we share this video … not of an actual Sam Smith song, but of its parody, “Please Go Home,” which turns the needy-trick meme on its head from the perspective of the guy who made the mistake of hooking up with him. And it comes courtesy of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus, led by our own Tim Seelig! It’s especially good for bear lovers! Enjoy!

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Former TCC director Tim Seelig discriminated against by vacation company

SeeligDr. Timothy Seelig, who for 20 years was the charismatic artistic director of the Turtle Creek Chorale,  and who for the last three has been in San Francisco (where he’s led that city’s gay men’s chorus), is used to being out and proud. And loud. Which is why a company called Best Vacations Ever is probably kicking itself for pissing him off.

As the Huffington Post reports, Seelig and his partner Dan England were booking a trip together to enjoy the offer of a time share, extended to them by the company. They had planned a trip to Las Vegas but were told same-sex couples were not allowed to book in the town known as Sin City. (They did offer Orlando and NOLA as alternative destinations.)

But what doesn’t happen in Vegas doesn’t stay there. Seelig called media, and BVE reneged on the denial, claiming it was not company policy, and offering to book them to Las Vegas, gratis. They declined.

BVE has since explained the policy and what they called a mistake, but Seelig wouldn’t have any of it. We mean it when we say don’t mess with Texas. That also goes for Texans — even former residents.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Resounding Harmony begins Chapter Two

Russ Rieger

Russ Rieger conducts the mixed-voice chorus for the first time as the new artistic director with June 8 concert

DAVID TAFFET | Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

Resounding Harmony begins a new chapter in its life when the chorus performs at the Meyerson Symphony Center on June 8 with new artistic director Russ Rieger conducting for the first time.

The mixed-voice group last performed in the fall before founder and original artistic director Tim Seelig left Dallas to conduct the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus.

Rieger was hired Jan. 1 to replace Seelig. Before his first rehearsal as director, he worried about how he would fill Seelig’s shoes.

“There’s no way anyone could fill those shoes,” he said. “The chorus presented me with a pair of new shoes so I didn’t have to fill Tim’s.”

Board Chair Mark Knight said they’re calling this Chapter Two for Resounding Harmony, but the transition has been an easy one.

Rieger, who has been the music minister of Oak Lawn United Methodist Church for 21 years, served as the principal accompanist for the Turtle Creek Chorale and Women’s Chorus of Dallas. He accompanied Resounding Harmony when they performed Sing for the Cure at Carnegie Hall last year.

“He’s played the organ for all of our concerts at the Meyerson,” Knight said.

Each of Resounding Harmony’s concerts is a benefit performance, which Knight calls musical philanthropy. This concert will support the Palliative Care program at Children’s Medical Center.

The concert is titled Born for Greatness, in honor of the children in the palliative care program, Rieger said.

“Greatness isn’t measured by the length of a child’s life, but by the impact the child makes on others,” Rieger said doctors who work in Children’s Hospital’s palliative care unit told him.

Performing with Resounding Harmony at the June 8 concert is Grammy-winning singer and songwriter Jana Stanfield. She has done programs for palliative care programs elsewhere and will perform her song, “Born for Greatness.”

Also appearing are dancers from the Academy of Dance from Allen who will accompany two of the songs.

Rieger said most of the music in the show will be inspirational. The first half closes with “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from Carousel. Another piece they’ll do is “He Ain’t Heavy … He’s My Brother.”

He said plans already are forming for the next two seasons. Next year, Seelig will be conducting Sing for the Cure in Atlanta and he has invited Resounding Harmony to join them.

Beneficiaries for next season’s concerts have been set. The November performance is for the Make-A-Wish Foundation and the spring concert will benefit the American Heart Association.

Knight said they are working on a tour for the 2012-13 season.

Resounding Harmony performs at the Meyerson Symphony Center, June 8 at 8 p.m. $30-50. Tickets available on line at ResoundingHarmony.org.

—  John Wright

WATCH: Tim Seelig goes from Texan to San Franciscan in 4 months flat

It was just December when Tim Seelig left Dallas for the City by the Bay, living outside the Lone Star State for only the third time after two brief stints elsewhere. But he seems comfortable with his newfound status as a San Franciscan. He’s a cheerleader for his adoptive city with a good dose of humor in this segment that aired last night on The Daily Show (you can see a repeat tonight at 6 p.m. on Comedy Central). In addition to Seelig, there’s good reason to watch the segment — it’s funny.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Seelig to appear on ‘The Daily Show’ tonight

Tim Seelig

Tim Seelig, former director of the Turtle Creek Chorale, said that an interview he did with The Daily Show will air tonight. Seelig is now director of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus, and the segment includes a performance by the group.

“It’s tonight! We just got word that the segment was filmed some weeks ago for The Daily Show with Jon Stewart will air tonight! Heaven only knows what they did with my interview and the SFGMC performance! It’s too late for good thoughts, so just enjoy!” Seelig wrote on Facebook earlier today,” Seelig wrote.

Seelig was artistic director of the Turtle Creek Chorale for 20 years and founded the group Resounding Harmony. He moved to San Francisco in December 2010.

—  David Taffet

Chorale seeks new executive director

Stephen Tosha

The Turtle Creek Chorale has begun a search for a new executive director, who manages the business side of the nonprofit gay men’s chorus. The current ED, Stephen Tosha, is departing to take a position with Morgan Stanley. Tosha will continue in the position until July 30. The chorale hopes to have a new ED in place by Aug. 1, when it begins its 32nd season.

Tosha, pictured, began as executive director in 2009, and according to Jonathan Palant, the chorale’s artistic director,  he “helped the chorale to grow fiscally and administratively in a time when arts organizations across the country were facing cutbacks.” Palant became artistic director in 2007, replacing long-serving AD Tim Seelig.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Is Garland-raised country star LeAnn Rimes an LGBT ally or a phony hypocritical sellout whore?

From the ones we missed file, above is touching video footage of North Texas’ own LeAnn Rimes performing with the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles — led by guest conductor Tim Seelig — at a holiday concert last month. Rimes, who grew up in Garland, is overcome with tears as she talks about the gay youth suicide crisis before teaming with the chorus for a beautiful performance of “The Rose.”

Fast forward to tonight, when Rimes is performing again – this time at a fundraiser for (gasp!) House GOP freshmen. As Queerty notes, the fundraiser is being hosted by California Rep. Jeff Denham, who, while a state senator, repeatedly voted against recognition of marriages from other states. And the $2,500-a-plate fundraiser is designed to re-elect lawmakers who undoubtedly will help block consideration of any pro-LGBT legislation — including a federal law to protect gay kids from bullying in public schools — for the next two years.

So, to rephrase the question from the headline, should the LGBT community have learned something about Rimes from her extramarital affair with Eddie Cibrian?

—  John Wright