Mar 09 2021

How to Change Lives (Tour Notes, 2000)

“This may be the most important even ever for the gay community here,” a Moscow concert audience member, in a front page Los Angeles Times article

This article was originally published in our 2000-2001 Tour Notes.

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Have a vision. Keep to it. Act on it.

Jon Bailey and the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles showed how powerful this principle can be in their planning and execution of their October, 1999 tour of Russia, Finland, Estonia and Germany.

The chorus made a pioneering tour of Eastern Europe in 1991, and started discussions in 1994 about another tour. It took the subsequent five years for all of the essential elements to coincide, and the resulting tour was certainly worth the wait. As a fine men’s chorus venturing into a part of the world where such ensembles are especially revered, the group received musical accolades at all their concerts: in Berlin’s Philharmonie, Tallinn’s Estonia Concert Hall, Helsinki’s Kultuuri Talo, St Petersburg’s Glinka Capella and Moscow’s Tchaikovsky Hall. But being a very fine gay men’s chorus added the dimension that made this project so significant.

A group of 98 performers, accompanied by 28 partners and friends and a video crew of 5, is going to make an impact anywhere. Because of the high profile nature of their performances, however, the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles attracted a huge amount of attention. Most impressively, they used this attention at every opportunity to further their goal of helping the local gay community: they donated part of their baggage allowance so that thousands of AIDS education posters could be flown to Moscow; they spoke of basic human rights and freedoms in dozens of radio and television interviews in Russia; concert proceeds in every city were given to local gay causes and charities; and, most importantly, they showed in their performances their pride in who they were. No gay group had ever been even remotely as much in the Russian public eye before – part of the Moscow concert was broadcast live on the national evening news. A Russian attending the Moscow concert was quoted in a front page Los Angeles Times article as saying: “This may be the most important even ever for the gay community here.”

Many participants remember the small-scale efforts as fondly as the big moments: the second of silence followed by the gasp of amazement from the St Petersburg audience when, halfway through the through the concert, they learned that the chorus they had been admiring so much, and which had been billed as the Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles, was, in fact, a gay group; the couple in Tallinn who rose from the midst of the typically taciturn Estonian audience and raised their held hands high during We Shall Overcome; hearing that Anneli Saaristo, one of Finland’s most popular singers and a guest artist at the Helsinki concert, was incredibly nervous before walking on fully committed and compelling; the instant bonding that took place at a dinner with the Los Angeles chorus and the Berlin group RoseCavaliere; and the parents who determined to reconcile with their gay son after they attended the Moscow concert.

The outcome perhaps most surprising to the participants, who hoped that their visit would change others’ lives, was how it changed theirs. Jon Bailey said, “We’ve come to sing and we’ve come to listen,” and listen they did. And realized how much you can learn when you open your heart and ears.

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