Copyright © 2017 Forte—Toronto Gay Men’s Chorus All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations. Printed in Canada
Copyright © 2017 Forte—Toronto Gay Men’s Chorus All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations. Printed in Canada
A NIGHT OF CABARET
Friday Sept. 30 10 pm $15 at door only 19+
$30 at door $25 online $20 online before June 1 with code FORTE buy at fortechorus.eventbrite.ca
Happy 20th Birthday, Forte! Planning for the celebration of such an important milestone is a daunting task. Over the past year we’ve come together as a Board and with founding and longtime members to figure out how to mark this occasion by both looking backwards and looking forward. This book is an effort to commemorate our history by honoring the incredible and indelibly fabulous people who have committed their time, focus, and passion to build us into the formidable organization that we have become. The pages of this book document the evolution of Forte— The Toronto Gay Men’s Chorus. Founder Tony Hamill brings us back to a rooftop on a hot afternoon where the chorus was conceived, detailing the excitement of the early days and the formation of a family. Jeffery Prentice remembers finding camaraderie and a new outlet for artistic expression. Lorne Gretsinger talks about getting out of his comfort zone while Kevin Neslon gets political. Current members Drew Post and Alex Elliot give a long-time look at the evolution of the choir’s sound, and Phil Mahar stands as a stunning example of where this choir is going.
and energy, the book stands for so much more. Over the years, Forte—The Toronto Gay Men’s Chorus has evolved into so much more than a choir. While the musical rigor and vocal ability has remained a central value of this organization, Forte is has become a home for hundreds of queer men and allies. It’s a place for people to come together through song, and find connection, laughter, inclusion, community, and (of course) many many pints of beer. I hope that this book and the history that it captures brings as much joy, appreciation, and hope in the reading as it did in the making. Thank you to all who generously contributed their time and energy in putting it together, and thank you to you, dear reader, for your ongoing support. This song’s for you.
We are also honored to publish words of congratulations from community members and allies both near and far. Words from Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and Toronto Mayor John Tory remind us of how lucky we are to live in such an amazing place, and Canadian treasure Sarah McLauchlin wishes us well. Also, thirteen queer choirs from around the world have generously sent us words of congrats and encouragement; The Reykjavik Queer Chorus sends their love; Seoul’s Gvoice strives to create a safe global community; Rainbow Voices Mumbai sends a powerful political message; Orlando stands strong; and so many more of the world’s committed, courageous, and outrageous queer choirs and GMCs stand in support of our accomplishments. It’s a stirring and exhilarating feeling to capture the words of all of these choirs in one place. Truly, queers around the world are singing together. While the words and images within document a legacy of hard work and years of unbelievable donated time
Nick Green Bass 2 and Membership Director
Premier of Ontario - Première ministre de l’Ontario
A MESSAGE FROM PREMIER A PERSONAL MESSAGE FROM THE PREMIER KATHLEEN WYNNE On behalf of the Government of Ontario, I am delighted June 3, 2017
to congratulate the members of Forte – The Toronto Gay Men’s Chorus Premier of Ontario - Première ministre de l’Ontario as you celebrate your group’s 20th Anniversary. On behalf of the Government of Ontario, I am delighted to congratulate the members of th Forte—The Toronto is Gay Men’s you celebrate Our cultural diversity one of Chorus Ontario’sasgreatest assets. your Our group’s 20 Anniversary. inclusiveness has drawn people of all orientations, faiths and Our cultural diversity is one Ontario’s assets. Our inclusiveness has drawn people ethnicities to our province. And oftheir talents,greatest skills and unique perspectives have contributed to our strength. of all orientations, faiths,immensely and ethnicities to our province. And their talents, skills, and unique perspectives have contributed immensely to our strength. I want to commend the members of Forte for helping create a positive space for gay people seeking musical expression and the fulfillment I want to commend the members of Forte for helping create a positive space for gay people that comes from striving for artistic excellence. By supporting and seeking musical expression the you fulfillment that comes collaborating with other LGBTQ and groups, have helped foster afrom striving for artistic excellence. By supporting andwithin collaborating with other LGBTQ strong gay community a diverse and dynamic province.groups, you have helped foster a strong gay community within a diverse and dynamic province. I offer my best wishes for a memorable celebration and many more years of success. I offer my best wishes for a memorable celebration and many more years of success.
June 3, 2017
A PERSONAL MESSAGE FROM THE PREMIER
On behalf of the Government of Ontario, I am delighte congratulate the members of Forte – The Toronto Gay Men’s C as you celebrate your group’s 20th Anniversary. Kathleen Wynne Kathleen Wynne Premier Premier
Our cultural diversity is one of Ontario’s greatest assets. inclusiveness has drawn people of all orientations, faiths ethnicitiesFROM to our province. And their talents, skills and u A MESSAGE perspectives have contributed immensely to our strength. MAYOR JOHN TORY I want to commend the members of Forte for helping create a po It gives me great pleasure extend greetings and a warm welcome to everyone attending space for togay people seeking musical expression and the fulfil today’s cultural event recognizing the accomplishments of Forte—The Toronto Gay Men’s Chorus. that comes from striving for artistic excellence. By supporting Community events promote and encourage residents to have fun, participate in their community, collaborating with LGBTQ you have helped fos connect with each other, and contribute to theother community’s strength. I amgroups, delighted that wonderful events like yours are taking place in Toronto. strong gay community within a diverse and dynamic province. On behalf of Toronto City Council, I wish everyone an enjoyable and memorable event. Please accept my best wishes for continued success.
I offer my best wishes for a memorable celebration and many Yours truly, years of success. John Tory Mayor of Toronto
Kathleen Wynne Premier
A MESSAGE FROM THE PRESIDENT, STEVE PIGLIACELLI During my audition for Forte—The Toronto Men’s Chorus aproximately 5years ago, I was asked by a white bearded gentleman, “What made you want to join this choir?” Being at the time, a music director of a very busy church and directing/accompanying 2 choirs, my response was “I just want to join a choir where all I have to do is show up and sing and not be responsible for anything but learning my music, and have some involvement in the Gay community.” Hello, my name is Steve Pigliacelli. I sing in the Tenor 1 section, and I am currently the President of Forte—The Toronto Gay Men’s chorus. Since it’s inception Forte has changed and transformed in both its membership and performance style. The audience demographic is constantly broadening, as many of you have seen and others will begin to see. Even within my 5 years with the chorus there has been an expansion in our repertoire from complex classical pieces arranged for male chours and the “choral standards to now including several mainstream pop pieces that are currently aired and on the pop charts today. We’ve recently embraced the information technology era by designing and managing our own website fortechorus.com, online ticket sales and social media accounts on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Today we stand at aproximately 50 active members with requests for auditions mounting. My current Board of Directors has been described as “vibrant” to that I add dedicated, diligent, and driven. It’s an amazing team that I am priviledged to work with. It’s the drive and ambition of a team like this paired with the committment, hard work and dedication to musical excellence that will secure and sustain Forte’s popularity for years to come. That and the unparalled talent, dedication, leadership and love for the group that we have in our Director Edward Connell. I am honoured to be serving as President of the Board, and to have a hand in ensuring a continued sense of brotherhood and satisfaction by way of musical accomplishment for our members. I am grateful to have a Board that works so autonomously and diligently in their roles and who have had to step up a notch to assist me without asking, when I needed it. I am priviledged to work with a man like Ed Connell, who’s talents and unwaivering dedication have made Forte what it is today. I am proud to stand shoulder to shoulder in rehearsal, on stage, or on any street corner with each and every gentleman of Forte that I call Brother. But all this is pointless without YOU. Without our faithful audience we would not Be. Many have supported over years of concerts and various performances. You’ve been there through the transitions and changes. You’ve enabled us to grow and become who we are. In all the ways that you have supported us, enabled us and clapped at the end, you have put Forte where it is today. So on behalf of Forte—The Toronto Gay Men’s Chorus and from one humbled President Let me Thank You For 20 Years. Steve Pigliacelli President, Forte-Toronto Gay Men’s Chorus
AN INTERVIEW WITH CHORAL DIRECTOR ED CONNELL —Andy Vatiliotou
Ed Connell is a formidable talent. He has acted as the Head of Music Theory and Piano at the Alberta College Conservatory, and the Music Director of the Timothy Eaton Memorial Church. He has created music for professional theatre and, for over a decade, has been a concert pianist with the National Ballet of Canada. He is a Fellow of the Royal Canadian College of Organists and a recipient of the Healey-Willan Prize – but to us, he’s just Ed. We’re amateur singers. Some of us can read sheet music, and some of us…uh…cannot. Some of us know what a whole rest looks like, while some of us (certainly not me) must google “upside down hat symbol”. Do you think “portato” is just a misspelling of potato? Then welcome—you’re in good company. BUT, herein lies the talent of our friend and Choral Director, Ed Connell: he knows music, yet he has no pretentions about how much (or how little) you may know. If you’re willing to practice and rehearse, he will meet you where you are in your musical capability and, wherever that may be, guide and inspire you to be a better, more confident singer. To rehearse with Ed is to attend a crash-course in choral music, if that course was followed by a night of eating, drinking, and a little T-spilling—the kind of thing you can only do in the company of a dear, dear friend. He has been our Choral Director for more than 15 years, and I wanted to know what it’s meant to him to nurture the talent, the evolution and the “coming-out” of the Toronto Gay Men’s Chorus. So, here’s what you’ve all been waiting for: Ed finally spills the T, and it’s as darling as you might imagine.
When did you become a member of Forte and why work for an all-male choir adds a significant extra did you accept/pursue the post of Choral Director? element, which is the limitations of single-gender vocal range. I joined Forte in 2002; I had fairly recently moved However, experience being the great teacher to Toronto, and was looking for another choir to that it is, my evolution as an arranger has been one become involved with beyond my day job as music of the great journeys of my life. I think I’ve arranged director at Eaton Memorial. Someone told me that a couple of hundred songs for forte now, and the Forte was looking for a director, and I was thrilled enthusiasm and calibre of forte’s performances of to take on the role. I left Eaton more than a decade those arrangements keeps leading me to find new ago, but I’m still with Forte. ways to make unconventional material successful, not to mention unexpected ways to make conventional Talk to me about what it’s like to arrange music for material work. For example, in our 20th anniversary an all male-choir. concert, there’s an a cappella setting of the Eva Cassidy cover of ‘Over the Rainbow’, a big romantic Arranging music for choirs is obviously a complex setting of ‘Both Sides Now’, and a mash-up of a field; you have to understand how voices (both Richard Strauss orchestral tone poem with the ‘Game individual and collective) work, and you have to know of Thrones’ theme, accompanied by pipe organ, the rules of harmony and voice leading before you tympani and crash cymbals! can create even simple arrangements. Making this I used to think that not every piece of music 6
could (or should) be made into a choral piece, but evolved far beyond the boundaries of a musical today, I continue to be pleasantly surprised at the organization; ‘community’ is even too weak a word types of songs that not only work, but work really - family, fraternity, faith, fun, ’bff’…. effectively. After all these years, what has been the most Can you describe a favourite piece you’ve arranged, rewarding part of Forte, and what compels you or a favourite Forte performance? stay? Favourite arrangements: Bacharach’s ‘Close to You’, Disney’s ‘Cruella de Vil’, ‘Four Strong Winds’, Pharrell Williams ‘Happy’, Casting Crown’s ‘I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day’, ‘Jai Ho’, Joni Mitchell’s ‘River’, the medley from ‘Sister Act’, Lorena McKennit’s ‘Snow’, Sondheim’s ‘Sooner or Later’, ‘The Huron Carol’, ‘White Christmas’. Favourite performance: always the most recent one, whatever it was. (With special mention of our 2014 Christmas show ‘All Is Calm’.)
See my answers to the other questions. There’s no one single reward, there’s about fifty, all of them talented and wonderful men I proudly call brothers. Who’d leave all that? Anyone who has been to one of our cabarets already knows that the talent pool in forte is oceans-deep and wide. But they should also know that the camaraderie is even deeper and wider. What’s it like to see members of the choir flourish/ develop as more confident singers under your leadership?
How have you seen choir evolve since you first became a member?
They start out as a scared/precocious/adorable little child, and then, bang! One day, there they are, So many ways! There’s the obvious metrics, growth up on stage, a star. What’s it like? It’s glorious, it’s in membership, audience, even operating budget. life-fulfilling. And of course, there’s an amazing progression of skill; an obvious example occurs when we pull out What do you hope for forte going forward, and an old song from several years back, one that, at where do you see us in another 20 years? the time, seemed difficult. The same song today comes together in a short rehearsal. And so many I haven’t a clue, because I don’t want forte to be fundamentals of choral music making now happen my vision, I want forte to be its own vision. It will be automatically and instinctively. But all of that is a where the members take it, and if the past decade logical outcome of working hard and sticking to it. and a half have been any indication, I’m pretty certain The real growth is much more philosophical; how the that they’re taking it up, up, up. organization mentors and develops hidden talent, how the body of the chorus literally breathes as one musician, how the members themselves now design and build the road that the choir will travel in the future. And above all else, the chorus has 7
A MESSAGE FROM SARAH McLACHLAN Congratulations on the next to impossible feat of not only lasting, but prospering, for 20 years. Keep spreading your positive message!
Lots of love, Sarah McLachlan
ABOVE: Screenshots from the video produced for “Angel” (Sarah McLachlan), as part of the 20th anniversary celebration. See all the videos on the Forte Chorus YouTube channel!
A MESSAGE FROM EDINBURGH
Hello from Edinburgh and congratulations on your 20th anniversary! It’s great to hear from LGBT+ choirs all around the world. LGBT+ choirs are important as they create a fun, supportive, social groups for LGBT+ people. Like you we have been fortunate to celebrate occasions with song and unite in the face of tragedies such as Pulse. Music brings us together and helps us represent our communities through song and give people an opportunity to express themselves. We’ll be celebrating our 10th anniversary soon so it’s wonderful to hear from a choir twice our age! Again congratulations on twenty years of Forte!
A MESSAGE FROM MUMBAI
We are very pleased to know that Forte- Toronto’s Gay Men chorus is completing 20 glorious years. In true sense it is an achievement to be proud of. We at Rainbow Voices Mumbai give our best wishes to all the members of the chorus. It is evident that the choir is full of diversity and represents true sense and spirit of inclusion. Let me tell you about our choir a bit: Formed in 2014 under the watchful eye of our founders Vinodh Philips and Sibi Mathen as India’s first LGBT choir, Rainbow Voices Mumbai seeks to create awareness about the issues that face the LGBT community as it struggles still to find an identity in modern day India. With the transformative power of music we wish to imagine a future free of discrimination, oppression, ignorance and prejudice, to speak for the voiceless, the silenced, and those awakening to who they are, and to encourage,compassion and activism. 9
THE FORTE ORIGIN STORY TOLD BY TONY HAMILL >Photos courtesy of Tony Hamill<
Now just where do you start when you are trying to write a brief history of a group such as Forte? Our friend Julie Andrews would suggest at the beginning—a very good place to start. But we need to go back before the summer and fall of 1997—more than a year in fact to revisit the genesis of this glorious men’s chorus.
the three founders of Forte (myself, Grant
Hunermund, and Dan Leeder) plus the first Musical Director, Dave Marlowe were all in the Toronto G&L SATB chorus for a number of years - Singing Out – a mixed men’s and women’s group We had a lot of fun there. There was a movement afoot to get Sining Out “off-book” and to also try doing a cabaret, and a bit of theatrics. So Grant and Dan and I decided we’d create Not The Andrews Sisters and do a few numbers in full military drag, and 3-part harmonies and 1940’s choreography as our contribution. It was a big hit. And it got us thinking. Hmmmmm…. When a good number of people came to us and asked if they could get in on the fun, we created Tons of Nuns and did a very credible version of “I Will Follow Him” from Sister Act. It seemed there was no turning back now. The genie had been uncorked. At the same time this was happening, Singing Out was a member of the International Gay & Lesbian Association of Choruses (GALA) and we attended a HUGE global gathering of G&L choruses from around the world. There were a hundred choruses and even over 4 days you could only see a smattering. As committed members of our community and as singers, and as fun-lovers it was a breathtaking experience. For a few of us in particular it was an eye-opener, or earopener to be more exact. I think the only men’s chorus the three of us had heard was the Welsh Miner’s Chorus or maybe a distorted snippet of the famous New York City Gay Men’s Chorus or San Francisco GMC on TV. To see and hear them live on stage in front of us was something else. It was a glorious sound. We didn’t talk about it then but once back in Toronto, on a hot sunny day in May, on the roof of 100 Wellesley (The Homo Hilton), quaffing brilliant martinis, we decided to try and start a men’s chorus. The excitement level was very high. We bounced names around for about half an hour then Grant and I both blurted out Forte at the same time. Done! 11
We quietly let our intentions be known and four other guys from Singing Out came over to the dark side – including our own Brian Fulton. We then announced auditions and gathered a few more adventurous fellows to our banner – including current member and sweetheart, Drew Post. Our first show was at Tallulah’s Cabaret at Christmas 1997 with a total of 12 voices and, apart from setting off the fire alarms with our huge candles dressed as monks and being invaded by a small army of fireman, it all went very well. We were established and a wee bit of a nice reputation already. Did you know that we actually got the rights to sing and then later record “You’re a Mean One Mister Grinch” from Theodor Seuss Geisel’s widow. The first time ever for any group! Knowing our audience would be larger we moved to the main space at Buddies for our next three shows growing our audience each time then moving to the even-larger stage at the Betty Oliphant Theatre – part of the National Ballet School on Jarvis Street. By then we numbered almost 40. Our Christmas show “Let it Snow was a great success and drew many new members to us. Likely our most ambitious show in many ways, even up to today, was “Broadway”—It was a fun and truly irreverent mash-up of songs from all eras and styles that told a goofy, fun-filled story. But we almost didn’t do it. It was so demanding in learning lines, choreography, and songs, that we went from 38 members to 18! But we pulled it off and some guys who departed early actually apologized for not having faith. Our first matinee numbered about 100 but word of mouth for the next three shows had us literally turning people away. Exhilarating for us. While we continued to mount engaging theatrical productions we didn’t quite replicate the sheer genius and energy of that show as well as the rapturous audience reception until we mounted “Steam Heat” years later under the inspiring direction of our second and current Musical Director Edward Connell. (Who joined us at our 12
5-year mark—after a most brilliant audition for us, by the way. I still remember it.) OK – there I go drifting again. (Hey there’s a lot to write about and capture and celebrate in 20 years—so bear with me!) Right; where was I? “Steam Heat” was the story told in song of the Toronto Bathhouse raids February 5, 1981 and the profound and lasting effects they had on our community and Canadian society as a whole for that matter... We took it to the Canadian Unison Festival where we rocked the house and also to Hamilton Pride. I have never in my life claimed to be chronologically organized (bless us all, it’s been 20 years!) Somewhere in the midst of this, we made our first (and last) appearance at a GALA Festival in San Jose in 2000 and had a great time. (GALA actually stands for “Get A Lay Anytime” according to Jeff Prentice, an illustrious former Forte member. I wouldn’t know so I’ll take his word for it!) Shortly after this, the 24 Canadian G&L choruses (yep there are that many!) decided to form our own Canadian G&L Choral association and ever since, every 4 years, we hold the Unison Festival in a different Canadian city. The first one was in Edmonton, and we were a fledgling bunch of guys but we had them both weeping on one song and stomping and screaming with another. They loved our super-bright yellow T-shirts when we literally “ran” on stage! I think there might have been some laying about at the festival too as well as sharing music. But again – who knows? I certainly won’t do a year-by-year rehash but will try to encapsulate some of the many great things Ed and this chorus have achieved together. You’ll also enjoy the interviews that follow in this book that our historian Nick has conducted with many members which will capture many more lovely colourful moments in our history. Since our beginning, we have participated in so many community and fundraising events. Part of the reason we exist. Truly countless 13
PRIDE Flag-raising Ceremonies at City Hall. Events with ACT and PWA, even marching in the Pride Parade. Ed took us to amazing heights when we entered the CBC National Choral Competition. On our first foray we ended up as National Semi-Finalists. Pretty good, eh? We were certainly happy knowing that the extra hard work paid off! Then… when we entered into the same competition two years later we ended up as a National Finalist! We were now in a new league. And how cool was it to be asked to sing the national anthem at a Blue Jays game, a Raptors game, and what is the football team in Toronto? I wouldn’t know. We sang there too. That was fun too. A chorus naturally changes over the years. We are no longer the nervous but inherently talented and entertaining beginners we were at Tallulah’s 20 years ago. The chorus has grown. Many members have come and gone, leaving their spirit with us. Forte – The Toronto Gay Men’s Chorus … (Oh – that’s right we added the word “Gay” just recently. Seems like a good idea!) …continues to change and grow. On a personal level, I’d like to thank the many funny, sweet, talented, and dedicated guys who sang with us over the years and still do. As well as the many men and women who didn’t sing with us up on stage but wholeheartedly supported us in so many, many ways. Also the brave soldiers in our membership (as it was oft times a battle!) who continually served and worked VERY hard on the board and on committees to make it happen to get us to our 20th year. And lastly: Two lovely men. Sincere thanks to Dave Marlowe, our first Musical Director who got us going with a sense of fun and love of music; and Ed Connell who took up the mantle and, with a distinct flair, kept us going to reach new heights. I know where we’ve been, and it has been a splendid journey.
AN INTERVIEW WITH JEFFERY PRENTICE —Jomar Manzano
Triple-threat Jeffrey Prentice joined Forte in 1999 with a passion for everything choreography, theatre, and of course, singing. Jeffrey is still active as a performer, a singer, and a ukulele enthusiast performing with Well Seasoned Productions; Toronto’s newets professional theatre company of Canadian artists over 50+. When not singing and wowing audiences, Jeffrey works as an administrator at Surrey Place Centre, providing clinical and support services helping children and adults living with developmental disabilities. While with Forte, Jeffrey’s favourite performances included Trevor McClain’s arrangement of Sarah McLachlan’s Angel, I Know Where I’ve Been from Hairspray, and the jazz version of Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer—complete with dancing back up singers. Jeffrey’s most notable Forte contribution was the production of Steam Heat; a choir-play that he wrote and performed. As the middle child of 7 kids, Jeffrey’s biggest motivation for joining Forte was the comradery of singing with a group of people. “I love singing with a group of people. There’s something special about it that you don’t get anywhere else. It’s sharing something with these people. It’s comradery. It’s creating music that you can’t create by yourself.” Jeffrey keeps in touch with the brothers and sisters he made in Forte, including our very own Vince Ciarlo, Randy Mulrooney, Sarah Hall, Trevor McClain, and Ralph Heartly—just to name a few.
A MESSAGE FROM SINGING OUT
Congratulations Forte on 20 incredible years! It is an amazing milestone to have achieved. We have come a long way our two choirs. While we were once one we have now grown and matured in our own special ways. Fortes sound, energy and performance quality truly sets you apart. We wish you another 20+ years of music and harmony. Howie Dayton, President
A SALUTE TO THE PAST PRESIDENTS OF FORTE —Vince Ciarlo, Past President (2006–2009)
When I was elected President of Forte—The Toronto Gay Men’s Chorus in September 2006, I challenged each member to make the chorus better. In our 20th season, I look back at an organization that has grown in so many ways, both artistically and administratively. I commend each member for their contributions as singers, volunteers, board members, section leaders and committee members. I also commend my fellow Past Presidents who led the chorus. All of them, in addition to being singing members, managed the day-to-day responsibilities of running this vibrant organization in Toronto’s historic LGBT community. I’ve had the privilege of knowing each of these men who took up the challenge as president. They saw where we were, brought their own imagination, creativity and skill set to the fore. They accomplished great things during their individual terms. In this role as president of a volunteer organization, the individual is accountable to donors, fellow board members, and each member of the chorus who donates time and money to keeping the organization running. Even though the agenda is set for a Forte season, there is the opportunity for the president to shape that process. In addition, it is the responsibility of the President to: manage weekly rehearsals, chair monthly board meetings, assist in producing annual concerts, cabarets and guest appearance performances, fundraising, marketing and promoting the chorus and organizing the chorus for participation in LGBT choral festivals across North America. Speaking from my experience, the time commitment can be the same as a full-time job at certain times of the year! They say that if you manage to stay in business for at least five years you’re in good shape. Looking at what Forte has accomplished in 20 years says a lot about its members, but especially its Past Presidents who have kept this organization afloat and from where it is now, at 20, it keeps getting better, stronger.
Please join me in a salute to the following men who have served the chorus as President: Kevin Chen Brian Geddes Tony Hamill The late Grant Hunermund Tom Spence Terry Thompson Stuart Watson Thank you for your time, service, efforts and accomplishments. Because of you all, Forte—The Toronto Gay Men’s Chorus has continued to move onwards and upwards.
A MESSAGE FROM SEOUL
Congratulations! We are Gvoice, gay men’s chorus in Seoul, South Korea, and we also celebrating our 14th Year Anniversary with a documentary film about us, Weekends by Lee Dong-ha. Through music, we all fight against hate, build a friendly and safe community, and strive in our pride. We appreciate we have friends singing together around the world! Please keep up the good work, Forte!
A MESSAGE FROM REYKJAVIK
Dear friends in Toronto We send you all our queerest wishes on your 20th year anniversary! Together we’ll keep on uniting the world in love and peace through our singing hearts. May your future be gayer than ever, filled with joy, glitter, music and new adventures. From Iceland with love, enjoy the birthday year. Warm regards, Hugrún Ósk Bjarnadóttir, The Reykjavik Queer Choir 17
AN INTERVIEW WITH DREW POST —Ken Harvey
Music, it seems, is in Drew Post’s blood. He’s been singing since he was fourteen, when in a church choir, he called himself a “soprano/bass,” meaning that he sang through his adolescent voice change. Years later, as one of Forte’s founding members, he started as a second tenor, dropped to baritone and then, because the group needed basses, dropped his voice once again. Drew calls himself Forte’s “first transectional.” To spend an hour with Drew talking about Forte is to live its history. If you want to know anything about the group, talk to Drew. He’s a oneman archive. He was there when Forte was founded. He was there at the very first concert, held at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, when sixteen Forte men sang numbers from A Charlie Brown Christmas. It was 1997, and the focus of the group was as much about performance as it was music. There were costumes, choreography, and even scripts. And these shows were successful, sometimes playing three or four times to large audiences. In those early years, Forte also presented Valentine shows, and offered “Valentine quartets” for hire to sing romantic songs to one’s lover (or lover-to-be).
>Drew Post (left) and Mark Le Messurier (right) consequences for doing so in many other places. But what about now, with the growing acceptance of LGBTQ folks? Drew argues convincingly that we need Forte more than ever. As we become more accepted and more integrated into the larger society, we need to be keenly aware of preserving our identity. Forte helps us do just that. And besides, Drew notes, environments and attitudes can change, as is evident by the election of the president south of the border.
With twenty years of experience with Forte under his belt, it’s hardly surprising that Drew has a few anecdotes, as well as a few high and low points, to share. He tells about singing at Unison in Ottawa a few years ago when the baritones skipped an entire verse, yet the chorus (with Ed Connell’s assistance, of course) continued on flawlessly. Drew remembers singing for the first time at the AIDS Memorial in the late 1990s as one of the most moving experiences with Forte. Producing the 10th Anniversary Concert at the St. Lawrence Centre is also high on the list of most memorable experiences. As for low points, Drew struggles a bit to name one, but does acknowledge that only being When asked why he has stayed able to send nine singers to the 2004 Gala Festival in Montreal was with Forte for twenty years, Drew disappointing. replies, “It keeps me sane.” He also speaks movingly about how the So what about the future? Drew looks forward to expanding the group has allowed him to express membership of Forte, as long a balance in the sections is part of the himself not only as a singer, but plan. Most importantly, however, is that when asked about Forte in also as a gay man, especially at ten years, Drew says confidently, “I’ll still be singing bass.” a time when one could suffer How lucky for Forte. 18
AN INTERVIEW WITH CHRISTOPHER BROWN —Garby Koo
On a Saturday evening at Forte’s movie social night, Christopher Brown and I retreated to quieter quarters of the party room where the 80s film Heathers had just finished screening. Away from the chatter of our fellow Forte men, Christopher kindly let me into his life as a member of Forte Chorus. Within moments of our chat, I knew this piece would write itself. For Christopher, choir is far from meeting every Monday night with like-minded men with a passion for selfexpression. For him, choir is a way of life.
Casey House during his first year with the choir. He remembers that while the room was small, their performance was welcomed by a full crowd who were “dancing and bopping in their chairs and they all lit up.” Right then and there, Christopher realized that Forte was capable of delivering such profound joy to others through the gift of music and song. The 100th Anniversary of WWI performance at Jarvis Collegiate in 2014 was another vivid memory for him. At the end of the performance, Christopher remembers being touched by the veterans in attendance in the front row, who were all sobbing. He was moved by how the songs moved these men and women and triggered such a raw emotional response within them. More recently, Christopher remembers the Pulse performance at the June 2016 concert and how it caused nearly the entire audience to cry as the world was still mourning the tragedy of the Orlando shootings. These memories, no doubt, also reflect Forte’s strong involvement in Toronto’s LGBTQ community that the chorus holds in such high regard.
“Choirs have been something I have just always been in,” Christopher recalls. It started at the young age of 4 at his church. Once school started, Christopher would join the choir every September. After completing arts school for Drama, he returned to singing at church but soon found himself without choir for 2 years. Christopher remembers “missing an element of his life,” likening his experience to that of an athlete who leaves a sport but “misses and craves getting that aspect of their life back.” Among three choral groups, he chose to become a Forte man. 9 years later, he is a proud veteran member sharing When asked about Forte’s next 20 years, Christopher believes there is a future for the chorus but shares with me some of his most memorable moments. what work he still believes needs to be done. For Having such a long tenure with Forte, Christopher him, it is important that we continue to maintain a is not short on anecdotes. One of his fondest presence in the LGBTQ community. He feels that early memories was performing for residents of we need to “be present and let people know we are there.” Referencing a small memorial service performance at the Gladstone Hotel last summer, Christopher wants Forte to continue providing song as a means of relaying a message to people who need it. He has seen the joy that we can bring to the community and believes that is what we must strive to continue doing. In the fleeting moments I had with Christopher, I got a glimpse into his life as a performer, storyteller, and human being. For him, the Forte journey has been one filled with happiness, enrichment, and hard work. Looking towards the future, I feel fortunate that we have veterans like Christopher who have grown with Forte and are still with us today. As I look to develop myself in Forte, I am comforted that these men still have much to offer the choir and all of us. There is certainly lots more to learn. 19
A MESSAGE FROM LONDON
Dear Forte, It is with great pleasure and pride that on behalf of the London Gay Men’s Chorus, I congratulate you on your 20th anniversary. Happy Birthday from all of us here in London! Forte and the LGMC are part of a special global community of LGBT choruses. While our locations may be different, our missions are the same: we provide safe spaces for LGBT people to express themselves and also provide hope and support to greater society. LGBT choruses started as fundamental movement to literally and figuratively provide voices to the LGBT community. While some of the longer standing choruses have evolved their mission in their home communities, we still stand together to support our brothers and sisters in parts of the world where being LGBT+ is less accepted or not accepted at all. Starting with only 9 members in 1991, the LGMC celebrated its Silver Jubilee in 2016 and marked it with 25 goals to celebrate the 25 years of music, community, activism, and brotherhood. Boasting over 200 members, the LGMC is the largest gay choir in Europe and regularly plays to sell-out crowds all over London. We are thrilled to be part of this collaborative project and wish our Canadian brothers all the best for the next 20 years! With love, from London to Toronto!
A MESSAGE FROM PRAGUE
Hi, guys! It’s our pleasure to congratulate you to your 20th anniversary. Given that we are “institutionally younger”, for us this special moment is a proof that our efforts make sense and that following your footprints, we can look forward to experiencing choir singing for many years to come. We wish you a lot of enjoyable choir rehearsals, successful performances and crowds of fans who will always keep your auditorium filled. Doodles, Prague gay men’s choir
AN INTERVIEW WITH ALEX ELLIOT —J.P. Bevilaqua
Alex, a member of Forte for 16 years, has seen the choir through many iterations—from its beginning as an “aspiring musical theatre” operation with fully choreographed, off-book numbers to its current, perhaps more musically rooted form. Those early days involved sometimes the whole group doing choreography on stage—a real surprise to the writer of this piece…and a joy to imagine.
Based on having competed in various choral competitions with Forte, and, thus, having seen other choirs perform, Alex ends with this observation: “A lot of serious choirs can do one thing really well, but we do a lot of a variety. Although we’ve moved away from a musical-theatre slant, we still do that music, we do pop tunes, but we’ll also do classical. We did ‘Bohemian Rhapsody,’ Poulenc, Tchaikovsky and K.D. Lang all in one set. That’s one of the big He fondly tells the story of Ed, the choir’s current strengths of this choir.” artistic director’s, audition that began this transition of identity. “He came in with ‘We Kiss in the Shadow,’ a number that we still do, having arranged it for the audition and taught the choir a new song. I said to the artistic committee, ‘You know, this Ed guy, he’s going to expect a lot out of us, so, if he comes on, it’s going to be a big change for the chorus.’” A prediction that turned out to be true, with wonderful results. Alex remembers a number from his early days in which other long-time members Vince and Wayne were in drag the entire show. The show, he explains, was all about a drag queen and her love story, and the group was her back-up singers. “The big production number at the end of the show,” Alex elaborated, “was ‘One,’ from A Chorus Line, with fishnet stockings and high-kicks.” When asked about his favourite, most memorable moments, Alex brings up “Steam Heat”—a show Forte did about the 1981 bathhouse raids. “The opening number, the song ‘Steam Heat,’ was one of our last fully choreography numbers, done by 8 guys in towels.” “At the other extreme,” Alex continues, “is the stuff we’ve done since Ed’s gotten us more serious, like anything we’ve done by Francis Poulenc.” Asked to expand further on his love for the gay, French composer, Alex elaborates: “The stuff he does, it’s very odd, but once you get it in your head, it really clicks.”
A MESSAGE FROM TOKYO Congratulations on your 20th Anniversary! We are very glad to share the delight with you far away from Tokyo. Even though we are separated from each other, we are sure that the rainbow can connect us all together. We do hope the next decade will be great one for you! Sing Out! Tokyo
A MESSAGE FROM WINNIPEG
W I N N I P E G’S LGBTQ 2* C H O R US
The Rainbow Harmony Project Choir congratulates Forte—Toronto Gay Men’s Chorus, on their 20th anniversary! On this milestone occasion, the RHP unites its voice to that of Forte’s. Together may we continue to create a more accepting society through the power of music.
The Rainbow Harmony Project Choir congratulates the Toronto Gay Men’s Chorus Forte, on their 20th anniversary! On this milestone occasion, the RHP unites its voice to that of Forte’s. Together may we continue to create a more accepting societ A MESSAGE through the power of music.
Gefeliciteerd vanuit Amsterdam / Congratulations from Amsterdam Toronto is 20! Hugs, kisses and all of our love, from your little brothers of The Amsterdam Gay Men’s Chorus. In our 2nd season, preparing for our 3rd show, you inspire and mentor us in your sheer presence. Your commitment to the strength in our voices and the power of our comradery shines. Thank you and congratulations on 20 years of well done! 22
AN INTERVIEW WITH LORNE GRETSINGER —Tor Sandberg
>photo courtesy of Hamilton Gay Men’s Chorus Lorne joined Forte in the fall of its second year (1998) just in time for the choir’s “Let it Snow!” concert. Despite living in Hamilton and working in Niagara, Lorne says Forte quickly became his world. Tony Hamill, Grant Hunermund and Dan Leeder had created Forte to be a fusion of choir and show chorus that was fun, creative, and promised to be “politics free.” Lorne recalls how much fun it was to create, plan and execute high quality shows. “This was nothing that Toronto had seen before.” The shows were an expression of the choir’s individual talents but also the ability for the group to support each other. At the “Let it Snow!” concert, for example, Lorne took on the position of lighting director and recalls feeling overwhelmed. “I had run a lighting board before, but never actually designed lights,” he says. “And we were at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre – a professional theatre!” But in what would become a theme in his experience with Forte, a fellow member helped guide him through. Wanting to get more involved, Lorne soon joined Forte’s board, serving for a few years as Secretary and Vice-President Artistic. One memory with Forte that Lorne says was foundational to his development as a gay man, performer, and activist, was when the choir joined 10,000 LGBT singers in San Jose for the the GALA Festival in the year 2000. In retrospect, Lorne says he had no idea what the festival would mean to him. Lorne performed his solo in front of 5000 supportive fans. “I was not prepared for the onslaught of support and applause and genuine affection for our work,” he recounts. “[That’s when] I discovered the camaraderie of the LGBT choral movement.” It sounds like Forte members also had quite a bit of fun off-stage too, “distinguishing” themselves at their hotel, the Airport Inn, which was a Melrose-Place style motel with a centre courtyard with a hot tub and pool. This experience marked the beginning of Lorne’s long association with GALA choruses.
theatre. Toronto LGBT choirs Singing Out and Iris (Toronto Women’s Chorus) attended, cheering on the performance. Lorne felt there was something “cutting-edge” about that show that endures in his memory as one of Forte’s best-ever shows. Demands at his job eventually made the hour-plus commute to Toronto difficult, and Lorne’s ability to participate fully in the choir began to wane. After a year and a half of disconnection, he joined the Buffalo Gay Men’s chorus in the winter of 2004. But Forte family is strong. In the spring of 2005, Lorne called on Forte, (along with the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus and Singing Out) to Trinity United Church in Beamsville, Ontario (Lorne’s hometown), to raise money for LGBT youth programs in Niagara. Over 200 singers descended on Beamsville for a hugely successful concert. “My Forte family was amazing” says Lorne. “They performed a cut-down version of the Bathhouse raids show. I’m still not quite sure Beamsville knows what hit it.”Lorne joined Forte on stage one more time for the 2006 Unison Festival in Vancouver. “Of all my choral homes, Forte is the one that “fits” my musical soul,” says Lorne. “Forte, by the way, had never stopped being one-of-a-kind, even as the focus on theatricality changed. You knew when you were around one of the Forte guys. Proud. Fierce. Fabulous. And of course, Flirtatious. And Ed Connell’s leadership brought the musical quality forward to the jealousy of all other groups.”
In the Spring of 2012, Lorne and his best friend (former Forte accompanist Michael Wilmot) and his partner Rob Feeney decided to give life to the Hamilton Gay Men’s Chorus. The structure, style and vision of the chorus was modeled after Forte. “There was no better choice in guest for our very first concert in December, 2012 than to have Forte join us in Steeltown to a jam-packed 250+ audience Another iconic memory was being part of Forte’s members… Being a part of the formational years of “Broadway, Life is a Show Tune” concert. His best Forte, as well as ongoing association, has been one friend (Michael Wilmot) had joined as Forte’s pianist, of the proudest accomplishments of my life.” and the choir performed at the Betty Oliphant 23
AN INTERVIEW WITH KEVIN NELSON —Gregory McCormick
“Meeting the boys and having that camaraderie was one of the things I took away from that experience. Forty guys at times, especially your section became almost like your clique in the village. We would go out and there was a really important social aspect to it. That was the main thing: just meeting people in the community. And then of course the stories around the music and songs themselves - I think younger people need these stories. A 25 year-old guy asked me recently, ‘ What was it like 30 years ago?’ And I had to recall so much about that time. And that’ s one important way to tell the history of a place like Church & Wellesley: through the songs and stories and through the concerts. It’ s hard for people today who weren’ t there to imagine maybe: the fun, yes, but the wounds, too, those wounds of the past were so fresh and it look a long time for relations between the community and police, for example, to heal. And of course, it was a different time: Pride wasn’ t commercial and wasn’ t about sponsorship: that was all different.” Kevin Nelson was a Baritone 1 who was part of Forte from 2005-2010. Though Forte was all about the music for Kevin in the years that followed, he joined up for other reasons; “I joined because I had just gotten out of a 10 year relationship and I wanted something social to keep me going. So that inspired me to find something in the community to do with music.”
was a sleigh number and we were all in a big sleigh on stage and someone sat down right in my face and I couldn’ t see anything, including Ed. I yelled out, ‘ I can’ t see!’ and the entire audience burst into laughter.” Kevin continues down memory road with more iconically Forte memories. “We did a big concert downtown and we all dressed up and we did “Three Little Maids” from The Mikado and then we did the scene from ‘And I Am Telling You’ from Dreamgirls and I was Effie, but I had a little Britney Spears outfit and I had this belly like I do now...That was fun!” The performances were an important part of Kevin’s experience, but there was much more to it for him. He even tried his hand at writing music! “When we celebrated the 10th anniversary of the choir, and we recorded 10 songs, I wrote a song for the boys, I Really Don’ t Want to be You. It was such a thrill to hear the boys singing a song that I had written.” “Music was great because it kept my voice in shape. But socially, years later, I am still hanging out with some of the guys.” When asked what he hopes for the future of Forte, Kevin sends his blessing; “I hope in the years ahead that Forte will be able to tour across Canada and possibly in to Europe!” Thanks Kevin! We do too!
When asked about notable memories, most people think back to the beginning. Kevin was no different as he reminisced about the most mortifying part of the Forte process... the audition! “I remember being really nervous about my audition,” said Kevin. “Though I had a lot of musical theatre experience, looking at Ed was terrifying. Of course, he’ s a baby underneath... a really really nice man. But he scared me at first!” Come on Kevin! He’s a teddy bear. “The first concert I was involved in was a Christmas concert on Winchester at Toronto Dance Theatre. I was a little nervous, but what I remember is that it 24
>photo courtesy of Kevin Nelson
Stockholms Gaykör (Stockholm Gay mens chor thus celebrate its 35th anniversary this year, ma chorus in Europe!
A MESSAGE FROM LOS ANGELES A big part of our work is reaching out to the ga we have worked together with several choruse Fransisco Gay Mens Chorus, London Gay Men Maybe in the future a collaboration with Forte Chorus could be realized! Congratulations Forte—The Toronto Gay Men’s Chorus for 20 years of song from all of us at The Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles.
Again, congratulations to all of you and may yo twenty years! Håkan Svensson Chairman
A MESSAGE FROM STOCKHOLM
We would like to extend our deepest congratulations on your 20th anniversary! Stockholms Gaykör (Stockholm Gay mens chorus) was founded in 1982 and thus celebrate its 35th anniversary this year, making us the oldest gay mens chorus in Europe! A big part of our work is reaching out to the gay community of the world and we have worked together with several choruses round the world like the San Fransisco Gay Mens Chorus, London Gay Mens Chorus and several others. Maybe in the future a collaboration with Forte—The Toronto Gay Mens Chorus could be realized! Again, congratulations to all of you and may you have another successful twenty years!
AN INTERVIEW WITH PHIL MAHAR —Ken Harvey
If sheer energy and enthusiasm sold tickets, then Phil Mahar would have packed the Rogers Centre for our last concert. Just watch him make an announcement during rehearsal or perform in a cabaret and you’ll see that he gives his all to anything he does. Not only is he a top-notch bass, he’s also great at his job on the board as Fundraising Director, where he has brought his considerable sales savvy to help score a record-breaking 20th Anniversary year. When talking to Phil, you can’t help but see Forte’s future as anything but bright. With close to five years of experience in Forte, Phil has plenty of stories to tell. He can hardly keep himself from laughing when he talks about that moment in Unison 2012 when the baritones skipped an entire section of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” yet the chorus simply plunged ahead, the mistake barely noticeable. (It’s a story that a number of long-standing members have repeated, although memory can play tricks: was it the basses who screwed up or the baritones? The consensus points to the baritones.) And you can hear the emotion in his voice when he talks about the performance of “Pulse” days after the Orlando massacre in June, 2016. He explains that every single singer knew how deeply important the rendering of the song was, and when the last note was sung there wasn’t a dry eye in the place – either on or off stage. “All of the forty-nine people who died were sitting with us,” he says. When Phil was deciding how to fill the musical void in his life, he chose Forte over other groups, both orchestral (Phil plays the trumpet) and choral. He was drawn to Forte’s musical excellence, which in his mind has only grown. Indeed, among the changes he’s seen over the past years, Phil cites a more serious Forte, a group more willing to tackle difficult music. He also sees 26
>Anthony Lott (left) and Phil Mahar (right)
Forte as much more social now than it was only a few years ago. The evidence is around us as we talk: some twenty Forte members have gathered after rehearsal for drinks. Some changes have been trickier than others. Phil was deeply involved in renaming the group “Forte: Toronto Gay Men’s Chorus.” (It was previously just “Forte.”) Phil argues that the change has made his job easier as fundraiser because it has “allowed us to unleash our potential” by being able to target a more specific audience. Phil is quick to acknowledge the contributions of fellow board members in what he sees as Forte’s growth. And he describes his vision for the future with his typical passion. He sees a Forte that continues to push itself musically, especially under the direction of Ed Connell, who in Phil’s words is a “musical genius.” As he gears up to lead us to Unison in Calgary in 2018, Phil also imagines the group traveling more so that our voices can be heard far and wide. Would this be a challenge? Of course it would. But listening to Phil, you’d have every reason to believe the opportunity is there for the taking.
A MESSAGE FROM ORLANDO
Happy Anniversary Forte! Congratulations on 20 years of Music and Song. Reaching such a milestone is a testament to the value you provide to your community, and the joy you spread through music. The music you make inspires happiness, hope, understanding and love. Enjoy your special anniversary, take time and celebrate all the good you do and cherish the memories you have made as you look forward to the milestones yet to come. We wish you many more years of success!! Yours in song, Orlando Gay Chorus
ABOVE: Forte—Toronto Gay Men’s Chorus sings Melissa Etheridge’s tribute “Pulse,” summer 2016.
WITH HEARTFELT THANKS TO: Premier Kathleen Wynne; Mayor John Tory; Sarah McLachlan; Jean-Paul Bevilacqua; Christopher Brown; Vince Ciarlo; Ed Connell; Jeremy Elder; Alex Elliot; Nick Green; Lorne Gretsinger; Tony Hamill; Ken Harvey; Garby Koo; Phil Mahar; Jomar Manzano; Gregory McCormick; Kevin Nelson; Steve Pigliacelli; Drew Post; Jeffrey Prentice; Tor Sandberg; Andy Vatiliotou; Carl Shura (book design).
2016/2017 MEMBERSHIP: Artistic Director: Edward Connell Pianist: Michael Rose Tenor 1: Christopher Brown; Vince Ciarlo; Mith Das; Randy LaFramboise; Jomar Manzano (Section Leader); John McEachen; Steve Pigliacelli; Tor Sandberg; Aidan Sharp; Andy Vatiliotou. Tenor 2: Kevin Ball; Will Burnfield; Peter Davidson; Aaron De Sousa; Jeremy Elder; Todd Elliot; Randal Fedje; Brian Fulton; Farooq Khan; Patrick Lam; Peter Mieszkalski; Matt Oâ€™Donnell; Grant Pettypiece (Section eader); Daniel Scott; Andrew Wheeler. Baritone: Christian Baes; Jean-Paul Bevilacqua; Gordon Brown; Rob Bulnes; Victor Cutting; Bob Deskins; Shaan Dua; Lestat Feliciano; Vernon Finney; Tony Hamil; Ken Harvey; Naheed Kheraj; Garby Koo (Section Leader); Jaishal Kotak; Jarrett MacKay; Gordon MacKeracher; Gregory McCormick; Jonathan Zenz. Bass: David Doherty; Travis Fuchs; Tim Gill; Nick Green; Mark Le Messurier; Phil Mahar (Section Leader); Drew Post; Rohan Sajnani; Carl Shura; Norm Valiquette. 2016/2017 Board: President: Steve Pigliacelli Secretary: Kevin Ball Treasurer: Jonathan Zenz/Tim Gill Production: Vince Ciarlo/Rob Bulnes Fundraising: Phil Mahar Marketing: Jeremy Elder Membership: Nick Green