David C Dawson's blog

David C Dawson's blog

This is how far we've come

Chorus tour of the USPosted by DavidCDawson Fri, May 26, 2017 17:34:48

This Is How Far We've Come
I'm on tour with the London Gay Men's Chorus in America. We've been in New York. Now we're in Chicago.

We sang at an elementary school in Chicago today. Two shows. First to the lower school, then the upper school. With a workshop session in the middle with the school choir, including choreography.

This is when the London Gay Men’s Chorus is at its most powerful.

Imagine a gay choir singing in a school twenty years ago? Probably impossible.

The Alexander Graham Bell Elementary School is an American public school (state funded) in the North Center neighbourhood of Chicago. It has around eleven hundred students, ranging from pre-school to Eighth Grade. It celebrates its hundredth birthday this year.

As soon as we walked into the school on a bright sunny morning, you could sense it was a happy place. There was clear respect between students and teachers.

We performed numbers ranging from Sam Cook’s A Change is Going to Come to I Feel Pretty from West Side Story and Rodgers and Hammerstein's Keep it Gay. We opened with I Sing the Body Electric, based on Walt Whitman’s beautiful poem. I could see one of the teachers in the audience mouthing all the words as we sang.

As the lower school filed out after our first performance, one of the children shouted out “Good job!”

Our chairman is a former student of the school. He made a powerful speech about being different. There was a roar of applause from the students as he concluded: “it’s OK to be different”.

I spoke to the music teacher afterwards.

“Did any parents request that their children not attend the performance today?” I asked naïvely.

“No!” she responded, almost shocked by my question.
“We have a couple of kids with same sex parents here," she went on. "There are several gay or lesbian teachers in the school. We’ve come a long way.”

Too right we've come a long way. This was the highlight of our tour for me.







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A New York Story – Con or Charm?

Chorus tour of the USPosted by DavidCDawson Tue, May 23, 2017 17:36:45

A New York Story – Con or Charm?

I got picked up last night, and we went on a date.

Her name is Nicki. She’s seventy-eight years old and she started chatting me up while we sat waiting in the lobby of the New World Stages, off Broadway.

But have I been charmed, or conned by a scheming person?

I found Nicki very charming. She said I was charming, which is charming of her to say. I live near Oxford, and she said she'd researched at the Pitt Rivers Museum there many years ago. She also knew Cambridge, having lived in nearby Grantchester with her three young sons in the early seventies.

Her manner was that of a fast-talking, Jewish New Yorker. But she was born and raised in India. She came to New York when she was ten.

We sat talking for half an hour. About Middle Eastern culture, on which she's very knowledgeable. We debated the use of language, about which she's very opinionated. As am I.

She's a fanatical theatre fan. She told me she sees eleven shows per week. Over five hundred a year. I secretly wondered if that was really true, or if she was exaggerating.

Then it was time for us to see our respective plays. She was going to see The Wall and I saw Church and State.

“Why don’t we meet up after, and swap notes?” she asked. “I know this place where we can get fish tacos for a dollar.”

Sounded interesting, so I agreed.

After the theatre, I got us a taxi and we went down to Coopers on 8th Avenue for one-dollar fish tacos and beer. We talked non-stop. I was fascinated by her life. She was interested in mine.

So why should I even think I was conned?

This morning, I went for breakfast in a deli on the corner of 8th and seventeenth. As I ate my eggs on wheat toast, I Googled Nicki Cochrane. And up popped her face in an article from last year, with the headline “members of New York’s theatre community detest her”.

Why?

The article confirmed all she had told me the night before. That she's originally from India. That she sees eleven shows a week.

But she’s made some enemies. Here’s the article, and decide for yourself if she’s a charmer, or a con artist:

http://observer.com/2016/02/kickstarter-funded-movie-about-theater-loving-woman-doesnt-tell-whole-story/

What do I think?

I’m meeting Nicki at the theatre again this afternoon. She's one of the most delightful people I've met in years.













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Day 3 - Why Pride Marches?

Chorus tour of the USPosted by DavidCDawson Sat, May 20, 2017 13:33:45

Day 3 - Why Pride Marches?
I’m on tour with the London Gay Men’s Chorus in New York, getting ready for a joint concert with the New York City Gay Men’s Chorus this Saturday.

We’ve been to the Stonewall National Monument, close to the Stonewall Inn. This was the site of the Stonewall rebellion in June 1969, a turning point in America’s fight for LGBT rights.

When I was growing up, the only significant event in the summer of 1969 was the first landing on the moon. I was eleven years old, and I remember watching the contrasty, black and white pictures on our ageing oak-cased television set.

I knew nothing about the police raid on a sanctuary for gay men in New York’s Greenwich Village. Police raids on gay bars were frequent in New York at the time, but the bar owners usually received a police tip-off before the raid.

On the night of 28 June at the Stonewall Inn, there was no police tip-off.

And the raid did not go as planned.

Instead of meekly lining up against a wall and handing over their IDs, patrons refused to cooperate. A crowd gathered outside.

It got angry.

The crowd swelled to five or six hundred, vastly outnumbering the police.

Ten police officers barricaded themselves inside the Stonewall Inn for safety.

The crowd chanted, “We shall overcome”. They attacked the police wagons, and it led to several days of riots in Greenwich Village.

It also triggered a change around the world in the approach to the campaign for gay rights.

One year later, the first gay Pride march in Greenwich Village, marked the anniversary of the Stonewall uprising. There were also marches in Chicago and Los Angeles.

These days, people often ask, why bother with Pride marches any more?

Then you see pictures of gay men rounded up in Chechnya and forced into concentration camps. You see pictures of gay men thrown from the roofs of multi-storey car parks in Syria.

Or two gay men in West London earlier this year, savagely beaten as they slept on their train back home.

That’s why we still have Pride marches.



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Day 2 – A sobering moment

Chorus tour of the USPosted by DavidCDawson Fri, May 19, 2017 13:25:19

Day 2 – A sobering moment

I’m on tour with around one hundred members of the London Gay Men’s Chorus in New York.

Yesterday was our second day in the Big Apple and our first day of getting down to business, rehearsing for our joint performance with the New York City Gay Men’s Chorus on Saturday.

We’re doing two other performances here before we move on to Chicago next week. This evening we’re performing at the British Consulate, but before that we’re heading for Broadway.

By tomorrow I’ll be able to say I’ve sung on 42nd Street in New York, New York.

OK, so it’s going to be at Madame Tussauds.

But it’s still Broadway.

Meanwhile, how was the rehearsal?

There are nearly three hundred men in the two Choruses. It’s been over 30 degrees today (nearly 90 in Fahrenheit) today. At seven o’clock last night, we were all packed into a large (ish) church hall on Upper East Side, with two musical directors and a band.

How do you think it went?

As Wallace from Wallace and Gromit might have said: “as well as can be expected”.

Actually, I think we’re going to blow the socks off our audience on Saturday. The sound of three hundred male voices singing in close harmony has enormous power.

To inspire and uplift.

Given everything that’s happening in our world at the moment, I think we need some inspiring and uplifting.

Earlier in the day, I was humbled by the effect a small world event had on my life.

I was at the top of number one World Trade Center, when my cousin in Boston messaged me.

“You OK? Saw an accident in Times Square and thought of you”.

Within moments, other messages from relatives and friends came in. Then the members of the London chorus began checking round, to see if everyone was safe.

We were.

I rang my mother to reassure her, and posted a message to say I was safe.

Thank you to everyone for your thoughts and your concern.

It was a wonderful moment, which illustrated the supportive global community we can be.



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Day 1 – First Impressions of New York

Chorus tour of the USPosted by DavidCDawson Wed, May 17, 2017 19:24:36

Day 1 – First Impressions of New York

I’ve arrived! Together with around fifty members of the London Gay Men’s Chorus, including musical director Simon and pianist Lana, onboard a British Airways jumbo jet.

“Let’s do the show here!” Once the drinks trolley did a few rounds, the singing began…

Strangely enough, with fifty gay men onboard, they ran out of gin.

Hats off to our chairman John for organising this group flight. Marshalling fifty gay men to America and back has to be like herding cats.

The New York Gay Men’s Chorus were there to welcome us in the Arrivals hall, complete with rainbow flags and lots of hugs.

My amazing host David was one of the welcoming committee at JFK airport from the New York Gay Men’s Chorus. With his years of local knowledge, I finally know the easy way to get into Manhattan.

We took the AirTrain from the terminal to Jamaica Station, where we got the E Line through to Chelsea, and 23rd Street.

And first impressions?

It’s hot. 30 degrees (that’s over eighty Fahrenheit for American readers). And humid. Everyone’s in their singlets and shorts.

Chelsea is an amazing neighbourhood, straight out of the movies. Great places to eat all the way up 23rd Street. Beautiful buildings.

And it’s busy. So busy.

The lobby of David’s apartment building is simply perfectly styled in Art Deco. Straight out of Poirot. There’s even a garden with the apartment block, a rarity in New York. The elevator is elegantly lined with dark wood and is to die for.

And the Art Deco apartment …

I am still in heaven.





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One day to go - An Art Deco Love Affair

Chorus tour of the USPosted by DavidCDawson Tue, May 16, 2017 14:16:28
One day to go - An Art Deco Love Affair
Tomorrow, I’m flying to America with the London Gay Men’s Chorus for a twelve-day tour. We’ll be singing in New York and Chicago.

One of my passions is Art Deco. It’s a period of design which I fell in love with many years ago. I have a good sized collection of glassware, several cocktail shakers, and a few years ago I discovered a bespoke rug maker near Whitney in Oxfordshire. He made me two gorgeous Art Deco rugs for the living room and hallway.

So you can imagine my excitement at the prospect of spending twelve days in New York and Chicago. Two cities rich in Art Deco heritage.

I’m already booked onto an architectural river tour in Chicago, followed by a walking tour. Of course I’ll be visiting Frank Lloyd Wright’s House.

I’ve been to New York many times, so I’ve already been to the Empire State, the Chrysler Building, and the gorgeous Number 1 Wall Street. This time, if there’s time, I want to try to get over to the Bronx to see some of the amazing examples of Art Deco that are lovingly maintained there.

I was talking about this with my host in New York just last night. David lives a couple of blocks away from Greenwich Village, within walking distance of great bars, the Stonewall Memorial and our rehearsal space. I am so lucky to be hosted by him and his charming husband Ammar.

I mentioned my love for Art Deco.

“Oh really?” he said. “This apartment building is Art Deco. The stairwell is spectacular. I always walk down, so I can enjoy it.”

I’m going to be living in an Art Deco apartment on Manhattan for one week!

I am in heaven.

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Two days to go - Why protest songs?

Chorus tour of the USPosted by DavidCDawson Mon, May 15, 2017 14:01:00
Two days to go - Why protest songs?

In two days I’m flying to America with the London Gay Men’s Chorus for a twelve-day tour. We’ll be singing in New York and Chicago.

Our show in New York is called I See Fire. When we bring the show to the Cadogan Hall in London in June, we’ll be singing many of the same songs. The London concert is called AgitPop. The Cadogan Hall describes it as “the music of liberation and protest”.

Why protest?

After all, there’s much to celebrate. It’s fifty years since the Sexual Offences Act of 1967 partially decriminalised homosexuality in England and Wales. It’s nearly four years since the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act received royal assent in the United Kingdom.

So, why protest?

In the words of one of the songs we’ll sing: “The buggers are legal now, what more are they after?”

According to Galop’s Hate Crime Report of 2016:

More than seven thousand hate crimes against LGBT people were recorded by UK police in one year

In that period, over a thousand prosecutions were made for homophobic acts in England and Wales

Over a thousand charges for LGBT hate crimes were made in Scotland and Wales.

So the law isn’t quite enough.

Personally, I know of several people who have experienced either verbal or actual, physical abuse as a result of homophobic attacks in the last eight months.

A friend of mine in the Chorus was subjected to sustained, verbal abuse as he walked down the street in central London, simply because he was holding hands with his partner.

The boyfriend of a friend of mine was badly beaten up in Sheffield, because “he looked too gay.”

It’s not good enough if gay and lesbian couples can legally get married and have children, but can’t walk safely hand in hand down the road.

That’s why Pride marches are still so important. That’s why we in the London Gay Men’s Chorus sing protest songs at our concerts.

But don’t worry, we’ll be singing lots of songs of celebration too!

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Three Days to Go – The Ess-a-Bagel Deli

Chorus tour of the USPosted by DavidCDawson Sun, May 14, 2017 16:09:12

Three Days to Go – The Ess-a-Bagel Deli

In three days I’m flying to America with the London Gay Men’s Chorus for a twelve-day tour. We’ll be singing in New York and Chicago.

As always happens in America, I’m spoilt for choice.

During a brief lull in our hectic tour, we’re going to be eating at the legendary Ess-a-Bagel Deli on 3rd Avenue, New York. Apparently, it’s been around for over thirty-five years, which they say is 150 years in New York restaurant years.

Because there are around a hundred of us on the tour, all pitching up at this deli one lunchtime, we’ve got to order in advance.

So we’ve been sent the menu. Which is like a small book.

Apart from the bagel (standard bagel? mini-bagel or sliced bagel?) should I go for the matzo ball soup, or just a salad?

Or what about a salad sandwich? That’s a new one on me.

Or maybe a conventional spread sandwich? If so, do I want peanut butter or jelly? Or maybe apple cinnamon cream cheese, banana nut cream cheese, berry berry cream cheese, chocolate chip cream cheese, lox cream cheese, oreo, pumpkin, scallion, strawberry, sun-dried tomato, vegetable, or just plain cream cheese?

And if I want a cheese sandwich instead, do I want American, Swiss, Gouda, Jarlsberg, Pepper Jack, Fontina, Havarti, or just plain cheddar?

And should I order the potato knish to go with?

I haven’t even started on the choices for dessert…

According to this article I’m reading on the internet, the Ess-a-Bagel Deli also known as His Hole-y-ness the Doughy Lama. Oh yeah..

Next: Why protest songs?







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