2019 marks the 10th year for the Ithaca Gay Men’s Chorus, a singing group that brings together people from many different gender identities, ages, races and backgrounds to create unifying music.
Baruch Whitehead, an associate professor of music education at Ithaca College, founded IGMC in 2009 in the tradition of Gay Men’s Choruses throughout the country. President Stephen Nunley said the IGMC is proud to follow in national footsteps and serve an important purpose in the community.
“Part of the reason gay choruses were formed was to just be an outlet for people that want to perform but also a way for people to see a community of men that was part of their community,” Nunley said. “It’s that thing of people sort of getting to know you and then having a different feeling about it because they know you.”
Current director, Sam Kwan, said that, since its founding, the group’s size has gone down and most of the original cast left, but that does not stop the group from being a welcoming environment for its members. Though the group has kept its name for tradition, it has since broadened to include non-gay and non-male members. There is only one requirement, Kwan said.
“Our goal is to provide a safe space for singers of a variety of identities [that] sing in a tenor and base range,” Kwan said.
Member Jamie Dye, who joined the group in 2017, echoed that sentiment, saying being a part of the IGMC has helped him to feel welcomed and to be a part of something great.
“It’s a chosen family for me,” Dye said. “It’s a place where you can show up exactly as you are and people will be happy to see you and happy to meet you where you are.”
The IGMC members have been a supportive bunch for Dye, he said, allowing the singers to celebrate good times and see each other through emotional hardships. Even though he only joined two years ago, he said he felt like he belonged there and that the group was a safe space he did not have elsewhere.
Nunley agreed the IGMC is a great comradery opportunity. It has become a group that is accepting of all people, regardless of gender identity or orientation. Membership does not require an audition, so the group encourages anyone with a voice of a tenor to bass range to join.
On April 28, the IGMC held a 10th anniversary concert to commemorate everyone’s hard work over the decade. At this concert, the chorus debuted the AFAB4 quartet – short for assigned female at birth – a group of four trans men within the group, of which Dye is a part.
Kwan said they have enjoyed the chance to lead a group with a strong trans presence, as it is a unique opportunity for them as a director.
“That’s been a really awesome privilege that I get to work with singers that just have a little bit of a different need than your average adult male voice,” Kwan said.
The April 28 concert sought to highlight the group’s vibrant history by including a variety of music genres, all sung acapella. Nunley, who has been with the group since its inception, said he has seen remarkable progression in the group’s sound quality, to the point that such a complex set was not hard to learn and practice.
“It’s fun because we can pick up music pretty quickly and get a nice sound out of it without a whole lot of rehearsal,” Nunley said.
The First Baptist Church on Cayuga Street in Ithaca hosts the IGMC for free and has served as its home since its founding in 2009. Nunley said he and the rest of the group areforever grateful to the church for its help.
“We made that connection with our first director and the pastor of the church,” he said. “They’ve really made it available for us, which is really fantastic. So, we’ve been able to exist without a big budget.”
The IGMC receives funding through the Community Arts Partnership, donations, fundraising and its nonprofit status under Affiliated Choruses of Ithaca, but Nunley said they continuously look for more resources to be able to pay professionals like Kwan.
Nunley recalls many endearing memories in his 10-year tenure in the IGMC, including singing at the 30th anniversary celebration of the Rochester Gay Men’s Chorus and “wowing” everyone there.
“We were on such a high after that concert,” Nunley said. “We sang our little hearts on our own, and we got just a fantastic response.”
On Saturday, June 22, the group performed at Planned Parenthood’s 2nd Pride Block Party, which also featured performances from local drag royalty and burlesque dancers, food from local food trucks and vendors and a drag queen story hour. It was the group’s last performance of the season until August.
Many members agreed that they are always looking for more singers. The group can only perform if at least one person from each voice part is present, and with only eight members, meeting that requirement can be tricky.
“I would love if we could attract more singers,” Kwan said. “That’s my main vision for the group, is that we’re a larger, more well-known chorus in town.”
Dye is eager for new members, too, as he looks forward to helping others experience what he has found as a singer in the group.
“It’s been lovely to step into a group that has some history,” Dye said. “10 years is a long time and also not very long.”
Nunley said he hopes the group will get a chance to play at more venues in the future and travel farther from Ithaca.
“[We] get to sing. That’s the main thing,” Nunley said. “Hopefully, [we] continue to do what we’re doing. … It’s a fun group to hang with, and that feeling after performing is always nice.”
Rehearsals are at the First Baptist Church every Tuesday from 6:30 to 9 p.m. Anyone is encouraged to come and join the decade-old chorus.
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