The Salt Lake Men’s Choir often bills itself as “Utah’s Other Choir,” a sly reference both to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and to their status as a (mostly) gay group.
Now the state has another “other” choir meeting in a likely place for music, but an unlikely place for gay groups: Utah County.
The Utah County Men’s Choir was founded this fall by Lisa Hansen, a music enthusiast and a fan of the BYU Men’s Chorus.
“I just like to hear men sing. When they hit a chord just right, it is heaven,” she said.
For over a year, Hansen, who identifies as straight, said that she has been excited not only about leading a men’s choir, but about a choir formed with providing “expressive opportunities for gay men” in mind.
“Men here rarely grow up excited about the prospect of being gay in the LDS community, particularly if they envision an active life built on and connected to people with whom they’ve invested years in relationship,” she said. “Most don’t even seriously consider the possibility of being gay until they can’t ignore it and then they spend more than a few earnest and heartbreaking years (ones straight people may not be able to relate to) trying to decide if they are experiencing something they should feel constantly guilty about.”
When gay LDS men come out, Hansen added, they are often forced to turn away from their faith and from networks of support in order to maintain their emotional health. However, that doesn’t mean that they no longer value their LDS upbringing or beliefs, even if they no longer feel connected to that world.
“I believe music can begin to build that bridge: that music helps everyone, including gay men, express themselves, and at the same time helps the community stop and hear … and care,” said Hansen. “Communities have been using music to bridge cultural and political chasms since time began.”
After a hunt for a rehearsal space and several hours spent doing everything from creating a music library to looking for sponsorships and technical support, the Utah Valley Men’s Choir held its first rehearsal in September. One singer showed up for the first rehearsal with an additional singer coming by each week. Currently the choir has five members, all of whom are openly gay. Although the group was begun primarily with gay and bisexual men in mind, Hansen said that singers of all orientations are welcome to join. However, she noted that convincing straight men to sing with a choir that bills itself as “opening the ears and hearts of Utah County to the beauty of gay men” may be a hard sell.
“If there are singers who don’t feel they want to perform, we encourage them to come rehearse with us,” she said. “In our rehearsals we share favorite quotes and discuss a variety of topics, as well as sing, and nobody is pressured to perform just because they come to rehearsals.”
While the choir is still finding itself musically, they have already performed once, at a local fireside. Hansen said they are also planning a Christmas concert, and that she plans to ask members how they would feel about performing at the Utah Pride Festival.
“I hope I’ll always be part of the choir’s inner workings. I love these singers and I learn something new from them every week,” she said.
And as for that “other” choir, Hansen said the two get along just fine, despite having similar missions.
“We have a great respect for the SLMC,” she said. “[Choir President] Wesley Brady was very kind to me when I met with him to discuss starting up the Utah County choir. I hope we keep some ongoing connection there.”
The Utah County Men’s Choir rehearses Saturdays at 9 a.m. in Utah Valley University’s Sorensen Student Center, Room 213a. For more information about the choir visit utahcountymenschoir.webs.com or contact Lisa Hansen at [email protected]