Salt Lake Men’s Choir will be performing its holiday concert in December in celebration of 40 years as “Utah’s Other Choir.”
On October 18, 1983, 16 men assembled in the living room of Ron Richardson with the dream of creating a men’s chorus. Forty years later, the fruits of that first meeting are now the state’s longest-running member-supported arts organization.
“Rehearsals began at St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral under the baton of Mr. Bruce Bayles,” choir historian R. Adrian Ruiz tells QSaltLake. “Our first Christmas concert was held at the cathedral in December of 1983 and, from then to now, 40 years later, our Christmas/holiday concert tradition continues with ‘Sing we a Merry Christmas for the 40th Time’ at the First Baptist Church.”
“Like all organizations, there have been ups and downs, but its continuity has been its members and choir councils who have come and gone, and each season has secured the validity of this male chorus,” Ruiz continued.
Ruiz has also been singing with the choir for 36 years and, at one time, was choir president. He has been the costume maven for many, many years and steps in as choreographer at times. He notes several highlights over the choir’s 40 years.
“Our 10th annual Christmas concert was held at Abravanel Hall in downtown Salt Lake City,” Ruiz said. “The choir also represented the state of Utah, singing in the Washington National Cathedral in celebration of its quadrennial Utah Day in 2005.”
“The choir traveled all the way to Sydney, Australia, in 2002 to represent Utah at Gay Games VI, singing in many of the city’s larger venues and in the Sydney Opera House. At the opening and closing ceremonies, we sang backup to a barefoot k.d. lang. It was her birthday, so of course we had to sing happy birthday to this lovely crooner,” Ruiz said.
Another milestone was in 2005 when the choir performed, with permission from Andrew Lloyd Webber, an all-male production of ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.’”
The choir has done many fundraisers, and sang at churches, the prison, funerals, and the YWCA. They’ve sung at many Utah Pride festivals and at a town event in Helper, Utah. It was tradition for many years to travel to St. George and perform in the St. George Opera House, followed by a singing party that went late into the night at “The Ranch,” owned by the parents of a choir member.
“One year, while on stage at the Utah State Fair, horrendous wind gusts almost literally blew the house down, and the performance came to a screeching halt,” Ruiz remembers fondly.
Dennis McCracken has been waving his baton as artistic director for 18 years.
“When I was hired, the choir was kind of on a downhill grade,” McCracken said. “We were down to 21 members at my first rehearsal. So we had to rebuild.”
McCracken initiated an “invite a friend night,” and went to bars hosting karaoke.
“I invited more people than you can imagine. We also contacted past members to ask them to come back,” he said. “And slowly, we started picking up members. We started with music that was singable by small ensembles and built from there.”
He has added around 150 new songs to the choir’s repertoire.
“We have worked very hard on musicianship and the sound of the choir, and it just continues to get better and better every concert,” he said. “The bar gets set a little higher with every concert, and the members of the choir never fail to reach where we’re headed.”
“The choir is my family; it is the one thing that keeps me going when times are rough,” McCracken said. “I love my choirboys, and I can’t imagine my life without the choir. I talk constantly about us being a big family, and that is the most important thing in this organization. If we act like a big family, our audience will know that we love each other and know that we love what we’re doing. I have also made some of my best friends by being part of the choir. My life is so rich and full because of the Salt Lake Men Choir.”
The current president of the choir is Mike Winget, who moved to Salt Lake in 2020 during the Covid pandemic.
“I have been involved in choruses for most of my life, and for me, it’s a social outlet as well as an artistic outlet,” Winget said. “I had a couple of friends who had been part of SLMC for a few years, and they encouraged me to join when the chorus reopened in the Summer of 2021. The chorus has been a great way for me to become a part of the community and find new friends here.”
Winget has hopes and dreams for the choir’s growth.
“My hopes for the choir are to become one of the best-known ensembles in the Salt Lake area,” he said. “Now that we are 40 years old, I’d like to everybody in Salt Lake to know who we are and for our concerts to become a hot-ticket commodity. We are only limited by our vision and by our members’ involvement and support.”
McCracken’s vision for the choir is to get bigger and better.
“I’ve always wanted to have the choir on the risers with 100 people. We’ve gotten close a couple of times, but just once, before I retire, I would love to see that happen” he said. He implores those who identify as male to join.
“You should come sing with us,” he said. “We don’t have auditions, just come sit in a section and see if you enjoy it. It is great fun, you’ll love the guys, and you really should come try it.
Ruiz says the future of the choir is bright.
“Forty years is a milestone,” he said. “And the choir is ready for its next decade of singing.”
“Sing We a Merry Christmas for the 40th Time” will be at First Baptist Church, 777 S. 1300 East, on Friday and Saturday, December 8 and 9 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, December 10 at 4 p.m. Tickets are available from choir members, saltlakemenschoir.org, and at the door.