OUR VOICE May 2017

A Journey to Perfect Harmony

By Jim Larson

I was born in Madison and grew up in Middleton, WI, the youngest of four kids, and the only gay one of the bunch. My family was among the frontrunners of the national demographic trend in that my parents divorced when I was seven and my mom ended up raising my brother and me alone. Both mom and dad each remarried some years later.

Now fast-forward around twenty-five years. I experienced my first serious relationship in Massachusetts with my boyfriend, Jerry. One of our favorite things to do was go on all day drives around the New England area. Jerry had vocal training in college and was gifted with a beautiful singing voice. Occasionally I still think back to how he would sing me some really lovely songs during those car rides. Jerry eventually moved to Colorado and joined the Denver mixed gay chorus, which featured both male and female voices. For me, that was my first exposure to the phenomena of gay choruses, seeing his group in person as well as from recordings of other gay choruses he sent me during that time.

One evening in the early nineties while visiting home I went to Rods, a popular gay bar in Madison at the time. There I met a guy named Steve who was a member of the Gay Men's Chorus of Washington, DC. We quickly struck up a conversation, became friends, and within a few months of meeting he invited me to visit him in DC where I attended a concert by the chorus. Two years later after he moved to St. Paul I saw him perform again with the Minneapolis Gay Men's Chorus. Looking back I would almost say that during that time there was some greater plan in process to introduce me to and get me involved with gay men's choruses.

It wasn't until I was in my late thirties that I came out to my family, something not easy for me to do. My own openness in embracing my orientation did not translate into being open with my family about who I was. Although I thought I was confident and mature in most things, this was something that I feared would bring rejection and scorn from the people closest to me, just as many gay people do when taking that step to come out to their loved ones. I decided that for me the best way to do it was to come out to them one at a time, and the last one I came out to, and very reluctantly I may add, was my dad. This was for good reason - politically and socially he was a true conservative. I had heard him say in the past that he did not have a very high opinion of gays.

I moved back to Madison in June of 2001. I was anxious to connect with the gay community here, something not available in the small town I was moving from. To that end I made a point to attend a Christmas concert by the local gay men's chorus, Perfect Harmony, in December of 2001. I was sold on the music, the camaraderie and the thought of having a creative and fun outlet each week. A few weeks after the concert, when rehearsals restarted, I joined the chorus. Perfect Harmony quickly became part of my life. I already knew how to read music but had never sung in a choir before. I soon discovered how rewarding it was for me to create great music with the group of guys while at the same time developing my own, albeit very latent, vocal abilities.

It was around 2004 and the chorus was to perform its spring concert in Mills Hall. We had gotten on stage to warm up and were still running through some numbers when a few people entered early and took their seats in the back of the auditorium. I still remember vividly both the surprise and warm feeling when I saw that my dad and his wife sitting in the auditorium that evening. They were in fact the very first audience members to arrive. He told me afterwards they both enjoyed the performance very much. It was very special for me to sing for him, and he showed that he was truly receptive and appreciative of the performance and of me being part of it. That performance was the first and only Perfect Harmony concert my dad ever saw. During my last visit with dad in 2014 at his home in Alabama, shortly before he passed, he asked me if I was still active in the chorus. I think he was always pleased that I belonged to the group, partly because he himself was quite musically gifted and music played an important part of his life. In fact, I remember him singing in the car when we were kids, something like how Jerry did years later. But I also think he supported my being in the chorus because he knew that this was something that supported the life I have, providing me with dear friends and rewarding experiences.

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