By Michael Sainte-Andress
This article was first published in DC Theater Arts here.
When I reviewed the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington’s concert Brand New Day in mid-March at the Lincoln Theatre, I extolled its virtue of showcasing inclusivity and equality with its wonderful renditions of songs on the subject. In that concert, each of GMCW’s five components performed, and I was introduced to GenOUT Youth Chorus, its outreach ensemble of LGBTQI+ and allied 13- to 18-year-olds.
Well, this time around the spotlight was squarely on GenOUT’s concert Youth Invasion, which I attended at THEARC. The program also featured the Mosaic Harmony community choir, a seniors group committed to “empower choirs to fully entertain, inspire and engage audiences by both moving music and uplifting messages.”
The concept of supporting youth — who are coping with not just being young but also the pressure of understanding their sexual orientation and coming to grips with self-acceptance — is a powerful mission of the GMCW. Achieving that goal through music is liberating and inspirational and lends itself to providing these young people with a means to gird themselves with pride, self-understanding, and a profound sense of worth..
C. Paul Heins, GenOUT’s director, provides the training and artistic inspiration for these young people to flourish and, through artistic expression, develop confidence and self-affirmation that will enable them to better face the challenges that will come before them.
With this in mind, I imagined a repertoire that would be evocative, celebratory, and, yes, rousing. The program selections were certainly appropriate and hit the mark in terms of intent and appropriateness but tended to be more somber and reflective. All of the songs — “Build Me a World,” “Reflection” (from the animated film Mulan), “Imagine” (based on the poem by long-time LGBTQI+ activist Donna Red Wing), “Write My Own ‘Story,” “The Human Heart” (from the musical Once on This Island), “How Could Anyone?,” “I Was Here (Beyonce), and “You Are the New “Day” — beautifully conveyed the hopes, dreams, aspirations, and reflections of these young people. The one song that could have surely been a showstopper, “Corner of the Sky” (from the musical Pippin), was only quietly delivered. Near the end, GenOUT performed with Mosaic Harmony in a straightforward rendition of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” (the Negro national anthem).
Ironically, it was the guest group, Mosaic Harmony, that got things shaking. Under the foot-stomping, hand-clapping, roof-raising direction of Rev. David North, Mosaic Harmony’s performance became a glorious celebration with spirited versions of the gospel songs “Love in Any Language,” Hezekiah Walker’s “Better,” and “One World.” Rev. North said that he wanted to bring a “new flavor” to the gospel staple “Soon I Will Be Done,” made popular in the 1959 movie Imitation of Life sung by the great Mahalia Jackson. Man, did he deliver! He infused this deeply spiritual anthem with jazzy inflections and uptempo flourishes that had the audience clapping and rejoicing with abandon. (Mahalia wouldn’t want to hear it anymore!) This closing number was just the right touch that the whole affair should have reflected.
That it was shared with this wonderful, young, and talented group I am sure will make it an experience and lesson learned that they will never forget. This was a great example of how reaching across needless barriers and constrictions can bring about tremendous connection and mutual appreciation. It was an afternoon I would gladly spend over again.Youth Invasion was performed by the GenOUT Youth Chorus with special guest Mosaic Harmony on April 23, 2022, at THEARC Theater, 1901 Mississippi Avenue SE, Washington, DC, and on April 24, 2022, in the Auditorium at MLK Library, 901 G Street NW, Washington, DC.