The cost of silence and the benefit of a life lived true were the messages of the Heartland Men’s Chorus’ performance Saturday night at the Folly Theater. The ensemble was joined by the Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus for “IDENTIFY,” promoting not only the acceptance and support of others, but the acceptance of oneself and the courage to present oneself honestly.
With themes of unity, love and hope from rock anthems and religious-inflected works, they made a bold start in Edvard Grieg’s “Brothers, Sing On!,” conducted by artistic director Dustin Cates.
“Tyler’s Suite” is a collection of songs organized by Stephen Schwartz in response to the bullying and suicide of Tyler Clementi. The regional premiere, this semi-staged presentation began with a reel of news clips reporting the event. The songs, each by a noted American composer, presented a different aspect of Tyler’s story, or a different perspective, include Tyler’s, his parents and his brothers. The part of Tyler changed soloist from one song to the next.
It’s not every elegy that has a role for dramatic unicycle, but Clementi’s dual passions of violin and unicycle were represented by an extensive solo violin part, performed by Michalis Koustoupides, and an uncredited unicyclist whirling and juggling his way through a majority of the presentation. There was also a zany upbeat ode to the vehicle, as well as a partially funny/partially sad “The Tyler Show,” featuring an uncredited performer dancing with a boom mic in Fosse-inspired choreography.
But the work was more touching than amusing, with John Bucchino’s “Just a Boy,” performed by Daniel Alford as Tyler’s father, moving from lament to anger, while Ann Hampton Callaway’s “I Love You More” was a heartfelt performance by Nancy Nail as Tyler’s mother and a sentiment many a parent could relate to. The final number, Jake Heggie’s uplifting “The Narrow Bridge,” featured Michael Schnetzer.
Tyler’s mother, Jane Clementi, spoke about her son, the disastrous circumstances of his situation, and to encourage everyone to “use social media wisely and for good,” to be thoughtful in communication, to respect one another in all aspects of our lives. The chorus ended the first half with the powerful rock-infused “Light,” the lighting sprinkled across them like remembrance candles.
The second half, the word “IDENTIFY” in marquee letters above the ensemble, began with the Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus, conducted by Ben Riggs, performing three fine works heralding community and equality, with “Kin,” a patriotic statement in Ben Allaway’s “Our America” and a strong a cappella performance from their chamber group in Timothy Snyder’s “Shine.”
While the stage reset for HMC’s portion, TED talk speaker Morgana Bailey shared her journey to live authentically. HMC followed with “The Music of Living,” an encouraging “You Have More Friends Than You Know,” and the spiritual “Cornerstone.”
Bailey spoke then about the vital implications of fearing judgment and the cost of that insecurity, both choruses joining in a thoughtful mash-up of “I Love You/What a Wonderful World.” Bailey completed her remarks with the positive repercussions from accepting her true self, and the choruses ended with Joseph Martin’s bluesy “Give ‘Em Hope,” a lively, full-voiced rendition that received a standing ovation, a heartfelt conclusion and inspirational sendoff.