Because following GLTB artists is a fun way to explore the vast world of classical music. Also, pride is a good thing.
I like to think of MyBigGayEars as both a celebration and a doorway. Audiences, please step through. Artists, please come out!
I welcome and encourage your responses to postings. And I want to hear from composers and performers who’d like to be included on this site. My interest is primarily in classical music, but not exclusively so. Send me your music, your concert dates, your love and support.
Some of what appears here is written for other publications, usually the Albany Times Union, and is cited as such. Other stuff is straight to the web (so to speak). You can probably tell the difference by the tone of the writing and the length of the stories. I’ve learned to keep it really brief when writing for the newspaper, and since this site is a labor of love (no $s involved so far), I’ll still be striving to keep the items on the short side. I think the web’s freedom to go on and on and on is not necessarily a good thing. Long-ass blog essays sometimes just make me wonder what kind of life the writer has got. I’d rather be at a concert than writing. And if I’m writing about a concert, I’ve probably just gotten home from it and want to get to bed soon. All good reasons to get to the point.
But nevertheless, I’m going to expand here on my history of writing about gay and lesbians in classical music. It’s often been a struggle.
From roughly 2002 thru 2007 I contributed to The Advocate and it was remarkably difficult to convince the magazine of the merits of a story AND having an artist confident enough in themselves, their career and their audience to go on record as being queer.
And classical music is such a small and esoteric niche of the entertainment world that it was tricky coming up with story ideas that would have the necessary mainstream appeal. The latest recordings of John Cage’s music for prepared piano just didn’t cut it. And you can only write about John Corigliano, Ned Rorem, David Del Tredici and Sharon Isbin so many times.
When I approached certain artists, the response was sometimes no response, which left me wondering if my inquiries ever got through. This happened with a young American tenor, who was only in his early 20s — part of the hip, progressive generation or so I thought! But my phone calls and emails were never returned. Within six months or so of having tried to reach him regarding The Advocate, I had another occasion to interview him as a preview in the Times Union for a local opera performance. (That interview was set up by the opera company.) In that discussion, he did acknowledge hearing from me the first time, but quietly hemmed and hawed and never really said why he didn’t even have the courtesy to say, “No thank you.”
Then there was the case of the lesbian opera director. Prior to local production gave me a nice interview for the Times Union. The exchange and the story were mostly about her upcoming work, but in our talk she volunteered how she had a home not that far away in the lower Hudson Valley. That made a opening for me to bring up — with no fanfare, fear or advance warning — that I was aware she had a female companion. Yes indeed, she said, and the discussion went on from there. I included the bit about her personal life in a matter of fact way deep in my story. Jump ahead just a week or two and Anne Stockwell, my editor from The Advocate, calls and suggests a story on this same opera director. “Great,” I said, “I’ve already got lots of good material.” I arranged for a follow up phone interview where we talked at some length about gay things, including her and her partner’s social life, artistic collaborations, busy travel schedules, etc. She also listed for me a number of lesbians in classical music — mostly performers but also a very prominent orchestra executive. Some I had been aware of and others I only suspected. Good stuff. The interview ended in the late morning. But she called me back at bout 5:30 p.m. (after, I suspect, the lover came home and found out what went down). With a distraught tone she declared, “I can’t be appearing in The Gay Advocate! I’m up for a major post and I just can’t. No. It won’t be good. No, no, no.” I pointed out that she was already on record in my newspaper as being a lesbian. But that made no difference. She said I could still write something about a particular opera she had directed (which is what prompted Anne’s initial interest). I replied with my own declaration: “This is a magazine about gay people who are out.” Maybe I added, “who have the courage to be out.” I immediately called Anne in Los Angeles and recounted what happened including how I said thanks but no thanks to the “write about my work but not my sexuality” suggestion. Anne said she was glad I gave her some what for.
A few trips down this road and it began to feel like missionary work. (Will my reward come in another life?)
My interest in spotlighting out musicians sagged after the incident with the out-but-not-not-out lesbian opera director. But I stopped writing for The Advocate, ironically, when Anne Stockwell was promoted to editor. Anne and I had been acquainted during my days of running CRI and she readily agreed to taking stories from me when my career turned toward writing. With her at the helm of the whole magazine, I had no reason to suspect my opportunities would dry up, but despite a number of pitches to her successor, he never bit on any story I proposed. I checked in with Anne about it once, but I knew she had bigger things to deal with and probably wanted to let the new guy set the course for his section. He assign me one iddy biddy record review but never ran it. Of about 8 ideas proposed over several months in late 2007, he was interested in only one, and I think it was because it was the only subject he had heard of. (So much for having reporters who know their beat and bring in fresh ideas.) The subject was ballet choreographer Christopher Wheeldon, but Wheeldon’s schedule and mine just couldn’t line up to meet the editor’s deadline. The last time I spoke to said Arts & Entertainment Editor, I pointed out that The Advocate used to cover classical music but about a year had gone by with nothing. “We cover classical music,” he said emphatically. I replied that such a statement was laughable. Within a few months, The Advocate ran a letter to the editor complaining about the lack of classical music coverage (wished the writer would have mentioned my name).
Okay, okay, I’m aware that this has now devolved into whining and complaining more about the trials of being a freelancer writer and less about the difficulties of finding out artists in classical music.
But let’s finish the saga of The Advocate itself. Under the hand of Anne’s successor as top editor, The Advocate went from being a news magazine to a lifestyle journal and it now seems to be shrinking even further and is about to become a flimsy insert inside Out (see former editor Judy Weider’s own rant about all of this on Huffington Post). The decline of The Advocate gives me no pleasure. But as subscribers my partner and I regularly remarked at how little time it took to flip through the pages of its last depressing incarnation. That’s a familiar observation about lots of publications though.
Often in the slog of finding artists prominent enough and out enough to appear in The Advocate, I thought of my late dear friend, the author and journalist K. Robert Schwarz. Rob was passionate about all kinds of things, especially things sexual or musical or (best of all) both. Besides the music of Steve Reich, nothing excited him more than getting a classical artist to go on record as being gay and seeing the story get big play. Rob wrote more than 100 stories for the New York Times and one of them, “Composers Closets Open for All to See” (6/19/94) was a landmark of reporting, though today it seems a little quaint. Rob also contributed stories to Out and I heard his own sagas about dealing with reluctant artists. My favorite was when an avant garde singer/composer agreed to an interview but didn’t want anything about her sexuality to be brought up in the interview (this was probably in the mid-90s). The way I heard it, Rob’s editor got in touch with the singer’s agent and said, “The name of this magazine is Out and Rob must ask the question in the interview.”
Finally, in thinking about this site, I’m reminded of something Ned Rorem has said numerous times: “There’s no such thing as gay music, just gay composers.” I’d add that there are gay listeners, as well. (Count me in.) And so not everything on this site will be by gay composers or not every posting is even about music. It’s my perspective, happily taking in beauty where I find it.