Columbus Gay Men’s Chorus joins counterpart group from Philadelphia for new original work

Don Knoblauch never formally came out to his father, but the two always had a healthy, loving, affirming relationship, which meant Knoblauch had to do some next-level consideration in preparation for his part in the upcoming Columbus Gay Men's Chorus “Two Boys Kissing” concerts.

In character as a father who discovers his son is gay after inadvertently discovering something on his son's computer, Knoblauch must react angrily and violently, a response that includes the use of some very harsh language.

“I think the first time I was called a fag was when I was 12, and I didn't know what it meant,” Knoblauch said. “I never really came out to my father [before he died]. I know he was proud of me, he told me he was proud of me, but I don't know what he knew.

“A few years ago, I realized that someone had to have taught the kids that called me names those words, and those [people] were the parents of my friends, and they were friends of my father. I don't know if anyone ever asked him about his fag son. I have to imagine it did [happen], if their kids were calling me those things. But he never let on, never let that become a part of our relationship.”

In the process, Knoblauch said, he tried to humanize his character, one of six narrators/soloists in the piece, which is the highlight of the concerts, presented in full collaboration with the Philadelphia Gay Men's Chorus. “Two Boys Kissing,” a new piece that premiered in 2016 at the GALA Choruses Festival, will be presented Saturday and Sunday, March 10 and 11 in Columbus, and then on March 24 in Philadelphia, with both groups sharing the stage for all performances.

“Not just that language, but the entire piece is significant to the group because they can see and feel real pieces of their lives in these stories,” CGMC Artistic Director Tim Sarsany said.

Based on the young adult novel of the same name by David Levithan and adapted for chorus and orchestra by Levithan and composer Joshua Swank, “Two Boys Kissing” tells three concurrent stories against a common backdrop. In addition to the father-son storyline, there is also a narrative concerning a relationship involving a trans person and the story of two teenage boys who set out to break the world record for longest continuous kiss. In each, the characters encounter both conflict and affirmation, often from unexpected sources. A sort of Greek chorus of voices representing gay men lost to AIDS comments on the stories as they unfold.

“The voices talk about how far we've come, and how the boys, for example, have it easy by comparison, but they're still going to face difficult challenges,” Sarsany said. “The chorus could resonate with people differently based on their age. And while there may be some generational differences in coming out, no one's experience is exactly the same.”

“There are a lot of good messages and a lot that I think, depending on your own personal history or story, you'll pick up on differently,” Knoblauch said. “On one hand, it's easy to assume it's easier to come out now than it was for what we call ourselves, men of a certain age. On the other hand, it can be easy to forget that past struggle.”

In addition to the partnership with the Philadelphia Gay Men's Chorus, CGMC partnered with the Columbus Metropolitan Library to bring Levithan in for the weekend. He will address the audience from stage prior to the Saturday evening performance, and will also be part of the library's Carnegie Author Series Friday evening. The chorus also received a grant to purchase copies of the book to form book clubs at Fort Hayes Arts and Academic High School, Arts & College Preparatory Academy and Kaleidoscope Youth Center.

“Our mission is ‘Voices Raised, Lives Changed.' With this we were able to take that mission one step further into the community,” CGMC Executive Director Adam Burk said.

“Two Boys Kissing” will make up the second act of the concerts. The first set will be a collection of pop and show tunes based on Seven Stages of Coming Out, something Sarsany discovered on the internet. The program will include “Raise You Up” from the musical “Kinky Boots,” George Michael's “Freedom,” a mash-up of Cyndi Lauper's “True Colors” and “Brave” by Sara Bareilles, and “You Will Be Found,” from the show “Dear Evan Hansen.” Sarsany said these songs will be interspersed with testimonials from members of the choruses regarding their personal coming out stories.

“Of course, we always want to put a good show on, but because of who we are, there is the mission behind it [speaking] to who we are and why we exist,” Burk said.

“It's important for us to do a piece like this, a concert like this, that speaks to our roots and that also gives the audience [members] a chance to experience these stories in their own ways,” Sarsany said.