Heartland Men’s Chorus – 30 Years of Pride in Kansas City

Heartland Men’s Chorus. Photo courtesy of Heartland Men’s Chorus.

Between road trips and an inspiring June concert, Heartland Men’s Chorus of Kansas City is celebrating its 30th anniversary with plenty of Pride.

When the chorus began with 30 singers in 1986, the chorus was viewed as an oasis for the LGBT community at a time when they were plagued by the AIDS virus and often looked at with fear and hatred as a result. Now 125 singers strong, the chorus is led by artistic director Dustin Cates. They perform most concerts at the historic Folly Theater in downtown Kansas City, Mo.

‘I Rise’ concert

To celebrate its anniversary, the chorus performed a concert called I Rise on June 11 and 12 that looked back at its history and premiered a new song inspired by the work of the late U.S. poet laureate Maya Angelou.

They brought back a song from their first concert in 1986 called “Brothers Sing Out” during the first half of the concert, along with other songs that they describe as “memorable milestones of our incredible history.”

The second act featured a newly commissioned song, “I Rise,” based on four of Angelou’s poems: “On the Pulse of Morning,” “Caged Bird,” “Equality,” and “Still I Rise.” HMC reports that it is the first chorus in the nation to receive the rights from the late poet’s estate to create music that uses her poetry.

The song was created by Mark Hayes, an internationally acclaimed musician and composer and a Kansas City resident. It is written for men’s voices and includes an orchestra of 16 instrumentalists.

“Maya Angelou’s name and poetry are synonymous with civil rights and elevating oneself and one’s surrounding community,” says Dustin Cates. “It’s only fitting, as Kansas City’s gay men’s chorus, to present a significant choral work for not only our own audience, but for anyone who hears it in the future, wherever they may be.”

HMC collaborated with the Kansas City Friends of Alvin Ailey as four of their dancers, directed by chief artistic officer Tyrone Aiken, interpreted “I Rise” onstage with the chorus.

“This concert is a perfect way to celebrate the rich history of an incredibly unique arts organization,” says Cates. “No other chorus in the Great Plains does what we do, or draws such large crowds, or provides a message that entertains, but also heals and inspires.”

On the road with the Heartland Men’s Chorus

Kansas City’s favorite men’s chorus is quickly becoming a favorite of cities in Kansas and beyond. Members got on a bus and traveled to Salina and Hays, Kan., in April for well-received concerts. On May 18 they helped raise money for the Midwest Innocence Project at “Voices for Justice,” at the Stowers Institute for Medical Research in Kansas City, Mo.

They will also entertain the thousands of people at Kansas City PrideFest, as they have done each year. Their performance will be from 4:30 to 5 p.m. on June 4.

On July1, they’ll be hitting the road again. A touring ensemble of the chorus will make three stops in Kansas that day – in Topeka, Abilene, and Russell – singing a few a cappella songs at each stop that are appropriate for the July 4 weekend. All performances are free and suitable for all ages.

The first stop will be at noon in Topeka on the front lawn of Equality House, 1200 S.W. Orleans St. (www.plantingpeace.org/equality), directly across the street from the infamous Westboro Baptist Church.

Their second stop will be at 2:30 p.m. in Abilene on the front steps of the Eisenhower Presidential Library & Museum, 200 S.E. Fourth St. (www.eisenhower.archives.gov). In their press release, they say, “We look forward to singing for a cross-section of tourists who will be visiting this famous central Kansas landmark.”

Their third stop will be at 5 p.m. in Russell, the boyhood home of former Kansas Sens. Bob Dole and Arlen Specter. They will perform at the Deines Cultural Center at 820 N. Main St. (www.deinesculturalcenter.org).

The chorus will stay overnight in Colby, Kan., and then travel on to Denver for the GALA Choruses International Festival, where they will be performing to a sold-out crowd in the 3,000-seat Buell Theater at the Denver Performing Arts Center on July 5 (http://galachoruses.org/events/gala-festival).

For more information on tickets to the June concerts and all Heartland Men’s Chorus events, or to audition for a role in their next season, visit www.hmckc.org.