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Smiles, frowns, ups, downs

Triangle Gay Men's Chorus

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A 10-year anniversary is an occasion to pause and reflect back upon the good and the bad, the thick and the thin, the high notes and the low. The Triangle Gay Men's Chorus commemorated its 10th anniversary at the Carolina Theatre in Durham last Saturday, prompting chorus members to offer up their own reviews of TGMC's past decade.

Mike Wynne, a founding member and past president, recalled the enormity of this undertaking back in 1995 "because the Raleigh-Durham area as well as North Carolina is very conservative in the first place," he says. The question of the name was much debated, and TGMC was selected "because we wanted that three-letter word incorporated in the nonprofit name."

That word doesn't seem to be inhibiting ticket sales.

TGMC's first concert was held at Binkley Memorial Baptist Church in Chapel Hill, and the chorus had no idea what to expect. "We didn't sell a lot of tickets in advance," Wynne says, "and we didn't know what we were doing."

To their utter amazement almost 300 people turned out, nearly a sellout crowd. "We were just mesmerized to have a lot of people come out to hear a start-up group as we were," he says, "and it just kind of took off from there."

TGMC's mission statement is to project a positive image of the gay community, and Kevin Tillman--current vice president and, for the past four years, a member of the board of directors--says they've "been able to do that extraordinarily well."

Community support has been the single most significant factor in allowing the chorus to stage its performances--mostly in local churches--and hold very successful fundraisers.

Tillman stayed on the board through some pretty tough times, including severe financial difficulties. TGMC hit a rough patch when it hired a new artistic director a few years back and, in the transition, lost some people. "We were down to 12 or 13," he says, "but we gained those numbers back and last Christmas we had 35."

Berry Gentry became the musical director during the group's third year and has served in that role off and on. Currently he is on, and he conducted the 10th anniversary performance. He put together a program that included music the chorus performed over the years as well as songs that deal with specifically gay themes, such as "I Am What I Am" from the Broadway hit La Cage Aux Folles.

TGMC's mission statement--that thing about projecting a positive image of the gay community--is also Gentry's sworn personal mission. "That is what I have always strived to do as a conductor," he says, "and that is to show that we are just regular-type guys that you would meet on the street and you would never know were gay unless we told you we were gay."

People tend to see gay men as walking stereotypes, and that's the tendency Gentry is out to search and destroy. "It's important to see that gay men really can be anybody, and there's really nothing different about us. I think that's the important thing about this--that we are individuals as well as part of a gay community and lead our own lives the best way we can, like anybody else."

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