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Charleston Gay Men's Chorale finds it voice(s)

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"A Winter Tapestry"

Charleston Gay Men's Chorale

WHEN: 7 p.m. Saturday

WHERE: Bream Memorial Presbyterian Church, 317 Washington St.

ADMISSION: Free, donations accepted

INFO: facebook.com/CharlestonGayMensChorale CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Charleston Gay Men's Chorale made its debut in June at the West Virginia Pride Festival. The rapid harmonic progress the group has undergone will be on full display at a Saturday concert of multicultural holiday music.

"I never dreamed in less than a year it would have taken off to this point," said chorale director and founder Billy Burdette.

The group, which features 18 singers led by Burdette along with a piano accompanist, presents "A Winter Tapestry" at 7 p.m. Saturday at Bream Memorial Presbyterian Church, 317 Washington St.

The chorale will perform a blend of African, English and American selections, including an American folk tune, traditional Christmas songs, a Hanukkah piece and some songs with the audience.

The group represents a kind of a benchmark for how far the gay men's community in Charleston has come, Burdette said.

"The big idea behind this -- and we do have a mission statement -- was to be a positive light on the gay community as a whole, to overcome some of the stereotypes that folks think about the gay community."

The chorale was also a way for Burdette to get back to doing what he loves after returning to West Virginia to be closer to his family. Burdette, a music teacher who taught for years in Virginia, had made a career change into educational non-profit work. Then, in August, the 33-year-old took a job as a school chorus leader and music teacher in the area.

He wanted to put some live performance back into his own Charleston existence.

"I was missing the musical aspect of his life. I decided we needed to -- I needed to, really -- start something that could feed that side of myself," he said.

He noted the several choral groups that existed already around town and then had his big idea. "Most larger cities have a gay chorus or choir. Being a gay man, I thought, hey, there's an outlet," said Burdette.

The group has come along quickly.

And that mission statement? Here it is:

"The mission of the Charleston Gay Men's Chorale is to present quality entertainment, provide an opportunity for wholesome social interaction for our members, and portray, through eclectic performances, a positive image that will honor and uplift the gay community and affirm the worth of all people."

The president of the group, Michael Hill, studied voice at Marshall University and himself had not performed since moving back to West Virginia about five years ago. The group, whose members range in age from 19 to 62, offers a chance for a wide age range of experienced male singers to show the power of massed voices.

"We want to be able to appeal to everyone. We're very, very amazed at the reception we've received so far," said Hill.

Saturday's concert will also feature American Sign Language interpreter Caroline Starr. A meet-and-greet with chorale members will follow the performance.

Admission is free, but donations are appreciated. The group is moving towards 501c3 status as a non-profit, with high hopes for a long life in the community.

"The chorale is still very new," said Burdette. "We're building our fan base and are always open to exploring fundraising opportunities and sponsorships."

The chorale takes a free-ranging approach to genres, courtesy of Burdette's own eclectic interests as well as suggestions from others, he said.

"We kind of run the gamut. We don't have a special genre. We don't just do pop music arranged for choral groups. We do a little pop, traditional choral stuff. We do some spirituals. There's really not one type of music we choose."

Reach Douglas Imbrogno at douglas@cnpapers.com or 304-348-3017.


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