What have you done today to make you feel proud?
That’s what the Silicon Gay Men’s Chorus (SVGMC) asked the audience at the beginning of Proud!: SVGMC’s 35thAnniversary Concert at Santa Clara University Recital Hall on June 29 and 30.
The show, coinciding with the end of Pride Month, marked a momentous occasion — 35 years since the chorus was founded on June 29, 1983.
“Sometimes with these anniversaries dates, people think, ‘Aw, it’s just 35 years’ — but that means a lot in our community,” said James Creer, SVGMC president and chorus member. “If you look back on 35 years, there was a lot of struggle — not only being gay, but then you have the AIDS thing come in, and there’s almost a generation of people gone — and to be able to hold it together through all of that for 35 years, I feel like all of the efforts in the work that they put in to leave the legacy behind for us to enjoy, I’m able to receive those rewards, and I’m so proud to be a part of that.”
The theme of the concert this year was “Proud.” To be proud can be interpreted in many ways. For chorus member Corey Miller, it means “to have confidence in what you’re doing and that what you’re doing is the best and it’s right for you.”
According to SVGMC Artistic Director Shawn Reifschneider, the chorus focused on its mission to “inspire our diverse community with musical excellence and collective pride,” which supported the theme of the show, “Proud.” He selected songs that focused on being proud and highlighted the chorus’ history over 35 years, including songs they’ve performed before.
The chorus kicked off Act I of the show with Heather Smalls’ “Proud,” an uplifting LGBTQ anthem that asks “What have you done today to make you feel proud?”
“One of the things I talked about at the beginning [of the show] is that there’s so many things that are going on in our world and so many issues to fight for and stand up for, that you can sometimes be overwhelmed with,” Reifschneider said. “‘How am I going to help everything?’ Well, just go day by day, saying, ‘What can I do today to make me feel proud that I’ve done something toward making this world a better place?’”
The chorus has been preparing for the show since late March, holding three-hour rehearsals every Tuesday night. Peter Daniels, a member of the chorus, said it can be a bit of a grind, but it pays off in the end.
“Once you get on stage, you get the energy from the audience,” Daniels said. “You get the energy from your choir colleagues and choir mates. And it definitely is worth it and it makes it all worthwhile.”
Creer felt the same way. He said the audience was his favorite part of the show.
“To get a glimpse of how they receive the music, and how they respond to the music, if they’re hearing our story, understanding where we’re going,” Creer said. “And they seem to do so. It’s just a thrill and it’s a rush to have the audience.”
At the beginning of Act II, Reifschneider invited SVGMC alumni to join the chorus on stage for the performance of “Awakening,” a song they’ve sung in the past.
“What surprised me tonight was when the people from past years — a lot of people from the past 35 years — came up to sing with us on stage,” Reifschneider said. “…And to see them come into the fold of the chorus again and to really own the history really got me emotional. And that surprised me, and I was so grateful for that.”
The chorus performed many other songs, such as “Lean on Me,” “Men in Tights” and “Glory” from “Selma.” They ended the show with “This Is Me” from “The Greatest Showman” and received a standing ovation from the audience after the performance.
Ilya Kilmanov was one of those who stood up and clapped at the end. He’s been to many SVGMC shows in the past to support his friends in the chorus and the LGBTQ community.
“I thought they had a really good theme,” Kilmanov said. “They’re usually always very good with theming, and I think that the Proud Concert at the end of Pride Month, just like Shawn said, is the perfect way to close that.”
After the show, Reifschneider expressed what he was proud of.
“I’m so proud of this chorus,” Reifschneider said. “I get to be their director, but they work so hard and they work for excellence and they work to communicate to our audience and inspire our audience. And they really take that mission to heart, and that makes me very proud.”