When I was preparing to move to Cincinnati in 1996, I came to town for a weekend trip to find an apartment. My parents, who live in Northwest Ohio, drove down to help with the hunt. After I signed a lease on a nice place in Clifton (a couple blocks from where CMC now rehearses), my folks decided it was time to celebrate.
My mother suggested we to go to a Pops concert and while we were there, she saw a poster advertising the May Festival. “You ought to start singing again,” she said.
She was right. I had taken voice lessons and performed in choirs at my church back home, in high school and in college. I had wanted to sing with the gay men’s chorus during a 19-year stint in upstate New York. But the chorus rehearsed on a night I was virtually always stuck at work. In addition, the group was more show choir than chorus, which didn’t appeal to me.
So here I was, moving to a city with a rich musical heritage – and, at that time, a national reputation for being rabidly homophobic. Yes, I had heard all about the Mapplethorpe controversy and Issue 3, and those facts and images chilled me.
How could I survive in Cincinnati? During my years in Rochester, I had lived quite easily and happily as an openly gay man, in a city where gay people were accepted and appreciated. The city had a gay rights ordinance, a domestic partners registry – and an openly gay man (a neighbor of mine) was even the city council president!
I decided I could make Cincinnati my home by rekindling my love of music and by standing with other men, who share many of my hopes and joys, my disappointments and sorrows. As Patrick often reminds us, we make a subtle yet unmistakable political statement merely by walking onto the stage. My fellow chorus members are men who are willing to say, “This is who we are – and we have a story to tell.”
I’m proud that Cincinnati today is a different place. I believe that CMC has helped to make it better, although both our city and we have a way to go. I believe there is value in continuing to join with my brothers (gay and straight) as we continue to tell our unique stories of who we are – both through the words and sounds from our voices, and also by the simple act of standing together on that stage.
Mark Wert is completing his 14th season with the chorus.
Photo credit: David Martin/MK Photography