The Atlanta Gay Men’s Chorus (AGMC) celebrated Pride Month this year with its “Returning To The Root” performance, featuring 16 diverse selections performed at Atlanta City Hall (June 9) and the Conant Performing Arts Center at Oglethorpe Univerity (June 10).
The inspiration for the program comes from Donald Milton III, AGMC’s artistic director and chorus conductor, who curated the program with songs about love, acceptance, and community, most of which are derived from various religions from around the world.
A note from the conductor says, “I was sitting in a cafe in Jerusalem talking to a vocalist who told me about this poetry he had just found. It was written by a Rabbi in the 11th century and it was homoerotic and quite steamy. This got me thinking about love songs connected to religion and that the basis of all the world’s religion weren’t about a deity, but about how we treat each other.”
AGMC and its sister chorus the Atlanta Women’s Chorus (AWC), are comprised of over 200 talented and diverse singers, representing the largest community music organization in the Southeast.
Founded in 1981, AGMC was formed with just 45 singers. In 2013, the organization added AWC, a then 35-member chorus that was created as a result of the failed Atlanta Feminist Women’s Chorus.
Today, the group and both choruses are governed by Voices of Note, a not-for-profit organization.
“It might be easy to perceive and pigeonhole the AGMC as merely a gay men’s choral group and vocal entertainment, and while that is true, what charms me is that the men are based in an intentional vision of changing hearts and minds through music,” said David Aurilio, interim executive director for AGMC.
“I sometimes even like to say, opening hearts and minds through music. Music opens people’s hearts and lowers their walls, so they become open to hearing and considering different perspectives and ideas and learning something new. That’s where growth and change happen.”
For over 40 years, AGMCas shared the stage with such notables as Leslie Jordan, former poet laureate Maya Angelou, the Atlanta Opera, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, the Atlanta Ballet, Turtle Creek Chorale, the International Gay Men’s Chorus of Paris, and many more.
AGMC and its select ensemble, Panache, have been proud to perform at benefits for victims of 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, for charitable organizations such as the Elton John AIDS Foundation, the Metropolitan Atlanta Community Food Bank and AIDS Athens, and for community service events such as First Night Atlanta, AIDS Walk Atlanta, the Human Rights Campaign Annual Dinner, Toys for Tots, and The Toy Party.
“I’ve had the best experiences [with the Atlanta Gay Men’s Chorus]. I’ve been pushed as a musician,” said, Nicholas Tyler Johnson a four-year member of AGMC, who serves as s the T1 section leader and performs with the smaller ensemble Panache. “It feels like family to me. I’ve definitely gained a lot of friends from the Atlanta Gay Men’s Chorus.”
Johnson is a middle school choral conductor for the Cobb County School District.
He continues, “I had goals when I joined the chorus. I literary told myself that one day I do want to be the first tenor section leader because I love leading people, teaching, and directing. I also said that I wanted to be in the acapella group Panache. They were so phenomenal when I heard them.”
During Johnson’s time with the organization, he’s become a leader and standout performer. He credits AGMC with helping him to overcome shyness and continually giving him the opportunity to not only showcase his talent, but also help other members showcase and improve upon their own.
In the spirit of National Gay Pride Month, it is important to note how people can support long-lasting LGBTQ+ organizations such as AGMC. One need in particular is access to affordable venues.
“The number of live performance spaces in Atlanta is limited, and we often get priced out. Having larger venues underwrite or even having a donor or corporate partner sponsor our performance for us at a larger venue would do great things to advance our production quality, our status, and exposure,” Aurilio said.
He also cited corporate partners as a need, “We are amping up the search for Season and or show Sponsors. Every corporation has goals, and we know we can be beneficial in helping them achieve them. In turn, financial support can provide the consistency that we can utilize in our day-to-day operations, and that helps us.”
Earlier this year, 30 members of AGMC traveled to Bologna, Italy for the Various Voices, an LGBTQ+ choir festival in Europe that takes place every four years in Europe. The festival focuses on spreading messages, demands, needs, and questions of the LGBTQ+ community through music to promote an inclusive world.
AGMC will be returning to the festival in 2027 which will take place in Brussels, Belgium.
Aurilio continues, “I would encourage anyone who has never attended an AGMC performance to make an effort to do so. Everything starts with a first step, and if you have never experienced it, you are missing the opportunity to see, hear and experience something that could change your perspective and open your mind.”