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LGBT Arts


January 2017

 

MOMA: Creating Safe Spaces for Art-Loving LGBTQ Youth

Queer Artists: Bryson Rand and Vincent Tiley

High School Play Shut Down Because of Lesbian Character

 


Local Theatre Production
Alabama Playwright Audrey Cefaly


December 2016

 

The Terrific New Theatre, in Birmingham, will be presenting Love is a Blue Tick Hound, a series of one-act plays written by Alabama playwright Audrey Cefaly. The plays will be performed by New York Stage actress Carolyn Messina. The producer is Sandra Taylor, well-known local actress and director. This evening of one-act plays will run December 8-17 at TNT. One of the plays, The Gulf, is about the love between two women.

LINK:

 

Audrey Cefaly: Southern Playwright

 


LGBT Arts and Culture

 

Critically Queer: Being a Gay Student in the Humanities

Neil Patrick Harris: Medley of Broadway Songs

Neil Patrick Harris: It’s Not Just for Gays Anymore

Wikipedia: List of LGBT Dancers

Wikimedia: LGBT Dancers

Out Plays: Landmark LGBT Plays of the 20th Century

Wikipedia: LGBT Related Plays

Huff Post: 30 LGBT Artists You Should Know

Why Aren't There More Famous Gay Comedians?

Polari Mag: LGBT Arts & Culture

Gay American Composers

Most Influential LGBT Plays

Art Scene Today: LGBT Artists

Good Reads: Best Gay Plays

Great Gay Moments in 20th Century Dance

Tribute to Gay Classical Musicians

LGBTQ Encyclopedia: Gay Classic Artists Writers Musicians

LGBT Composers

 


Alison Bechdel: Winner of McArthur Grant

September 2014

 

Alison Bechdel, a lesbian artist and writer from Vermont, is the latest winner of the Mac Arthur Foundation Fellowship, commonly referred to as the Genius Grant. She is known for such literary works as Fun Home, Dykes to Watch Out For, and Are You My Mother? The MacArthur Foundation provides this bio of their 2014 award recipient:

 

Alison Bechdel is a cartoonist and graphic memoirist exploring the complexities of familial relationships in multilayered works that use the interplay of word and image to weave sophisticated narratives. Bechdel’s command of sequential narrative and her aesthetic as a visual artist was established in her long-running comic strip, Dykes to Watch Out For (1983–2008), which realistically captured the lives of women in the lesbian community as they influenced and were influenced by the important cultural and political events of the day.

 



Garnering a devoted and diverse following, this pioneering work was a precursor to her book-length graphic memoirs. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic (2006) is a nuanced depiction of a childhood spent in an artistic family in a small Pennsylvania town and of her relationship with her father, a high school English teacher and funeral home director. An impeccable observer and record keeper, Bechdel incorporates drawings of archival materials, such as diaries, letters, photographs, and news clippings, as well as a variety of literary references in deep reflections into her own past.

 

On a personal note...  Bechdel came out as a lesbian at age 19. Bechdel's gender and sexual identity are a large part of the core message of her work. "The secret subversive goal of my work is to show that women, not just lesbians, are regular human beings," she explains.  In February 2004, Bechdel married her girlfriend since 1992, Amy Rubin, in a civil ceremony in San Francisco.  Bechdel and Rubin separated in 2006.  According to her mother's obituary, as of 2013, Bechdel lives in Bolton, Vermont with her partner, Holly Rae Taylor

 

LINKS:

 

Vermont Artist Receives MacArthur Fellowship

Wikipedia: Alison Bechdel

Washington Post: Bechdel Wins Genius Grant

Washington Post: Graphic Novelist Breaks Ground

MacArthur Foundation: Alison Bechdel

 


New Childredn's Book With Same Sex Couple

 

June 2014

 

Teamwork, hard work, prejudice, and living happily ever after are all themes of a great new same-sex children’s book, The Princes and The Treasure, written by Sacramento author Dr. Jeffrey A. Miles.  Published by Handsome Prince Publishing in February 2014, “The Princes and The Treasure” is the story of undefeated champion Gallant and shy bookworm Earnest and their adventure together to rescue Princess Elena. Along their journey they find a real treasure.

 



Miles is a Professor of Management at the University of the Pacific in the Eberhardt School of Business and this is his first children’s book. He was inspired to write it while watching a live-action show at an amusement park that featured a prince and princesses.

“I smiled as I remembered reading fairy tale stories as a young boy, Miles reminisced. He then suddenly wondered “why aren’t there any gay princes or lesbian princesses?”  “Why can’t the handsome prince marry another handsome prince or why can’t the damsel in distress be rescued by a beautiful princess?”  Born and raised in a very conservative part of the Midwest, Miles knew from an early age that he was gay. “There weren’t any children’s books with gay characters at the time.” A fact that he, along with many others, found very frustrating.

The public reaction to the book has been overwhelmingly positive. The book, with illustrations by J.L. Phillips, has opened lines of communications for them to talk to their children about same-sex couples. Children of all ages have expressed to Miles that the story of Gallant and Earnest is one of their favorite stories.

“The Princes and The Treasure” is dedicated to his own prince of 10 years, Patrick Lastowski. They were legally married about six years ago on the first day possible in California and have taken many adventures together. Miles was excited to say that the home that Patrick and he share looks just like Earnest and Gallant’s house, “at least it does in my imagination.”

Miles does have plans to publish two more books as part of this series. The second and third stories have already been written for The Princes series. “Writing this book has been incredibly fun!”
 

(From Sandre L. Nelson, Out Word Magazine)

 

LINKS:

 

Amazon: The Princes and the Treasurer

Good Reads: The Princes and the Treasure

Advocate: One Book to Change Them All

 


LGBT Artists: Painters and Photographers

 

Keith Haring (New York)

Annie Leibovitz (New York)

Frida Kahlo (Mexico)

Robert Mapplethorpe (New York)

Alvin Baltrop (New York)

Zanele Muholi (South Africa)

Richard Fung (Trinidad, Toronto)

Mickalene Thomas (New York)

K8 Hardy (New York)

Felix Gonzalez Torres (Cuba, Connecticut, New York)

Ellsworth Kelly (New York)

 

 

Rotimi Fani Kayode (Nigeria)

Brian Kenny (New York)

Cy Twombly (England)

Robert Rauschenberg (Texas, New York)

Vaginal Davis (Germany)

Hannah Hoch (Germany)

David Hockney (England)

Adi Nes (Israel)

Betty Parsons (New York)

Zackary Drucker (Los Angeles)

Alice Neel (England)

David Wojnarowicz (New York)

Jasper Johns (New York)

Laurie Toby Edison (San Francisco)

Gilbert & George (England)

Catherine Opie (Los Angeles)

Berenice Abbott (New York)

Isaac Julien (England)

 

LINKS:

 

Keith Haring

Jasper Johns

Alice Neel

Robert Mapplethorpe

Frida Kahlo

David Hockney

Robert Rauschenberg

Cy Twombly

 


Interview With Author Jeffrey Miles

 

June 2014

 

More information about Jeffrey Miles and The Princes and The Treasure children's picture book:

Q:  Tell us a little about yourself.

A:  I usually write academic books and articles because I’m a Professor of Management in the Eberhardt School of Business at the University of the Pacific in Stockton.  This is the first children’s picture book that I’ve written, but I just had to write the story. Writing this book has been incredibly fun. I wanted the book to have a timeless quality to it, so I went with a rich, colorful fairy tale style. I love the artwork of J.L. Phillips, so I had to have him create the illustrations. I emailed him my text for the story, and my descriptions of the characters, and he was happy to draw the illustrations. I love how the drawings turned out. They are so beautiful, and really bring the story to life.

I was born and raised in a very conservative part of the Midwest. I knew from an early age that I was gay. There weren’t any children’s books with gay characters at the time, and that was very frustrating. I really wanted to read a book like The Princes and The Treasure when I was a child. I’m so glad I was able to write this book for children (and adults) of all ages to enjoy.

Q:  What inspired you to write "The Princes and The Treasure"?

A: I was sitting in front of an amusement park castle watching the live-action show. There were prince and princess couples singing and dancing to wonderful music. I smiled as I remembered reading fairy tale stories as a young boy about princes and princesses. I knew all of their stories. I knew how they met, how they fell in love, and how they lived happily ever after.

As I stared at the handsome princes singing and dancing in front of me, I suddenly wondered, why aren’t there any gay princes or lesbian princesses? Why can’t the handsome prince marry another handsome prince? Why can’t a damsel in distress be rescued by a beautiful princess? When I got home from the trip, I got to work and I created my own romantic adventure story where two princes fall in love and get married.

Q: What has been the public's reaction to the book?

A:  I wasn’t sure what the public’s reaction would be to the story. The book is for all ages, but it is primarily a children’s picture book with a same-sex marriage. I didn’t know if the public would be outraged about that or not. I wasn’t sure if the public would be ready for a book with gay princes and a lesbian princess, but I know now the time was totally right for publishing this gay fairy tale book!

So far, there has only been overwhelming praise for the story. The feedback from parents has been wonderful! Parents say they didn’t have a good way to talk about same-sex marriages with their little children, and this book has been a great way to talk about it. I specifically wrote the story to be romantic and not sexual. Parents like that Gallant and Earnest only hold hands and hug each other. They say the story is just right for little ones since Earnest and Gallant don’t kiss or anything adult like that. The feedback from children has been overwhelmingly positive, too. I can’t tell you how many kids (and adults) have told me the story is now one of their favorites.

Q:  Do you have plans to write other children's books? Is this book a part of a planned series?

A:  Yes, The Princes and The Treasure is part of a three-book series. The second and third stories have already been written. At the moment, I plan to work on The Princes series before I start other children’s books. The Princes and The Treasure has been such a success that I’ve received requests to publish the book in different languages. Right now, I’m working on a German-language version of the book.

Q:  Please tell us about your prince, Patrick, and your relationship.

A:  The Princes and The Treasure is dedicated to my own handsome prince, Patrick Lastowski. Patrick works for UC Davis Medical Center here in Sacramento. We met over ten years ago, and we were legally married about six years ago, on the first day it was possible to marry in California. We have gone on many adventures together of our own, but so far we haven’t tried to save any princesses. Our house looks exactly like Earnest and Gallant’s house in the book, at least it does in my imagination.

Q: Do you have any life advice that was share with you that you would like to share?

A:  For thirty-five years, my motto has always been “Cape locum et fac vestigium” which roughly means to “Take a stand and make your mark in life.” To be successful, you have to find out who you are and take ownership of that. You have to love yourself for who you are and what you can do. You also have to find out what you believe in and what you stand for. Then with that knowledge, you have to get out there and put your mark on the world. In my case, I had to stop hoping that someone would write a fairy tale where two princes fall in love and get married. I had to get out there and write that story myself. I encourage all your readers to take a stand and make their own mark on the world.

 

(From Sandre L. Nelson, Out Word Magazine)
 


Maurice Sendak: Author and Illustrator of Children's Books

 

June 2013

 

The beloved children’s author and illustrator Maurice Sendak died last year at age 83.  He is best known for his book, Where the Wild Things Are. Winner of countless awards and recognitions, Maurice Sendak is widely considered the most important children’s book artist of the 20th century, who wrenched the picture book out of the safe, sanitized world of the nursery and plunged it into the dark, terrifying and hauntingly beautiful recesses of the human psyche.

 

 

He was born in Brooklyn in 1928 to Polish-Jewish parents.  As Maurice Sendak grew up — lower class, Jewish, gay — he felt permanently shunted to the margins of things. “All I wanted was to be straight so my parents could be happy,” he told The New York Times in a 2008 interview. “They never, never, never knew.”

 

Sendak lived with his partner, psychoanalyst Dr. Eugene Glynn, for 50 years before Glynn's death in May 2007.

 

LINKS:

 

Google Tribute to Maurice Sendak

Maurice Sendak's NY Times Obituary

Wikipedia: Maurice Sendak

Mental Floss: Ten Things You Might Not Know About Maurice Sendak

Believer: Maurice Sendak Interview

Vanity Fair: Sendak's Last Book

 


LGBT Musicians and Composers
 

Leonard Bernstein
Aaron Copland
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Cole Porter

Samuel Barber

Johannes Brahms

John Cage

Stephen Sondheim

Igor Stravinsky

Frederic Chopin

Nikolai Rimsky Korsakov

Maurice Ravel

George Friderick Handel

Dave Koz

 

 


Io Tillett: Fifty Shades of Gay

 

February 2013

 

Artist iO Tillett Wright has photographed 2,000 people who consider themselves somewhere on the LBGTQ spectrum and asked many of them: Can you assign a percentage to how gay or straight you are? Most people, it turns out, consider themselves to exist in the gray areas of sexuality, not 100% gay or straight. Which presents a real problem when it comes to discrimination: Where do you draw the line?

 

 

As a child actor, iO Tillett Wright turned her shoes around in the bathroom stall so that people would think she was a boy. As a teenager, she fell in love with both women and men. Her life in the grey areas of gender and sexuality deeply inform her work as an artist.

 

iO Tillett Wright is an artist whose work focuses on the leading margins of contemporary life and culture. Her photography is regularly featured on two blogs at the New York Times: “Notes from the Underground” and “The Lowdown.” iO created the Self Evident Truths project—an ongoing document of LGBTQ America, which she continues to work on. She had her first solo show at Fuse gallery in New York City in 2010, and exhibited her latest work at The Hole Gallery in early summer of 2012. She has published three limited edition books of photographs; Lose My Number, which is presently sold out, KISSER, and Look Ma’, No Hands. iO has directed several music videos, and worked as a professional film actor for nineteen years, in addition to founding the world’s first nationally distributed street art magazine.

 

Her TED Talk, entitled, "Fifty Shades of Gay," is worth viewing.

 

LINKS:

 

Fifty Shades of Gay: iO Tillett Wright's TED Talk

iO Tillett Wright's Bio Notes

Gallery of iO Tillett Wright's Photography

 


Richard Blanco: Gay Latino Poet

 

January 2013

 

President Obama has selected gay Latino poet Richard Blanco to recite an original poem at the upcoming Presidential Inauguration Ceremony. Blanco, who was born in Cuba, will be the first LGBT person and the first Hispanic-American person to recite a poem at the presidential swearing-in event.  At 44 years old, he is also the youngest.

 

 

LINKS:

 

Video & Text: Richard Blanco Reads Inauguration Poem

Pres Obama Selects Richard Blanco to Read at Inauguration Ceremony

Openly Gay Hispanic American Selected as Inaugural Poet

Wash Post: Blanco is First Gay, First Hispanic, Youngest Inaugural Poet

Fox News Latino: Blanco Stands Up for What He Believes

 


LGBT Arts and Culture

 

Neil Patrick Harris: Medley of Broadway Songs

Neil Patrick Harris Hosts Tony Awards

Neil Patrick Harris: It’s Not Just for Gays Anymore

Wikipedia: List of LGBT Dancers

Wikimedia: LGBT Dancers

Out Plays: Landmark LGBT Plays of the 20th Century

Wikipedia: LGBT Related Plays

Huff Post: 30 LGBT Artists You Should Know

Out Artists

Polari Mag: LGBT Arts & Culture

Gay American Composers

Most Influential LGBT Plays

Gala Magazine: LGBT Artists
Queer Culture Center

My Big Gay Ears

Art Scene Today: LGBT Artists
LGBT Theatre: Unnatural Acts

NY Times: Review of Unnatural Acts

Good Reads: Best Gay Plays

Great Gay Moments in 20th Century Dance

Tribute to Gay Classical Musicians

LGBTQ Encyclopedia: Gay Classic Artists Writers Musicians

LGBT Composers

John Cage: Composer, Musician, Writer, Artist

Lou Harrison: Composer, Musician

Francis Poulenc: Composer, Musician

 


Laurie Rubin: Blind Jewish Lesbian Opera Singer

 

December 2012

 

Blind since birth, mezzo-soprano Laurie Rubin tells her empowering story in memoir Do You Dream in Color? Insights From a Girl Without Sight.  Acclaimed mezzo-soprano opera singer Laurie Rubin has been blind since birth, is openly lesbian, and of Jewish background. What better reason to write a memoir? On paper, she was, obviously, not your typical everyday teenager growing up. But with determination and a strong support system, she continually surpassed and redefined others’ expectations—both professionally in the music industry and outside of it.
 

 

Defying the naysayers since childhood, the lively and charismatic Rubin releases Do You Dream in Color? Insights From a Girl Without Sight this week, recounting her experiences from childhood to full-fledged opera singer. An uplifting story about her journey to follow her dreams, Rubin’s story asks those universal questions—"Who am I?" and "Where do I fit in?"—while giving an insight into a musical world you probably know nothing about. Not only does she have a busy concert schedule, Rubin is also in developing a curriculum for Yale music (where she earned her masters) that will aim to dispel stereotypes and better the perceived value of people living with disabilities by allowing people of all ages and walks of life to share in the experiences of blindness. We caught up with her by phone while she was in Hawaii to discuss her phenomenal life story.

LINK:

 

Out: Opera Singer Inspires With Her Story

Laurie Rubin: Mezzo Soprano

You Tube: Do You Dream in Color?

Washington Post: Laurie Rubin Describes Her World of Color

 


LGBT Theatre and Plays

Standing on Ceremony: The Gay Marriage Plays by Mo Gaffney, Jordan Harrison, Moisés Kaufman, Neil LaBute, Wendy MacLeod, José Rivera, Paul Rudnick, and Doug Wright

Bare by Jon Hartmere Jr. and Damon Intrabartolo

Unnatural Acts by Tony Speciale

Avenue Q by Lopez, Marx & Whitty
Rent by Jonathan Larson
Angels in America by Tony Kushner

Laramie Project by Moises Kaufman
Bent by Martin Sherman

Telling Moments by Robert C. Reinhart
La Cage Aux Folles by Harvey Fierstein

Torch Song Trilogy by Harvey Fierstein

Jeffrey by Paul Rudnick

The Sum of Us by David Stevens

Boys in the Band by Mart Crowley
Judge Roy Moore is Coming to Dinner by Tom Wofford

 


LGBT Marriage Play Series: Standing on Ceremony

Standing on Ceremony: The Gay Marriage Plays is a collection of short plays by an a-list lineup of playwrights on the subject of same-sex marriage. These illustrious writers (Mo Gaffney, Jordan Harrison, Moisés Kaufman, Neil LaBute, Wendy MacLeod, José Rivera, Paul Rudnick, Doug Wright) offer their unique takes on the moments before, during and after "I do." 

 

Witty, warm and occasionally wacky, these plays are vows to the blessings of equality, the universal challenges of relationships and the often hilarious power of love. Responding to the ongoing battle for marriage equality throughout the United States, these American authors have created a collection of stories that is provocative, insightful, stirring, funny and heartwarming.

 

The short plays that make up Standing on Ceremony are:

Traditional Wedding by Mo Gaffney a long-married lesbian couple reminisce about their wedding.

The Revision by Jordan Harrison, an amusing look at how two men might rewrite their vows to more accurately reflect the limited options available to a gay couple.

This Flight Tonight by Wendy MacLeod, which asks if there is any hope for happiness when a lesbian marriage begins in Iowa.

On Facebook by Doug Wright, adapted from an actual Facebook thread chronicling one long fight among friends on the subject of gay marriage.

Strange Fruit by Neil LaBute, the story of two men in love whose plans to get married “the old-fashioned way” are stymied when reality rears its ugly head.

The Gay Agenda by Paul Rudnick, a sadly hilarious plea for understanding by an Ohio homemaker and member of Focus on the Family.

My Husband by Paul Rudnick, puts a hilarious gay twist on the stereotype of the Jewish mother desperate to marry off her children.

London Mosquitoes by Moisés Kaufman, a poignant story in which a widower tries to make sense of the loss of his longtime lover.

Pablo and Andrew at the Altar of Words by José Rivera, a moving play about two men who use their marriage vows to “say the things we never really say.”

 

Comments from critics include:

 

"Puts a human face on a hot-button issue and delivers laughter and tears rather than propaganda."

—BackStage

 

"All you have to do is listen, shed an occasional tear and laugh a lot. There is something for everybody…  Holds a magnifying glass to the highs and lows, joys and fears, courage and silliness, of people bucking trends and making history."

—NY Observer

 

"A feel-good show celebrating gay marriage. The unifying theme of same-sex marriage gives this collection its strong identity. The individual plays don’t share the same perspective or speak in the same voice. Which keeps things interesting."

—Variety

 

LINKS:

 

Standing on Ceremony: Gay Marriage Plays

Huffington Post: Standing on Ceremony Premiere

You Tube: Standing on Ceremony

 


LGBT Theatre, Dance, Music, Poetry

 

Neil Patrick Harris: Medley of Broadway Songs

Neil Patrick Harris Hosts Tony Awards

Neil Patrick Harris: It’s Not Just for Gays Anymore

John Barrowman: I Am What I Am

Douglas Hodge & Kelsey Grammar: La Cage Aux Folles

 

 

Metro Weekly: Wash DC LGBT Arts & Entertainment

Denver LGBT Arts & Culture

Best LGBT Arts & Culture Spots in Charlotte

San Francisco Queer Cultural Center

Arts & Culture: LGBT Friendly Portland

Fire Island Sun: Fresh Fruit Festival of LGBT Arts & Culture

Website: Fresh Fruit Festival

Washington Blade: Gay Dancer Vincent Thomas

LGBT History Through Dance

NYC's Best LGBT Art Exhibits & Cultural Events

 

 

Slam Poetry: Queer Marriage Poem

Slam Poetry: Oh I'm Sorry

Slam Poetry: The Straight Gay

Slam Poetry: Coming Out Straight

Slam Poetry: Third Gender

 


LGBT Comedians


Ellen DeGeneres
Ross Matthews

Suzanne Westenhofer
Margaret Cho
Eddie Izzard
Kate Clinton
Wanda Sykes

 


LGBT Literature: Books and Authors

 

Francis Bacon / English Statesman and Author
T.E. Lawrence / English Soldier and Author
Lord Byron / English Poet
Walt Whitman / US Poet and Author
Oscar Wilde / Irish Author
Marcel Proust / French Author
Gertrude Stein / US Poet and Author
Alice B. Toklas / US Author
James Baldwin / US Author
Herman Melville / US Author
Willa Cather / US Author
Langston Hughes / US Author
E.M. Forster / English Author
Hans Christian Andersen / Danish Author
Ralph Waldo Emerson / US Author
Virginia Woolf / English Author
Tennessee Williams / US Playwright
Rainer Maria Rilke / German Poet
Edward Albee / US Playwright
Armistead Maupin / US Writer
Rita Mae Brown / US Novelist
Gore Vidal / US Novelist
Allen Ginsberg / US Poet
W.H. Auden / English Poet
Truman Capote / US Author

Maurice Sendak / US Author and Illustrator

 


Classical Composers: What's So Gay About American Music?

 

Musicologists now seem to agree that Handel was gay. So, it is thought, was Schubert. About Tchaikovsky there is no doubt: definitely gay, along with Britten, Copland and many other major composers and musicians. They may not have been gay in the modern sense of the word, as the defining component of their sexual identity. Certainly not Handel, who hid what must have been terrible loneliness under a cloak of irascible heartiness. Nor Schubert, whose relationships with the young men in his circle still elude our understanding. Schubert's devoted friends considered the pudgy, bespectacled and sickly composer a genius in their midst. But who was sleeping with whom? We're not sure.

That we can now flesh out these giants' stories with this crucial missing component of their character is due to the efforts of some pioneering cultural historians and musicologists. Yet, along with the outing of past master composers and musicians there has been a more dubious effort by some to find evidence of a collective gay sensibility in their music.  What exactly is a gay sensibility? With today's gay icons ranging from the brainy, unkempt liberal firebrand Congressman Barney Frank to the stylish, flamboyant and cuttingly funny fashion guru Carson Kressley of "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy," who can say? And if it does exist, just how is a gay sensibility expressed in music? Especially purely instrumental, or "absolute," music?
 


The latest to enter the discussion is Nadine Hubbs, a professor of music and women's studies at the University of Michigan, whose new book, "The Queer Composition of America's Sound: Gay Modernists, American Music and National Identity," has just been released by University of California Press. This is an ambitious, provocative and impressively documented work, with more than 70 pages of detailed footnotes for a 178-page text. It tries to prove that what has come to be considered the distinctive American sound in mid-20th-century American music - that Coplandesque tableau of widely spaced harmonies and melancholic tunes run through with elements of elegiac folk music and spiked with jerky American dance rhythms - was essentially invented by a group of Manhattan-based gay composers: Copland, of course, and Virgil Thomson, Paul Bowles, David Diamond, Marc Blitzstein, Leonard Bernstein, Samuel Barber and Ned Rorem.

Ms. Hubbs's treatise, which focuses mostly on Copland and Thomson, is enriched by her keen sensitivity to traces of coded gay sexuality, veiled homophobia and cultural anxieties in American music and life during the early decades of the 20th century. The book will rightly provoke heated discussion in musicological and queer-history circles. My gay brothers and sisters should welcome Ms. Hubbs's account of the pivotal role played by gay composers in the development of a musical idiom that as the book argues, still signifies "America," not just in the concert hall but also in movies, television and commercial culture.

Yet, I suspect that many musicians, however fascinated by Ms. Hubbs's treatise, will share my discomfort over the notion of trying to identify anything as elusive as a gay sensibility in music. It's significant, I think, that most of the advance praise for the book ("a landmark study," "breathtakingly original history") comes from cultural historians, not musicians. My aim here is not to review the book but to raise the stakes for the debate Ms. Hubbs's work is sure to provoke.

One admiring blurb on the dust jacket comes from a well-known musicologist, Susan McClary, winner of a MacArthur Foundation "genius" award, whose contentious 1991 article "Constructions of Subjectivity in Schubert's Music" became a manifesto for a number of queer theorists. Ms. McClary tried to identify homosexual qualities in the slow movement of Schubert's "Unfinished" Symphony. Her notion that Schubert was inviting listeners to "forgo the security of a centered, stable tonality" and "experience - even enjoy - a flexible sense of self," has always struck me as a convoluted way to account for perfectly explicable disruptions of key.
 

 


But Ms. McClary's lead was followed by smart critics like K. Robert Schwarz, long a contributor to The New York Times, who died in 1999. Schwarz wrote impassioned liner notes for a shamelessly commercial though perfectly harmless 1995 recording, "Out Classics: Seductive Classics by the World's Greatest Gay Composers."

Before long, Schwarz speculated, "we may possess the analytic tools to decode a gay aesthetic in music." As I suggested at the time, I cannot imagine how this would work. Will theorists check chord components against a table of telltale interval combinations? Will we someday speak not only of tonic and dominant chords but also of butch and femme chords?  Is Ms. Hubbs heading down that path? She is least convincing when discussing the particulars of the music in question. What she does brilliantly is amass evidence of the pervasive influence Copland and his gay composer colleagues had on the formation of the American national identity.

In her introduction Ms. Hubbs points out that no less an authority than the United States Army confirms Copland's status as "America's most prominent composer." This claim comes from an essay accompanying a pair of recordings of Copland's music by the Army Field Band and Soldiers' Chorus, released in 2000 to celebrate the centennial of his birth. Moreover, the essay points to Copland's life and career as a quintessentially American story and talks glowingly of his Jewish heritage, his Russian immigrant parents, his sensitivity to racial prejudice and admirable collaborations with black artists. But never hinted at is Copland's homosexuality, which of course would have branded him as unfit for service in the military.

So how did Copland's music, with its "sonic representation of American vastness and rugged, simple beauty," as Ms. Hubbs puts it, come to be the most potent cultural emblem of Americanness? How did Copland and the gay composers in his circle come to write music the way they did?  Though often too sweeping and sometimes laden with jargon (one subchapter is titled "Music as Sex as Identity - and as Identity Solvent"), the book sheds more light on these questions than any study to date. Take Ms. Hubbs's comments on the aggressively homophobic Charles Ives in the subchapter "Ives, American Music and Mutating Manliness." Ives came of age at a time when American music was obsequiously beholden, Ives believed, to European late Romanticism. Ives considered American composers sissified. He wanted them to shape up, get some spine and invent a radically new American sound that embraced vernacular American music. He wanted the audience to stop whining and take its dissonance like a man.

Ms. Hubbs places Ives's diatribes in the context of the genuine crisis of confidence in American music at the time. The composer appears "less as an eccentric crank with personal issues concerning women, queers and music," she writes, "than as a stentorian mouthpiece for interlinked cultural anxieties around gender, sexuality, musicality and national identity that significantly shaped 20th-century American music."

Paradoxically, it was Copland and his gay composer colleagues who answered Ives's call, steered American music through those anxieties and found the new American voice. They were bound together by codes of secrecy, and with good reason. To understand the social climate they faced, consider that in 1942, while he was the powerful chief music critic of The New York Herald Tribune, Thomson was arrested in a raid on a private house in Brooklyn where gay professionals socialized with young men, including sailors from the nearby Brooklyn Navy Yard. After he spent a night in jail, the charges against Thomson were dropped, and the incident was hushed up, though a veiled reference to his disgrace turned up in a Walter Winchell gossip column.

Perhaps a sense of separateness emboldened this circle of gay composers, who shared an affinity for French culture and aesthetics, to distance themselves from the domineering, aggressive (meaning rigorously German) brand of 1920's modernism. Copland first turned to jazz as a vehicle to break free. Jazz was by far the most original American music. But eventually he found it hard to incorporate this improvised art into formal concert works. Thomson impishly called Copland's short-lived venture writing jazz-infused concert works his "one wild oat."

In later life Thomson claimed - fairly, most historians agree - that he provided the impetus for Copland's invention of the quintessential American sound through the example of his own simplified musical style. The late 1920's was a time of growing musical complexity and "100 percent dissonance saturation," as Thomson put it. Thinking this direction a dead end, he chose to simplify his language radically. The Thomson work in this vein that most impressed Copland was the "Symphony on a Hymn Tune," which used hymns familiar to Thomson from his Kansas City, Mo., youth as thematic materials for a genre-busting, unconventional cut-and-paste symphony.

By the late 1930's, Copland, with his language now simplified as well, was writing the works that would make him famous, especially the ballet scores "Billy the Kid" and "Rodeo." Still, what is so gay about a symphony that uses hymns as thematic fodder, or a ballet score run through with cowboy tunes and Old West dance rhythms? What is the gay sensibility of Copland's 1939 "Quiet City" or the vibrant 1943 Violin Sonata?

Words have meanings, of course, as does all music with words. Even if you did not know that Britten was gay, you might guess as much from the content of his operas. Some deal with thwarted or idealized homoerotic yearning ("Billy Budd," "Death in Venice"); others are moral parables about sensitive, volatile and ostracized souls ("Peter Grimes," even the comedy "Albert Herring"). But is there anything gay about Britten's instrumental work, like the Symphony for Cello and Orchestra, an ingenious, exciting and deeply moving work?

Ms. Hubbs offers a provocative subchapter, "Complexity Music and the American Way," on the challenge posed by the American composers who championed 12-tone techniques starting in the 1950's, and an apt analysis of "Frenchness as Queer Americanness." But the gender identity questions she raises cannot be answered.  How do you explain the crucial presence of thoroughly heterosexual composers like Roy Harris and Walter Piston in the "commando squad," as Thomson called the circle of composers who set out to establish American music in the mid-20th century? How do you explain that after branding 12-tone music as elitist, arid and Germanic (meaning bad) in the 1940's, Copland took up the technique in the 50's and 60's? To me, his inexplicably neglected 12-tone works still have that clarion, widely spaced harmonic vigor that characterized his influential music in the much-beloved "American" style. Ms. Hubbs takes on this question but leaves it as one of many loose ends.

Ultimately, what we may most value about music is that it moves us in powerful but indistinct ways. It's the one thing that cannot be analyzed or deconstructed for its expressive content, and thank goodness for that.

 

(From Anthony Tommasini / New York Times)

 

 


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ALGBTICAL

Association for Lesbian Gay Bisexual & Transgender Issues in Counseling of Alabama