‘GMCW Turns 40’ celebrates equality, justice, and joy

The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, DC, bears witness in song to our shared humanity.

GMCW turns 40 is a joyous, and bittersweet, survey of the breadth of the work of Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, DC. Photographs, newpaper clippings, and video footage of the Chorus singing, acting, and dancing are interspersed with interviews and reminiscences by some of its longstanding members. Group members note that this organization has managed to maintain its existence through the AIDS crisis and into the COVID pandemic, all the while using their singing as a weapon to fight for equality and justice.

‘GMCW Turns 40.’ Screenshot courtesy of Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, DC.

While not emphasized in the anniversary celebration, GMCW is uniquely product of this city. Washington, DC, as the capitol of the United States of America, functions in the imagination of the country and the world as the place from which America’s constitutional and political stability and power emanate and are maintained and protected. What those who are not from DC don’t realize is that DC, more than being merely a symbol or a brand, is also home to people.

One of the ways you can tell that a place is actually a home to somebody, and not just a symbol, is by the music the people who live there produce and what that music says. The sound that comes from musicians such as Eva Cassidy, Chuck Brown, and Sweet Honey in the Rock could only have been produced by people who committed to making their homes in Washington, DC. The sounds these musicians have produced, relentlessly promote the humanity of a citizenry that continues to be treated as less than human and deserving of dignity.

When assessing its influence, GMCW should also be seen as an integral and essential part of this community and movement of DC musicians. Focusing their voice on the humanity and dignity of gay men, as part of the larger community, GMCW has made it possible for gay folks to be able to hear their own voice in Washington, DC, and to claim this city — and, by extension, the larger nation — as home.

Over the course of 90 minutes we are taken through a video scrapbook of GMCW memories along with special performances arranged especially for this anniversary. There are selections from past concerts such as their signature tune, “Make Them Hear You,” from Ragtime by Lynne Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty. The songwriting duo composed a new song, “Harmony Is Never Too Late,” for this anniversary celebration. It perfectly portrays the unshakeable faith that members of GMCW have articulated when talking about the company’s “potential to change hearts and minds when we share our story and raise our voices in harmony for equality and justice for all.”

‘GMCW Turns 40.’ Screenshot courtesy of Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, DC.

Maybe such sincerity alloyed with rightness of cause is irresistible. In any case, I found myself becoming verklempt several times in the course of watching this program. One such moment was in watching Rock Creek Singers, one of GMCW’s several offshoots, as they sang “Sure on This Shining Night” in a performance, recorded during the pandemic, that moved back and forth between The National Arboretum and the ubiquitous Zoom squares to which we have all become so accustomed. The chorus’s response to the seemingly relentless targeting and killing of Black people by American police was another moving moment. The song “Heavy” was commissioned in the wake of these killings and it was performed in collaboration with a number Gay and Lesbian choruses across the country. It is lovely piece, a declaration of grief and resilience and an example of GMCW’s dedication to using music to “rise up in spite of the ache and fight injustices everywhere.”

In GMCW Turns 40 we get to accompany the chorus as they travel from the stage — in performances of fully produced pieces of musical theater and in camp parodies and revues — to the streets — in Pride marches, in education efforts and in protests — bearing witness to the existence of gay folks as members of the general community.

‘GMCW Turns 40.’ Screenshot courtesy of Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, DC.

The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, DC has been singing for 40 years, sharing the good vibrations of the human voice with their audiences striving to bring them to one accord: the recognition and celebration of our shared humanity. May they continue to do so long into the future.

Running Time: Approximately 90 minutes

GMCW Turns 40 is streaming from now through June 20, 2021. Tickets, starting at $25, are available online.

Direction by Thea Kano
Associate Conductor: C. Paul Hein
Assistant Conductor: Joshua Sommerville
ASL Interpretation: Jamie Sycamore
Art Direction: Craig Cipollini

GMCW Turns 40 Song List

Opening: Musical Highlights from over the years

“Never Ever” from NakedMan
Music and lyrics: Robert Seeley
Conductor: James Holloway (GMCW Music Director, 1989-1999)
Recorded live at Lisner Auditorium (1997)

“Sure on This Shining Night”
Featuring Rock Creek Singers
Music by Morten Laurdisen
Text by James Agee

“O Fortuna” from Carmina Burana
Featuring special guest Gallim Dance
Music by Carl Orff
Text: Medieval Latin poem
From Carmina 35 (2017)
Recorded live at The Kennedy Center

“Rise Up”
Music and lyrics by Cassandra Monique Batie and Jennifer Dicilveo
Arranged by Margaret Grottenthaler
Adapted for TTBB chorus by Thea Kano
Soloist: Jordan Peyer
Recorded live at St. Paul’s Chapel, New York (2019)

“America (My Country ‘Tis of Thee)”
Music: John Bull (“God Save the Queen”)
Lyrics by Samuel Francis Smith
Soloists: Michael Caban, Ben Aparicio Coto, Robert Garcia, and Adrian Gonzales
From Born This Way (2015)
Recorded live at Lincoln Theatre

“Waving Through a Window” from Dear Evan Hansen
Featuring Potomac Fever
Music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul
Arranged by Robert T. Boaz
From And the Tony Goes To… (2017)
Recorded live at Lincoln Theatre

Music by Steve Milloy
Text by McKenzie Coleman
Featuring GMCW with GALA Festival Chorus

“The Rising”
Featuring Seasons of Love
Music and lyrics by Bruce Springstein
Arranged by Joshua Sommerville
Soloist: Joseph Levin-Manning

“Make Them Hear You” from Ragtime
Music by Stephen Flaherty
Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens
Arranged by Jeff Funk
Featuring combined full Chorus, alumni, and GenOUT Youth Chorus

“Harmony’s Never Too Late”
Written for GMCW in honor of its 40th Anniversary
Music by Stephen Flaherty
Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens

“Walk Him Up” from Purlie
Music by Gary Geld
Lyrics by Peter Udell
Arranged by Bruce Trinkley (GMCW Music Director, 1983-1989)
Soloist: BJ Sobus
Piano: Jim Holloway (GMCW Music Director and Assistant Director, 1982-1985)
Bass: Mary Scott
Drums: Garuth Chalfont
Recorded live at Christ United Methodist Church (Bet Mishpachah service), Washington, DC (1984)

“Will You Teach Me?”
Featuring GenOUT Youth Chorus
Music by Victor C. Johnson
Text: Anonymous

“Truly Brave”
True Colors: Music and lyrics by Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly
Brave: Music and lyrics by Sara Bareilles
Arranged by Mac Huff
Adapted for TTBB chorus by Tim Sarsany
Soloists: Romm Gatongay and Jahtay Teh

“From Now On” from The Greatest Showman
Music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul
Arranged by Roger Emerson
Soloist: Steven West


  1. Thank you! One note: Sure on this Shining Night wasn’t performed by Potomac Fever, but by another fantastic GMCW ensemble, Rock Creek Singers.


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