The voices rising in harmony from the Maine Irish Heritage Center served as a beacon of unity and strength for the queer community.
A full slate of music that speaks to the LGBTQIA+ experience was performed on Friday, October 22, at the converted church on Gray Street in Portland. It was the second concert in the Osher School of Music’s Celebrating Diversity series.
The first number set the tone for an entire program filled with intensely personal performances. Singing the lyrics she had written herself, sophomore Valerie Lind joined Brandon Wong in a duet of “Change the World with Love.” A confident stage presence masked the jitters that Lind felt beneath the surface.
“I was really nervous going into it because I was, like, this is my story, this is my words,” Lind said. “It felt very vulnerable, but it was also very freeing to announce to the world that, yes, I am queer and that is okay. And if you’re queer, that is okay, too.”
Lind’s song is about her journey of self-realization and the struggle to find acceptance in a world that often seems geared only toward straight people. That theme of overcoming loneliness and even shame by connecting with the larger queer community echoed through many of the performances. It culminated with all of the performers returning to the stage while members of the USM Choral Union lined the aisles to sing “All of Us” as their closing statement.
The performers were mostly students, marking a change in the concert series from its previous entry which was focused on Latinx heritage. For that concert, faculty members provided most of the music.
“I thought that the performances were wonderful and moving,” said Dr. Nicolás Alberto Dosman, Director of Choral Studies. “Each performer was able to bring their own experience, in whatever capacity, to their performance.”
Dosman came up with the idea of a concert series to explore musical traditions outside of the usual Western canon which tends to prioritize the perspective of straight, white males to the exclusion of others. Beyond fostering broader music appreciation, each concert also seeks to educate the audience by introducing a speaker to put the music into context.
In her remarks to open the concert, Dr. Wendy Chapkis said, “LGBTQIA+ people weren’t given their rights, we had to fight relentlessly to receive them.”
Chapkis is Head of the Sociology Department and a professor in the Women & Gender Studies Program. She said knowledge of queer history is a weak spot for many students, even those who are part of the LGBTQIA+ community themselves.
The fight to extend marriage rights in Maine beyond only heterosexual couples was one of several examples Chapkis provided to illustrate the rocky path of social change. Maine first legalized marriage between same-sex couples in 2009 only to have the law overturned in a statewide referendum later that year. The outcome flipped again in 2012 when voters signaled a shift in cultural attitudes by approving the right of same-sex couples to get married. It’s been legal in Maine ever since.
In a nod to her surroundings at a concert hall, Chapkis acknowledged the important role music has played in the LGBTQIA+ rights movement as she’s learned through her work with the Jean Byers Sampson Center for Diversity in Maine. Its oral history archives include statements from members of the Maine Gay Men’s Chorus. They talk about the sense of belonging they found with their fellow singers and the fulfillment of being seen as artists regardless of their sexual preference or gender identity.
The next concert in the Celebrating Diversity series is set for February with a focus on Black history. Rounding out the inaugural season will be a final concert in March devoted to women’s voices.