It may have been a long winter in Minnesota, but for Ben Riggs it’s been one long honeymoon.
Riggs is the new executive director of the Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus, and moved to Minnesota from Denver last August.
Since then he’s been digging into his new role, replacing longtime director Dr. Stan Hill, who stepped down last summer.
Photo courtesy TCGMC
Riggs conducted his first full concert as TCGMC’s executive director last December with the holiday show “Our First Noel.”
This weekend he directs the chorus in what will likely prove to be an emotional concert, called “It Gets Amazing.”
The concert features a performance of “Testimony,” a piece written by Stephen Schwartz for the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus and first performed in 2012. The lyrics are taken from personal testimonies in the book “It Gets Better: Coming Out, Overcoming Bullying, and Creating a Life Worth Living,” by Dan Savage.
“It’s written in two halves,” Riggs explains. “The first half is bleak…. with lines such as ‘I don’t want to be this’ and ‘I am an abomination’ and ‘every night I ask God to end my life.’ But then it shifts, and the chorus sings about all the things they might have missed.”
And now look what a life I’ve earned
It gets more than better
It gets amazing and astounding
If I could reach my past, I’d tell him what I’ve learned:
I was more loved
Than I dared to know
There were open arms
I could not see
And when I die
And when it’s my time to go
I want to come back as me
I want to come back as me.
For the concert Riggs has enlisted the help of eight young performers from MacPhail’s Prelude program for singing and acting.
They join the chorus in the performance of “Testimony,” and they also perform a work by Prelude member Kiko Laureano.
“He Could Have Said” examines bullying from the point of view of the bystander who looks on silently.
He could have said, “What do you think you’re doing?”
He could have said, “Can’t you see that he’s in pain?”
He could have said, “Why do you do the things that you do,
“When he’s never hurt anyone before?”
We wished we’d said, “We’re all right behind you.”
We wished we’d said, ” We’ll catch you when you fall.”
We wished we’d said, “Don’t let what he says get to you,
“You know it isn’t really true at all.”
Also on the theme of bullying, the evening includes a spirited remount of “Oliver Button is a Sissy,” based on Tomie dePaola’s children’s book and narrated by Ann Bancroft.
“It was commissioned by TCGMC in 2000,” says Riggs, “and it’s such a popular piece. In the last year several choruses have revived it, particularly for school outreach. It has a universal theme of acceptance and hope, and it’s told in such a whimsical and lovely manner.”
Speaking of school outreach, the Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus gave its first performance to a student audience at Avalon School this past week. Riggs says it’s something he plans to do a lot more of in the months to come.