The Christmas and Holidays concert by Pride Chorus Houston was a very fine affair hosted by Unity of Houston church. It was a great venue for the group, far better than where they had performed of late. Everyone in the audience was afforded an excellent view of the chorus, which is a mix of the sexes. This is in contrast to the Austin Gay Men’s Chorus, which is entirely male.
The differences between the two choruses transcended that, however. Houston’s artistic director Dr. David York (shown in the lead photo with chorus members behind him) opted for a concert with none of the campy aspects that one expects from a pride/gay chorus. The dance moves that epitomized the campy sub-group of the Austin chorus were entirely absent as well; York himself danced up a storm while conducting, which was most entertaining, but the chorus members themselves did not move much at all. And the wardrobe changes between the acts at the Austin concert were also lacking here, as each member wore rather muted blacks and greens throughout. They did get off the stage and lined the aisles for a rendition of Ring It In, which gave people the chance to see their favourite singers up close.
A very welcome feature of the concert was the Houston Bronze Ensemble. Their front-of-stage presence stole the show from the chorus itself on more than one musical number. This talented group of bell-ringers were truly outstanding. From their website, listeners can learn this about the group:
“Houston Bronze Ensemble is an auditioned community handbell ensemble of advanced ringers from the Houston area. Founded in 1988, the group performs on 7 octaves of Schulmerich Handbells and 6 octaves of Malmark Chimes. We also have a variety of other bells and auxiliary instruments including 5 octaves of Petit and Fritsen bells, silver melody bells, orchestral chimes and more.” I’m not familiar with what bells they used at the concert (ranging from small to large), but it sounded marvellous. Appropriately, they did a solo on Carol of the Bells. The ensemble is shown in a photo here, with most members dressed in red.
There was an all-female version of Christmas Song, the old chestnut by Mel Torme. Lena Lowe was the lovely soloist on this number. Alexandra Venzke was the scheduled soloist on a Spanish piece, Los peces en el rio. But she was replaced due to illness by Sarah Marin and Rebecca Smith. “Nobody knows where it came from,” said York of the Los peces. “I’m pretty confident that it’s one of those folk songs that is just sort of made around the world and now it’s made it’s way to Houston.”
On another lovely Spanish-language selection, Ven a mi casa esta Navidad, York explained he got “turned on to this song is from my great friend Midalia from Venezuela. She said ‘this is such a great song for those of us who are far from home!’ There are three verses with three different soloists. The first verse talks about family far away from home; the second verse is about our beloved departed and what that’s like at Christmas time; the third verse is about estrangement. People sometimes lock horns and things go sideways, but at Christmas-time we’re just going to forget all that: come to my house, we’re going to talk about it, and we’re going to have a good time.” The two male soloists, Jose Pineda and Juan Trujillo, did a particularly fine job with this selection.
The concert concluded with an upbeat look towards 2024 with the song Bring On the New Year, and the traditional tune Hark! The Herald Angels Sing. A special treat for the audience was a collection of hand-made Christmas wreaths that were lined up in the lobby (York is shown here holding one of them). There was furious bidding in this silent auction for several choice wreaths, including a Star Trek wreath that went for more than $100.
Overall, a very festive experience for quite a large crowd at the venue. As in Austin, the Pride/Gay chorus concert in December is a major milestone in the annual LGBTQ calendar each year.
Their next concert is March 9, 2024. Visit the website for tickets: pridechorus.org.
Also visit Houstonbronze.org for more on that group