The Early Years
In April of 1989 The Names Project brought the AIDS quilt to Austin, commemorating the people impacted by HIV/AIDS. A highlight of the events was a stirring musical performance by a men’s chorus; but the chorus was imported from Dallas! This memorable event galvanized seven professional and avocational gay musicians to ask “Why not Austin.” The first rehearsal of the Capital City Men’s Chorus (now the Austin Gay Men’s Chorus) was held in September. Present on that first night were 16 members with musical direction from volunteer artistic director, David Weigle. The chorus’s diversity was evident from the first moments with both professional singers and beginners, with a variety of backgrounds and walks of life represented.
In the early years, indeed from Year One, major concerts were only a part of what the chorus did. From its founding the chorus intended to make an impact both in the Austin arts community, on the LGBTQ community, and the community at large. In their very first season they performed for AIDS Services of Austin and they went into the community to participate in a Living Christmas Tree for the Arboretum. A perhaps surprising highlight of the first season was an invitation to sing for the 1990 Travis County Republican Convention.
The chorus grew steadily over the first five seasons, first under Mr. Weigle’s direction for two and then under Malcolm Nelson for the next three. The chorus continued to offer three major concerts each year, usually in local churches. In just the chorus’s third year they traveled to Denver to represent Austin at the Gay and Lesbian Association of Choruses (GALA). Back home, the chorus packed its schedule with benefit performances for AIDS Services of Austin, Project Transitions, Waterloo Counseling Center, Austin Artists Respond to AIDS, and many private memorial services.
Years of Partnership
Jeffrey Jones-Ragona, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Texas at Austin, became the chorus’s artistic director during the fall of that 1995 “for one year” in order to fulfill an educational requirement to conduct a choral group. The chorus honored Dr. Jones-Ragona with the title of Artistic Director Emeritus upon his retirement at the end of our 29th season in the spring of 2018.
During our 30th season, after a long history of growth both as a community and growth in culture, the Chorus officially changed its name to the Austin Gay Men’s Chorus. We continue our focus on inclusiveness. “We are gay men and allies.” However, at a time when progress toward equality is more important than ever, the chorus decided it was time to embrace in the most public way to promote our purpose.
With 30 years of history, it is hard to pick just a few notable moments. The chorus has had so many wonderful opportunities and successes. The chorus has received recognition and awards from various organizations including the Metropolitan Community Church, the Austin Cabaret, and the Human Rights Campaign.
The chorus has performed with guest artists such as Grammy-nominated mezzo-soprano Rose Taylor, Tony-nominated Andrew Lippa, Austin’s cabaret legend Karen Kuykendall, Austin native and Broadway standout Nick Rodriguez, members of the Austin Lyric Opera, the Austin Civic Orchestra, and others. The chorus has premiered original works that have become part of the men’s chorus repertoire. The chorus has performed at Carnegie Hall under the direction of famed composer John Rutter and has performed in concert halls in Houston, Fort Worth, Denver, and Montreal.
Entering its 31st season, the Austin Gay Men’s Chorus is the longest operating men’s chorus in Central Texas. We are proud of our reputation for artistic excellence and for striving season after season to fulfill our mission.