116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
It’s hard to celebrate a musical milestone when early in the pandemic, singing was shown to be among the highest risk factors for spreading COVID-19.
But even though the pandemic forced The Quire of Eastern Iowa to put its silver anniversary plans on hold, the group struck gold.
The ensemble, with 40 to 50 active members, already had commissioned Connor Warren Smith of Los Angeles to write a song cycle honoring its 25th anniversary. Members had just started rehearsing “Songs for Our Pride” when “everything kind of shut down,” said Nolan Petersen, 30, of Iowa City, board chair and a tenor voice in The Quire.
“We all kind of went into our little corners and said, how do we do this? We're a small nonprofit. We don't have professional staff right now,” he said. “We were trying to figure out what does it look like to make art in a time like this?”
That’s when member Colleen McRoberts suggested creating a virtual performance.
“She said, ’You know, I've never done this before, but I think that we can do this. I think that we can do at least one piece of music and it'll be different and it'll be outside of our comfort zones, but we've got to at least try.’
“And that's what we did this time,” Petersen said. “ … We are really proud of what we were able to accomplish.”
"A Song of Life“ is posted online at thequire.org/25years/vqp-25/ and can be watched at any time, free of charge.
It’s a very personal piece, reflecting stories of Quire members’ life experiences. Bringing the work to life began with online rehearsals last fall, after which participants recorded their individual parts at home, then sent them in to be merged into a cohesive performance.
Rick Yramategui founded The Quire in April 1995, and directed 14 members in the group’s first performance that June, during the Iowa City Pride Talent show.
It was part of the gay choral movement, which emerged from the shadows of the AIDS epidemic and discrimination more than 40 years ago, as a safe place to create community through vocal music.
One of the first and most influential ensembles was The San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus, which held its first rehearsal Oct. 30, 1978.
Instead of singing in celebration, however, the chorus sang in sorrow and solidarity less than a month later. The evening of Nov. 27, 1978, The San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus stood on the steps of City Hall, singing during a candlelight vigil just hours after the assassination of San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk, California’s first openly gay elected official.
The ensemble persevered, and according to its website, inspired a worldwide choral movement that has evolved to embrace the full spectrum of the LGBTQ+ community.
“The choral movement was definitely already well underway, and Iowa City being Iowa City, wasn’t the last place it was going to find a home, but it wasn't the first place,” Petersen said.
“To have The Quire formed when it did, was kind of that specific moment,” he noted. “It also happened to be the time and place where the University of Iowa was finding some new community around the LGBTQ community. There was some additional work being done in years shortly thereafter to get the LGBTQ center house on campus organized and put together. So there was just a lot of really good movement in the community.
“But of course, Iowa City has a history of LGBTQ organizations and we're proud to be part of that heritage — to be standing on the shoulders of so many other individuals who came before and really created a community that is open and affirming, in so many ways,” he said.
“When you look at some of the other communities in Iowa that are not as safe for folks in our community, then we're really proud that Iowa City is a safe place for a lot of folks.
“And we also recognize that it is our obligation to continue making Iowa City safer and to continue making the rest of Iowa safer and more welcoming.”
The group’s anniversary celebration will continue when it’s safe to again gather in person to sing. The Quire also is searching for a new director, and Petersen is hoping everything can be in place by September so rehearsals can resume for its regular season of December and spring concerts, as well as a winter cabaret or other special performance.
“We're here for our community. We love to perform upon request when available, and we're just excited to get back in front of an audience,” Petersen said. “We miss our audience and we miss our fellow choir members.”
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