On October 27, One Voice Mixed Chorus (OMVC), Minnesota’s gay/ lesbian/ bisexual/ transgender/ straight allies (GLBTA) chorus, held a concert and community forum in the Sanctuary of Unity Church — Unitarian, St. Paul. Emmy award-winner T. Mychael Rambo was emcee. Guest performers included Julie Warder, dancer; Desdamona, spoken word artist; Frank Sentwali, spoken word artist; Thomasina Petrus, vocalist; and Thom West, pianist.
Four support groups/community partners — the African American AIDS Task Force, the Aliveness Project, Minnesota AIDS Project and Rural AIDS Action Network — presided in the Fellowship Hall at tables with personnel and pamphlets available. They also connected clients to vital services.
The OVMC participants called this evening of entertainment, enlightenment and education an “exciting project” and a place to be “simply ourselves.” More than one OVMC member was attracted to OVMC by its mission statement and by the sense of community and “ultra inclusiveness.”
They enjoy the “richness of voices singing together” and OVMC being “anyone’s/everyone’s group creating music through community.” There is a worldwide association of these choruses and a convention held every four years.
Jen Rivera, a third-year singer with OVMC, said she’d been part of a sacred music ensemble. “I was looking for ways to be more involved in the GLBT community here,” Rivera recalled, and “happened to attend their spring fundraising concert and decided to audition that fall. The mission statement posted on their website really says it all for me…’building community’ and creating social change by raising our voices in song.’
“Singing with One Voice Mixed Chorus is an amazing experience musically, emotionally, spiritually, intellectually,” said Rivera. “It touches everyone involved in very deep and meaningful ways.
“To answer why we do it, what’s the attraction, the music or the message, it’s both! There is tremendous satisfaction in working hard to learn all of the pieces selected for a concert, memorizing the music and words and perfecting all of the little nuances that go into putting on a great performance.
“Being part of One Voice Mixed Chorus is an extremely rewarding experience in and of itself,” Rivera continued. “What puts it over the top, so to speak, are the indescribable feelings experienced every time we perform: hearing the applause, seeing the emotional response on the faces of our audience, knowing that in ways both large and small our music has moved and touched them. That’s the Wow! for me of singing with One Voice Mixed Chorus. It really doesn’t get any better than this.”
The crowd gathered together that evening was asked more than once, “What is the Face of AIDS?” African American are a disproportionate number — 50 percent of all new infections, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — of the faces of AIDS. Men who have sex with other men are predominantly still the faces of AIDS.
In the 40-minute community panel forum that evening, four expert care providers to HIV/AIDS clients agreed that education was their mission. “Education,” they said, “is the key. Educate to reduce fear.”
Stigma comes of ignorance, the panel said. One of the panelists cited a mother afraid that her son would contract HIV/AIDS by sharing an earring with a friend. “Reach one, teach one,” T. Mychael Rambo reminded those in attendance.
“We’re sex workers,” the panel of professional caregivers said, providing 30,000 meals a year and a food shelf, distributing condoms, promoting the availability of clean needles to drug users, reducing barriers, helping the people who feel desperate and isolated, and trying to defuse and normalize conversation for people who are frightened by the topic.
“We need more dialogue,” they said. “We want to remove the mystique.”
HIV/AIDS, they said, makes sex and love into “an instinct turned against us.” The panel supported mandated comprehensive sex information in the public schools, but school boards constrict and control.
The panel discouraged unprotected sex — one of two main forms of HIV/AIDS transmission — but people take risks. According to UNAIDS and the World Health Organization, every eight seconds someone in the world is infected.
The next One Voice Mixed Chorus concerts are December 5 and 6, 2008, 7:30 pm, Hopkins Sr. High School Auditorium, Minnetonka. Ticket prices range from $18 to $25, or $10 for students and seniors, and are available on the chorus’ website, www.ovmc.org, or call 651-298-1954.
Elizabeth Ellis welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.