By Prizm News / August 1, 2018 / By Alistair Kraft
An oratorio written by Cincinnati Men’s Chorus Artistic Director Steve Milloy gives a gay hero of the Civil Rights Movement his due.
By Alistair Kraft
Steve Milloy has been singing in LGBTQIA choruses for more than 20 years. In that time, he’s performed pieces about Harvey Milk, Matthew Shepard and other dead white gay men.
He was weary of not hearing stories about those who looked like him or shared his experiences.
But it wasn’t until he happened upon the 2003 documentary, “Brother Outsider,” about Bayard Rustin that he got the inspiration to write his own piece in honor of this pivotal but overlooked civil rights figure.
To tell an important story in brief, Rustin was responsible for teaching Martin Luther King Jr. about the ideas of nonviolent resistance. Without Rustin, as Milloy has said many times, there is no Dream.
Then why is he not taught about in schools? Rustin was an openly gay black man during the 1960s. It’s why he effectively vanished from history despite playing a vital role in one of its important eras.
A firm believer in being the change you want to see, Milloy took this kernel of an idea to Jane Ramseyer,the artistic director for One Voice Mixed Chorus in Minneapolis. She was on board, and after two years and with the commission of six other choruses, “Bayard Rustin: The Man Behind the Dream” became a reality.
Milloy is the primary composer of the piece, but he is the first to credit those who helped him put together his oratorio. Ramseyer was the architect of the piece who made it happen, he says. Lyrics were contributed by Norman Welsh, David Major and Bruce Preston. Vanessa German wrote the narration that weaves the storyline together.
Milloy conducted the premiere performance of his piece in St. Paul, Minn., in January 2017. It drew packed houses and received standing ovations every night.
Now it’s coming to Ohio for four September performances in Yellow Springs, Dayton and Cincinnati. Those who buy tickets will get to hear a wide variety of genres, which won’t surprise anyone who has seen the Cincinnati Men’s Chorus in this most recent season with Milloy as artistic director.
While a few members of the Cincinnati Men’s Chorus are participating, the call for singers was general and open to anyone who wanted to commit to rehearsals and participate. The majority comes from the World House Choir in Yellow Springs.
There are standard musical pieces, pop numbers, concert spirituals and recognizable passages from popular music of the time period. Audiences are encouraged to sing and clap along at several points, making the performance educational, moving and engaging in a way most pieces of its kind aren’t.
Pulling the audience in and making people feel part of the show—and the movement—is a big reason why Milloy wanted this piece to exist in the first place. He loves that those who remember and lived through the Civil Rights Movement get to remember their experiences, but it’s also wonderful to him that young people are learning this history and maybe seeing a hero who looks a bit more like them.
He says it was his hope that people would learn who Bayard Rustin was but also take inspiration from his life and go out into the world and try to make a difference in their own ways.
Writing the oratorio is a way of reaching people who might not learn its story elsewhere, Milloy says. And he says that maybe it’s a way he also can contribute to making the world a better place.
Milloy says he believes that everyone must be inspired to work together to do what they can to change the world though small, peaceful but meaningful acts. He wants the audience to enjoy the show, to participate and rise to their feet, clapping and singing along.
Then he wants them to go out into the world and their lives feeling inspired to pick up where Rustin left off, doing what they can.
FIND OUT MORE
• There will be four free performances in September of “Bayard Rustin: The Man Behind the Dream.” Here are the details:
- Thursday, Sept. 6 and Saturday, Sept. 8 at the Foundry Theatre at Anitoch College, 920 Court St., Yellow Springs, 45387. Both performances start at 7 p.m.
- Friday, Sept. 7 at Westminster Presbyterian Church, 125 N. Wilkinson St., Dayton, 45402. Starts at 7 p.m.
- Sunday, Sept. 9 at House of Joy; 5912 Hamilton Ave., Cincinnati, 45224. Starts at 4 p.m.
• Visit bayardthemanthedream.org for more about the oratorio.