Perfect Harmony Men’s Chorus has plenty to sing about these days. As the leading gay men’s chorus in Madison, the group will celebrate its 15th anniversary next year and most likely release its second CD of recorded music, this one geared toward the holidays.
“We’ve had so many requests,” says artistic director Ken Fortney. “We’re going to try and get that in given all that we’re doing.”
Perfect Harmony is indeed doing a lot these days, including an upcoming concert May 22 on the UW-Madison campus. The group currently has 30 members, ranging in age from 20s to late 50s. Over its 15 years, 125 singers have been involved with the chorus.
PHMC was founded as a result of the HIV/AIDS crisis, and its toll on the Madison community. This gay chorus is actually Madison’s third. “The first two choruses died along with their directors in the late ’80 and early ‘90s,” Fortney says. “We’re a continuation of what they started.”
Fortney got involved in the first rehearsal of PHMC in September 1996. By July 1997 he was the accompanist and assistant music director. When the founding director died of HIV/AIDS in the summer of 1998, Fortney moved into administration before being named artistic director in 2003.
Volunteerism is an integral part of PHMC’s success. Jason Jellison, the first Milwaukee resident to be a full-time member of the group, commutes to Madison. He’s a soloist and marketing volunteer.
Jellison is proud of the group’s diverse musical range. “(We’ve) stacked every genre a choir can,” he says. “Unlike many, many other choruses, the span of music the group does it tremendous.”
Case in point: The group performed original commissions in honor of its 10th anniversary. Craig Carnahan composed music to a poem by Charles Dickens, “Things That Never Die,” and Elizabeth Alexander set a Garrison Keillor quote to music entitled, “Tomorrow, God Willing.” The group also performed a 600-year-old poem by William Shakespeare.
While these selections are far from mainstream, show tune aficionados will get to hear some of their favorite selections at the May 22 performance, which is titled “Broadway Our Way.” Included are popular songs from such Broadway shows as “Wicked,” “Jersey Boys” and “Hairspray,” as well as a number of Stephen Sondheim shows (“Company,” “Merrily We Roll Along,” “Into the Woods” and “Sunday in the Park with George”).
For PHMC, the musical creativity is just as important as the desire to reach all types of audiences.
“It (shows) our willingness to step outside of what the stereotypical box would be for a gay men’s chorus,” Fortney says. “We do a wider range of music. We’re in a smaller community, so we need to serve everybody.”