Corrections or additions?
This article by Elaine Strauss was prepared for the May 30, 2001
edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
When is it Art, When Politics?
Even if the name New Jersey Gay Men’s Chorus registers
fleetingly, its components make an uneven impact. The term "New
Jersey" recedes. The word "Chorus" draws back. And the
"Gay Men’s" reference advances, bearing implications of
engagement and political activism. Nobody knows this better than
Loatman, artistic director of the New Jersey Gay Men’s Chorus (NJGMC).
"By our title we seem like a political organization," Loatman
says in a telephone interview from his Trenton home. "When I took
over the directorship three years ago, I decided we would concentrate
more on musical and performing aspects, rather than on being a latent
Loatman’s perspective represents a shift from the stewardship of his
predecessor Jay Kawarsky, founding artistic director of the NJGMC,
who led the chorus when it changed its name from Delaware Valley Men’s
Chorus in 1996. "At first the `G’ word was left out," Kawarsky
told U.S. 1 (March 19, 1997), "but it became clear that every
time we sing, it is a political statement. We decided that we might
as well bring it right out."
In contrast, Loatman says, "When the need arises, we are ready
to perform at functions where our political issues are at stake. But
we try to see ourselves primarily as a service organization. We have
performed in church services, and for organizations that have nothing
to do with the gay community. We just did a fundraiser for Enable
at the Princeton Hyatt to benefit people with disabilities. Outreach
helps us to be more visible throughout the state; we perform for free.
This year we chose March and April as our outreach months."
The NJGMC celebrates its 10th anniversary with a program entitled
"Looking Back, Moving Forward" on Saturday, June 2, at 8 p.m.,
in Princeton’s Trinity Episcopal Church. Joseph Paparella, a Trenton
native currently touring with the musical "Ragtime," is the
guest vocalist in selections from Bernstein and Sondheim musicals.
Featured selections draw from traditional tunes, music of the last
two centuries, and from Broadway musicals. Artistic director Loatman
shares the podium with assistant conductor Kenneth Howard, who has
been a member of the chorus since its inception. The three-dozen
chorus is accompanied by pianist Timothy Brown, and by a 23-member
orchestra. The anniversary program includes music featuring brass
instruments and a movement from Schumann’s Piano Quintet. A silent
auction takes place at 7 p.m.
Assistant conductor Howard’s particular bailiwick is the eight to
ten-member chamber ensemble of the NJGMC. "Ken goes all the way
back to the beginning of the chorus. He maintains a certain history
while I mold the sound of the chorus," says Loatman. "We sit
down and divvy up the pieces to be programmed. If it’s a very large
work, I take that. It’s amicable. Each of us brings something special
to rehearsals and performances."
Born in Bridgeton, New Jersey in 1947, Loatman grew up in a family
consisting of four boys and one girl. "My mother was the musician
of the family," he says. "She was the organist in church,
and encouraged me to sing in the choir." Loatman’s mother, now
in her 70s, has played in church since she was 13. She was his first
piano teacher. He started both piano and church choir participation
at age five. Loatman’s father, now dead, had a sixth grade education.
"He worked at DuPont in Wilmington and managed homes and
as a caretaker," Loatman says. "He was an avid watcher of
and listener to the news. He could argue on any subject. His lack
of education was not a problem like it would be today."
At Westminster Choir College Loatman majored in music education with
emphasis in piano. He became a member of Westminster’s 40-voice
choir during his senior year. "Although I sang," he says,
"I didn’t know that I was going to make the touring choir. I was
invited to join the choir because I was a good pianist. Once I got
there, I changed my opinion of myself as a singer and as a conductor,
and switched from piano to voice."
At Westminster Loatman’s hero was George Linn, then Westminster’s
artistic director. "There was no graduate school at Westminster
at the time," Loatman remembers, "and there were only two
choirs, of which the touring choir was the more select one. Linn
like a coal miner, but when he got in front of the choir, his whole
persona would change. There was a delicacy and fluidity to his
He left in 1969 when I graduated."
During the course of his generation-long career Loatman has directed
more than 75 productions at Rider College, the Pennington Players,
Princeton Community Players, Mercer College, Lawrence High School,
and Bristol Riverside Theater, among others. For 23 years, until 2000,
he held the post of Minister of Music at the First Presbyterian Church
of Dutch Neck. At present he teaches vocal music to children from
kindergarten to third grade in Lawrence’s Eldridge Park School. We
spoke on the eve of a performance by his kindergartners and first
graders. Their program was to consist primarily of unison songs, and
what Loatman called "some movement, approaching dance." By
the time Loatman’s students reach second and third grade, his musical
demands on them increase. The older children’s June 6 program includes
canons, two-and three-part music, and partner songs (two independent
songs that fit together, e.g., "Yankee Doodle" and
In addition to his school affiliation, Loatman teaches
both piano and voice privately. Out of his 40 private students, 10
Loatman joined the NJGMC four years ago on a whim. "I never really
liked the sound of men’s choruses for most of my career," he says.
"I thought they sounded like barber shop quartets and had a less
than legitimate sound. But after I heard a concert of the Chorus at
Trenton’s Trinity Cathedral I decided to join. I joined simply to
have the opportunity to sing. I wanted to just sing and not have to
call the shots. I wanted to do music with which I was not acquainted
before." About a year after joining the Chorus Loatman was
"I’ve changed the sound of the chorus to a richer more vibrant
sound, rather than a diffused light tone," Loatman says. "Even
though this chorus is not a group of trained musicians, we have one
of the most interesting sounds of any group that I’ve conducted. It’s
homogeneous and pleasing. It’s a passionate sound. Many groups are
precise and clean to the point of being sterile. I don’t know if would
be better conducting professional musicians because then each one
would have their own particular ideas about how music should go and
how the choral sound should go. This untutored group achieves a
sound. They’re non-professionals enjoying themselves when they’re
singing. Nothing is routine for them."
In selecting members for the chorus, Loatman follows a welcoming
"Each potential member is auditioned to find out what their
are," he says. "If someone seems not to have the ability to
keep up with the chorus, or if they can’t keep their pitch, we suggest
private lessons or tutoring, or we suggest that they sit in on
and not perform in concert. We’re not trying to be exclusionary. We
don’t want just hot-shot singers. We have some people who don’t read
music, but they’ve learned how to manage. If people have a reedy tone
that’s nasal or pinched, or if they have a breath-y tone without much
center, their voice sticks out in a chorus. All of these problems
can be fixed. My job is to lead chorus members to the place where
we want the homogeneous tone to be. It’s the rare person that we don’t
"You don’t have to be gay to join," Loatman says. "If
a person feels comfortable they’re welcome." In his association
with the NJGMC Loatman has had no direct confrontation with
"If somebody walked in off the street, they would have no way
of knowing that this is a gay organization except for the name of
the group." Probably for Loatman the ideal path of evolution for
the New Jersey Gay Men’s Chorus would be one where the most compelling
component of its name was "Men’s Chorus" and the word
evoked nothing more vivid than a yawn.
— Elaine Strauss
Trinity Episcopal Church, 33 Mercer Street, 609-396-7774. $20.
June 2, 8 p.m.
featuring guest soloist is Broadway veteran Joseph Paparella who
selections from Bernstein and Sondheim musicals. Repertoire includes
works of Franz Biebl, Randall Thompson, Gabriel Faure, Joseph M.
and Lloyd Pfautsch, as well as popular fare and "The Battle Hymn
of the Republic." Pianist Timothy D. Brown and the 23-piece
Orchestra accompany the chorus. Silent auction. $20.
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