BY AJ Trager
ANN ARBOR – For the past 20 years, Out Loud, an LGBT and ally choir based out of Ann Arbor, has been filling theater seats and promoting inclusion. People from all ages are encouraged to join and participate, performing and collaborating with local musicians and budding artists.
Tim Hamann has been involved with the choir for the past six years and currently serves as the choir's production designer, working closely with Director Paul Haebig in designing the look and feel of every performance including lighting, staging, venue selection, mild costuming and music selection.
"You see this amazing thing happen when everyone comes together in music, that some people don't like and some people love. It's a great experience in artistic cooperation," Hamann said.
Out Loud performs four times a year: two evening performances in January and two in May. Participants come from all backgrounds, some with previous music experience and others who have never read music before. The job put before Haebig and Hamman is to create a learning experience fun for everyone regardless of musical skill set.
The choir currently consists of roughly 40 members, three times larger than the membership the group had when Haebig joined four and half years ago. He has been directing choirs since the early '90s and received his MA/DR in organ performance from the University of Michigan nearly 10 years ago.
"I've been happy with how the choir has improved in sheer numbers on stage and the musicality, we are singing with a lot more precision and blends," Haebig said. "We are a lot more musical on stage. I think a next big goal is to take the chorus to the GALA festival (The Gay and Lesbian Association of Choruses), which happens every four years."
All the music is performed from memory, which, Hamann said, makes newer members of the choir nervous and full of anxiety.
"Members who have been around awhile do let them know it won't be that bad," Hamann said.
A difficult task for the choir is making sure everyone is treated equally and with fairness. Some members join the choir as their first introduction to the LGBT community, after a family member comes out as being LGBT identified, and they want to be better acquainted with the LGBT community. And there are always members who want to be in the spotlight.
"In the choir, we want people to enjoy it. We may not totally agree on everything, but we want people — at the very basic level — to enjoy it and to be together," President of the Board of Directors Mollie Jackson said. "And in the LGBT community, I think some people may lose focus in that, but we all want to work together and coexist and recognize each person as an individual. My favorite part is when we perform. It doesn't matter if you are a part of the board or the choir, you are nervous."
New Member Night for Out Loud comes at 7 p.m. on Feb. 9 to The Trinity Lutheran Church in Ann Arbor. There is no auditioning; any interested party will be inducted into the choir if they have a passion for community and a desire to sing. If someone has never sung before, Haebig will help place them into a vocal group that is best for their vocal skill and range. But it isn't a screening, as no one is turned away. During new member night, music will be distributed, the group will go over the handbook and there will be social time to ask questions and get to know current members.
"We are very sensitive to transgender people and part of our introduction process is: people are given the opportunity to disclose their preferred gender pronoun. Which is beneficial, especially for allies," Hamann said.
Alice Schuman came out in 1996 and her first order of business was to join Out Loud. She performed with the choir for over 15 years and is still involved with house responsibilities such as passing out tickets during performance nights.
"I think there is something enduring about coming together around music. I find it comforting as everything else changes," Schuman said. "It (Out Loud) really brings together the gays, lesbians, transgender people and their allies in a really fun way."
OutLoud's strength has been Broadway tunes, pop songs and modern arrangements. This year they are trying to stretch their skills into a more traditional choral repertoire integrating a Ralph Vaughan Williams number, a piece performed in French and even a Taylor Swift song.
"I am incredibly proud of them. I am really very proud of what they have been able to do," Schuman said. "Everyone that I have ever performed with, they've all been really loving and very driven to make this all work. I think people have worked really hard and have been dedicated to the choir. Even when it wasn't at its best and we were having a hard time, people didn't give up."