When I was growing up, I was always told all the things I couldn’t do, what I wouldn’t be and who I’d never become. I remember my father’s last words: “You will fail.” The mere thought of being gay was sinful, punishable by disownment. My life was planned out, and I was to become a soldier in the Army. A fortunate twist of events in my medical condition prevented me from being in Iraq or Afghanistan right now. I defied those words my father told me so long ago and put myself through college, became a successful marketing/IT professional and began coming out as gay.
One thing that still evaded me was my love of music, especially singing. It wasn’t practical. It wasn’t encouraged, and I literally wasn’t allowed to pursue any kind of music lessons in school. After all, you don’t need it to fight on a battlefield or to get through college, right? Still, all these years I felt something was missing, some purpose for me. I’d sing along to the radio in my car, watch “American Idol” and daydream about being able to just sing for an audience every day. But it just wasn’t feasible, merely dreams. I’m in my 30s, I have responsibilities, bills and nobody but me to look after it all. I’m too old for all that.
After playing a karaoke video game at home with friends, a couple who knew of the Cincinnati Men’s Chorus persuaded me to look into it. It took a while, as I thought it would be silly to try as I had no training in music and my life was busy with work. One day I looked up their web site, sent an email and Ransom, the membership director, invited me to a concert coming up. I attended the concert, a tribute to Nashville, and was amazed at the group’s talent. I knew it was something special, and I wanted to be a part of it. Meeting Ransom afterward, I told him I wanted to volunteer, maybe help the BRAVO marketing team the next season. I was encouraged to give an audition a try, but I knew it wasn’t realistic that I would be accepted as a singer.
The summer went by and the new season drew near. Due to more encouragement from my friends, I decided to try auditioning to sing with the Chorus. The worst they would say is no, and I could still volunteer and support the team. I sang along to songs in the car. I just kept singing along with the stereo, but the day before the auditions, I still felt clueless and decided not to try out. Then, and I still don’t know why, at work the day of the first auditions I decided to go to the tryouts.
I was a nervous wreck leading up to the rehearsal. I felt stupid and out-of-place among the others auditioning. I could barely read music, and here others had been in other choral groups, bands and/or performed instruments. I didn’t want them to hear me audition; I felt ashamed.
When I went into the audition session, I remember meeting Patrick, the director, and he wasn’t intimidating as I thought he’d be. I instantly knew he had great experience and expertise, and I was honored to meet him. He started to play scales, I breathed deeply, opened my mouth and sang along. I hit every note he played. He coached me on the lower notes, some I didn’t know I could reach. Patrick told me I had a pretty voice, and that I could learn a lot within the Chorus. With that, he accepted me as a new member, a baritone. Words couldn’t describe how I felt at that moment.
I didn’t have too long to think about it all as we immediately went into our first rehearsal with the Chorus after the auditions. When I walked into the church sanctuary and saw over 30 men ready to sing, I felt intimidated, but thrilled to take my place among them. Rehearsals were difficult at first, with close to a couple dozen songs to learn. (I can read music, but very slowly.) I found the other Chorus members to be warm and welcoming, right from day one. It was like a network of support, that when I doubted myself they were there to keep me up. I felt an immediate connection.
Through months of rehearsals, and hours practicing at home, I became more comfortable with the music. The lyrics, music and choreography started to come to me more easily, and I was surprised at how much I remembered by heart at later rehearsals. Wednesdays became my favorite day of the week, and though I was exhausted from working 50-60 hour weeks rehearsals became a second wind. When we started our final rehearsals at the performance venue, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, it hit me that this was the real deal. Audio engineers were adjusting microphones and monitor speakers. There was a true stage lit up with lights, and empty seats awaiting an audience. It all started to become real.
The night of our first performance arrived. I remember waiting in the wing, stage left, lined up with the rest of the guys awaiting our entrance. I thanked my buddies who helped me up to that point with hugs all around. Then we walked out on the stage. I saw the sea of people and the bright lights over us, and I felt no nervousness, no fear. We began to sing, “Personent Hodie” and I felt sheer joy and excitement flood over me. At that moment, I knew this is what I was meant to do. All the doubts my father cast growing up were gone, and in my heart of hearts I felt alive. As the performance went on I felt a rush as the audience smiled, laughed and eventually applauded. I was an entertainer, and I loved it.
When I first listened to the recording of the concert, I cried. It felt unreal, but it was truly us. I almost thought audience members were paying us lip service afterward when they approached and told us how amazing our performance was. They weren’t; we were good. Really, really good. I’m so proud, honored and grateful to have been a part of it. I’m excited to continue on to the next concert in the season, maybe even working up the courage to try for a solo.
The Cincinnati Men’s Chorus afforded me an opportunity to find my passion in life and pursue it. I may never be a professional singer, and my life will continue on as before, but each time I walk into a rehearsal and onto that stage my dream is coming true. The people I’ve met and the experiences have been amazing, beyond measure. I still dream a bit, just with a more conviction. Maybe one day, I’ll still front a band or light up a stage on Broadway. But for now, this is my new reality, and for that to the Chorus, I say thank you.
Will Taylor is in his second season singing as a baritone with the Cincinnati Men’s Chorus.