In April, 1989 The Names Project brought the AIDS quilt to Austin, commemorating the people impacted by HIV/AIDS. A highlight of the events was a stirring musical performance by a men’s chorus; but the chorus was imported from Dallas! This memorable event galvanized seven professional and avocational gay musicians to ask “Why not Austin.” The first rehearsal of the Capital City Men’s Chorus was held in September. Present on that first night were 16 members with musical direction from volunteer artistic director, David Weigle. The chorus’s diversity was evident from the first moments with both professional singers and beginners, with many backgrounds and walks of life represented.
In the early years, indeed from Year One, major concerts were only a part of what the CCMC did. From its founding the chorus intended to make an impact both in the Austin arts community, the LGBT community, and the community at large. In their very first season they performed for AIDS Services of Austin and they went into the community to participate in a Living Christmas Tree for the Arboretum. A perhaps surprising highlight of the first season was an invitation to sing for the 1990 Travis County Republican Convention.
The chorus grew steadily over the first three years, under Mr. Weigle’s direction and then under Malcolm Nelson for three more. The chorus continued to offer three major concerts each year, usually in local churches. In just the chorus’s third year they traveled to Denver to represent Austin at the Gay and Lesbian Association of Choruses (GALA) international choral festival. Back home, the chorus packed its schedule with benefit performances for AIDS Services of Austin, Project Transitions, Waterloo Counseling Center, Austin Artists Respond to AIDS and many private memorial services.
Jeffrey Jones-Ragona, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Texas became the CCMC’s artistic director during the fall of 1995 “for one year” in order to fulfill an educational requirement to conduct a choral group. Nineteen seasons later, Dr. Jones-Ragona is still wielding his baton as the Chorus’s artistic director.
With 29 years of history, it is hard to pick just a few notable moments. The Chorus has had so many wonderful opportunities and successes. The CCMC has received recognition and awards from various organizations including the Metropolitan Community Church, the Austin Cabaret, and the Human Rights Campaign.
The chorus has performed with guest artists such as Grammy nominated mezzo-soprano Rose Taylor, Austin’s cabaret legend Karen Kuykendall, Austin baritone Brett Barnes, members of the Austin Lyric Opera, the Austin Civic Orchestra and others. The chorus has premiered original works that have become part of the men’s chorus repertoire. The chorus has performed at Carnegie Hall under the direction of famed composer John Rutter and has performed in concert halls in Houston, Fort Worth, Denver, Montreal, and Austin’s own Paramount Theater and Long Center among other venues. The Chorus has recorded and released three CDs, performed several times on television and have provided music for such diverse events as the inauguration of Governor Ann Richards, comedienne Margaret Cho’s “Cho Dependent” show, Round Rock Express baseball games, and the Geek Bowl Trivia contest.