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A 'Flashpoint' of Inspiration : Gay Men's Chorus Celebrates Epiphany in Irvine Concert

July 15, 1994|BENJAMIN EPSTEIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Summer of '69. Woodstock was a celebration of mud, free love and inner space. The Apollo lunar landing was a celebration of moon rocks, free flight and outer space.

But before either of those watershed events, somewhere between inner and outer space, the summer had opened at New York City's Stonewall Inn. Not with mud, but with mudslinging and epithets. Not over free love, but over basic freedoms and dignity.

It started in the wee hours of June 28 as a routine police raid of Stonewall, a gay bar. It became, as a result of the riots that followed, a metaphor for the modern gay-liberation movement. And it ultimately proved a giant step for gay men and lesbians.

Twenty-five years of gay activism since Stonewall are commemorated in composer Roger Bourland's new choral work, "Flashpoint/Stonewall." It will be sung Saturday by the combined Gay Men's Choruses of Los Angeles and San Diego at the Irvine Barclay Theatre.

"In 1969, I was 15 years old, and I was just getting my first taste of the love-and-peace generation," Bourland recalled by phone recently from his West Hollywood residence. "I didn't know Stonewall was going on. But in retrospect, (it stands for) a refusal to go back into the closet. Every person, though we may not have lived through the historical Stonewall, we all have our own personal Stonewall to go through. Where we say, 'No, you cannot oppress me any longer.' "

"Flashpoint/Stonewall," with text by John Hall, was commissioned by a consortium of four choruses: The Seattle Men's Chorus and the Gay Men's Choruses of Los Angeles, New York City and Washington, D.C. Its first six performances, including two at Carnegie Hall, sold out; two more performances were given in Los Angeles last week. (Review, F16.)

Bourland, who also composed "Hidden Legacies," which addresses AIDS and was recorded by the Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles, commented on the title of his new work.

" 'Flashpoint' is the temperature that something bursts into flames," said Bourland, a professor of music at UCLA who received his Ph.D. in composition from Harvard. "That's really a beautiful image for many things. The night of Stonewall was also the night Judy Garland (a great favorite in the gay community) died, and that also made the temperature go up.

"The decision to 'come out' is usually brought about by an event that erupts in a flash point--a flash point of anger or a flash point of epiphany," he said. "Now this sounds gay-specific, but it can transcend that. If you're 400 pounds, for instance, but you love yourself, you can say, 'Damn it, this is the way I am.'

"Realizing that you are OK, that you are good the way you are, that is an epiphany," he continued. "Seeing an older gay person do something that is truly inspired can be an epiphany. I came out a long time ago, but getting involved with the gay choruses and 'Hidden Legacies,' seeing gay pride and power, was an incredible epiphany for me."

Bourland counts among his awards the Koussevitsky Prize in Composition at Tanglewood, the John Knowles Paine Fellowship at Harvard and two National Endowment for the Arts grants.

He described his compositional style in "Flashpoint/Stonewall" as "post-modern, freely drawing from a variety of influences" and "very accessible. . . . There's even a country waltz in it," he said, his 18 parakeets chirping in the background.

The work, scored for chorus, soloists, synthesizers, bass and drums, is also staged to a degree.

"It's a dialogue between the spirit of Stonewall and the chorus of today," Bourland explained, "and dramatic things happen at the beginning." The performance includes an appearance by the Imperial Court of Los Angeles--a name adopted by a group of drag queens. (Many major U.S. cities have Imperial Courts; the Imperial Court of New York appeared at the Carnegie Hall concerts.)

At the end, Bourland's composition apparently erupts in its own flash point:

When oppression is first on the menu

Then aggression becomes the only venue . . .

Aggression becomes the only

Flashpoint! Crashpoint!

Smashpoint! Bashpoint!

Clashpoint! Trashjoint! You get the picture.

"The closing words say we will be aggressive in fighting oppression," Bourland said. "That can (mean) writing congressmen, gay-pride marches, voting for candidates who are gay positive, but it does not mean bombing the White House. There are zillions of ways to express aggression . . . but (violence) is not what we had in mind.

"I didn't think it would bother so many people, but some people were very uncomfortable with the word aggression," he said.

"(The Seattle Men's Chorus) didn't like it, and they put it in past tense, referring only to the historical Stonewall. They felt it was too in-your-face. Some people in New York also thought it was too radical.

"It is," he added. "Don't plan on putting us back in the closet because we're not going."

* The Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles, joined by the Gay Men's Chorus of San Diego, performs Roger Bourland's "Flashpoint/Stonewall" and other works Saturday at the Irvine Barclay Theatre, 4242 Campus Drive, Irvine. 8 p.m. $22-$25. (714) 854-4646 or (714) 740-2000.

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