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Member of chorus sings its praises

Now that Chris Reybrouck is finally out of school and has time to be a full-fledged member of the Buffalo Gay Men's Chorus -- a group he longed to join since hearing it sing during diversity week at college -- he has been delighted by how much singing has become part of his life.

"Even if I was gay or not gay, the Buffalo Gay Men's Chorus was the one I wanted to join," said Reybrouck, 26, who lives in Wheatfield. "I didn't just join the chorus because I was gay. I thought they had a strong reputation for choral excellence."

He also likes the mission of the group. He elaborated by reading some of it: "We seek through song not only to entertain but to enlighten. We sing to create harmony as we celebrate pride in the community and in ourselves."

While most members are gay, as Reybrouck is, some are straight. Ages range from the 20s to the 80s. Some can read music. Those who can't, listen to recordings and work to match pitch. There are teachers, doctors, lawyers, people who work in retail.

Yet, he said, they all are drawn to the chorus, in part to contribute to the community through song. (Auditions will be held at 6 p.m. Tuesday in St. John's-Grace Episcopal Church, 51 Colonial Circle. For more information, check buffalogaymenschorus.com).

He acknowledges that in the decadelong existence of the chorus -- founded Sept. 11, 2001 -- there has been a huge cultural shift. In the early days, older members remember how people used to picket their concerts. Protests have disappeared, and concert attendence has been swelling by hundreds. With fundraising and ticket sales, the chorus manages to cover its $100,000 annual budget.

For the Christmas season weekend series of three concerts earlier this month, Reybrouck was encouraged to see demand rise for advance ticket sales and at the door.

In Buffalo, 375 came to Westminster Presbyterian Church. At Unitarian Universalist Church, they sold out, and it was standing-room-only. The biggest crowd, 650, came to the restored Riviera Theatre with its sparkling chandeliers in North Tonawanda.

"The audiences are growing. The popularity of the Riviera keeps growing for our concert series," he said. "It was so great to see that night This year we're really considering coming back in June."

>You grew up east of Rochester in Palmyra. Your undergraduate work at Fredonia State College led you to Western New York?

When I started at Fredonia, I started as a music major. I decided I didn't like it because it was sucking the fun out of music.

>What does singing mean to you?

I love to sing. I get a lot of energy from it. I really, really enjoy it. Singing in the shower. Singing at home. Singing in the chorus. It helps you just be more enlightened and more reflective. So I love that about singing. I always get really invested in the meaning of the song.

>So the BGMC has a lot of inspiring themes in the songs in its repertoire?

Somebody to love and being who you want to be and how everything is possible. Those songs are so powerful. Being able to express meaning of words through song and facial expression and also the power of a group of choral singers. It gives me chills that we can create such a strong sound.

We are always just learning new music, and I love that.

>How much time do you spend?

We rehearse every Tuesday night from 7 to 9:45. We use 6 to 7 for special rehearsals. I'm in charge of the accounting and invoices and payroll. I spend another 10 hours a week maintaining the financials. For me, it's a pretty large time commitment.

>What do you do for a living?

I work for a company called Campus Labs. It works for over over 600 colleges and universities across the U.S. and Canada. We work with those schools to help them with their assessment initiatives: How satisfied students are with a certain programs or services.

>Singing with BGMC reflects your belief that a person's identity has many more dimensions than sexual orientation. How has your personal experience affected your life? You came out in college at Fredonia?

My second year in college, it was tough. I knew that I was gay. I did lose some friends. There were some people who just aren't accepting of the lifestyle. I had a roommate lined up for my sophomore year, and once he found out, he no longer wanted to room with me. So I lost a few friends.

Overall, people were very, very supportive. It was a place where diversity was celebrated. Diversity week, which happens in October, which is LGBT month. (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender.) I was an RA for three years, as well as an orientation leader. I was out to all of my residents. So that they could see, they could see some boy who was living as a gay man, but it didn't define their identity. I truly think strongly about that.

>That's interesting that BGMC was founded on Sept. 11, 2001, the day of the terrorist attacks?

That day was confusing for America. A group of guys decided to get together at the Unitarian church and just sing. After that night they decided to form a group, hold more auditions and get more men.

One of the songs that they sang was "How Can I Keep From Singing." It talks about all these challenges. My life flows on in endless song. Above earth's lamentations. Through storm and sea. How can I keep from singing?

It's the last song of our rehearsal. As well as the last song in every one of our concerts. We all drop our books. We all stand up. We all get together and kind of embrace. We put our hands around each other, behind each other's shoulders. We kind of sway back and forth, all four rows in unison.

During concerts that can get a little emotional when we sing that song to our audience. We sing a lot of songs about being ourselves and being proud of who we are. To enlighten. To show that gay men can come together and sing this rich sound.

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Know a Niagara County resident who'd make an interesting question-and-answer column? Write to: Bruce Andriatch, Q&A, The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, NY 14240, or email niagaranews@buffnews.com