Pride Month in Schenectady is set to start off strong on Thursday.
The Capital Pride Singers, an all-voices chorus, will celebrate the work of LGBTQ+ singer-songwriters and composers with a performance at Eastern Parkway United Methodist Church.
That includes songs from Janelle Monáe, Melissa Etheridge and a host of others.
“We see all these laws trying to suppress gay culture and gay history, [but] without some of these artists and these influencers you wouldn’t have what you love today as pop culture and entertainment, and or arts,” said Georgie Stevens, president of the chorus.
Hundreds of anti-LGBTQ bills have been introduced in state legislatures across the country over the past few years, some curtailing health care or censoring education.
Locally, the past year has been one of growth and renewal for the Capital Pride Singers, an organization that had previously been on the brink of dissolving.
The chorus was founded in 1995 as a men’s and women’s group aimed at fostering fellowship in the LGBTQ+ community. In 2022, with a decline in participation on the board of directors and within the chorus itself, leadership made a plan to dissolve the chorus.
However, a group of people, including Stevens, came together to fill the board and keep the chorus going. Now the group, a nonprofit, has roughly 35 members who regularly attend weekly rehearsals and perform locally several times a year.
“I think what the group offers is a place of community, a safe space to be able to express your individuality, to express your creativity and to be a part of something bigger,” Stevens said. “Not only do you get to create amazing sound and music with other folks that are like-minded but you get to make an impact and a difference in the community and be seen.
“We’re highlighting the LGBTQ music makers, singer-songwriters, composers this cycle — and now you are one of them, you are that representation that is still so needed, even here in the Capital District,” Stevens added.
The chorus is fairly diverse in terms of age and sexual orientation, including people in LGBTQ+ communities and their allies. It’s one of few LGBTQ-affirming, all-voices choruses.
“When most people think of an LGBTQ or a gay chorus they think of gay men’s choruses, which definitely serve a role and purpose in the community. But there’s not many all-voices choruses like ourselves,” Stevens said.
They also welcome singers with a variety of experience levels, regardless of whether they can read music or have sung in a chorus before. The group’s weekly rehearsals, held at First Congregational Church in Albany, are recorded and sent out to members to help them pick up on the pitch and rhythms.
“You might not know what an eighth note looks on the page but you can feel what it is as you’re singing along with other people. There’s plenty of people in our chorus that don’t know how to read music,” Stevens said. “It’s more creating that harmony with people, showing a sense of community.”
There’s also more growth in store for the group, which is planning to add new board positions and hoping to expand its reach.
“I think that the really amazing part about the chorus is that it truly feels like family. I have many great friends in the chorus that I wouldn’t have otherwise,” Stevens said.
Over the years the group has performed throughout the Capital Region, including in Schenectady and at the Chapel + Cultural Center in Troy. However, Thursday’s show will mark the first time the chorus has performed at Eastern Parkway United Methodist Church.
The performance is co-hosted by St. John Parish-CACINA, which holds services at the Schenectady church. The parish was founded seven years ago by Bishop Tony Green with the aim of creating a place for people, including those in the LGBTQ+ community, who haven’t felt welcome in other churches.
Outside the church, the parish flies rainbow flags to show support for the LGBTQ+ community and other flags to show support for Black and brown communities. The flags are what initially caught Stevens’ eye as he was driving to a show at Proctors last year.
“I was just so intrigued that this church always had the progress flag outside and . . . on their marquee, not just during June, but all year round,” Stevens said.
When a member of the church, Rev. Mother Grace Ferris, who leads a ministry centered on transgender people, reached out to Stevens about bringing the Capital Pride Singers to the church, it seemed like kismet.
“It’s really exciting to be coming back to Schenectady, and to come to a place in Schenectady that is so forward-thinking and aligned in creating a safe space for the LGBTQ community,” Stevens said.
The latter sentiment seems to be more and more pressing, and it’s part of the reason the parish is excited to host the performance.
“Music and singing always help to lift our spirits, and we in the LGBTQ+ community certainly need our spirits lifted in these days of hostility toward our community,” Green said.
The performance starts at 7 p.m. and is free to attend. The church is located at 943 Palmer Ave., Schenectady. For those interested in learning more or joining the Capital Pride Singers, visit the group on Facebook or email [email protected].