Minnesota Now with Cathy Wurzer

World‘s largest LGBTQ+ choral event kicks off in Minneapolis

GALA choruses
Gala Choruses holds its seven thousand singer festival in Minneapolis starting July 10.
GALA Choruses

Twin Cities One Voice is the largest mixed-voice LGBTQ choir on the continent. Wednesday evening they will be joined by seven thousand singers from one hundred twenty-two LGBTQ+ choruses across North America in Minneapolis. The singers are here for the largest LGBTQ+ choral event in the world, with more than 200 concerts and workshops spanning five days.

Kimberly Waigwa joined MPR News guest host Nina Moini to explain why this massive gathering is happening. Waigwa is the Artistic Director of One Voice Mixed Chorus based in the Twin Cities and they are helping organize the festival along with the national organization, GALA, or Gay and Lesbian Association of Choral Singers.

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation.

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Audio transcript


High like the waves, we'll rise up

In spite of the ache, we'll rise up

NINA MOINI: Hmm, well, that was a sneak peek, some sounds from a performance from the Twin Cities One Voice, the largest mixed voice LGBTQ+ choir on the continent. And this evening, they will be joined by 7,000 singers from 122 LGBTQ+ choruses across North America in Minneapolis. And the singers are here for, again, the largest LGBTQ+ choral event in the world, with more than 200 concerts and workshops spanning five days. Now, that is a lot.

Here to explain why this massive gathering is happening is Kimberly Waigwa, who's with me. They are the artistic director of One Voice Mixed Chorus, based in the Twin Cities, and are helping organize the festival, along with the national organization GALA, or Gay And Lesbian Association of Choral Singers. Waigwa, welcome.

KIMBERLY WAIGWA: Hello. Thank you so much for having me.

NINA MOINI: Of course. Wow, this sounds really fun. 200 concerts in five days-- tell me a little bit about how that's even possible.

KIMBERLY WAIGWA: It's a lot of planning and logistics for sure. The artistic director of GALA, this organization, is Jane Ramseyer Miller, who's been kind of like a powerhouse in GALA for decades now.


KIMBERLY WAIGWA: And so her and the small staff of GALA and a whole bunch of contractors from here and all over the country have come together to get the logistics. What room do people go in? How do they get on stage? Who do they need? All of that has been happening over the last about eight years now.

NINA MOINI: Oh, I bet. And so tell me where these concerts will be located, and people can still attend.

KIMBERLY WAIGWA: Yeah, people can definitely still attend. If you actually go to galachoruses.org, there's single tickets that you can purchase, as long as-- and also a streaming pass, which I think is about 35 bucks. But these will be held at Orchestra Hall in the Convention Center, both the stage auditorium, as well as some of the ballrooms for the smaller ensembles, and also at Central Lutheran.

NINA MOINI: OK. So I understand that this festival happens every four years in different cities, sort of like the Olympics, right? Like the Olympics of choral.


NINA MOINI: And so it happened--

KIMBERLY WAIGWA: It's a gay choir Olympics.

NINA MOINI: Gay choir Olympics, exactly. So last time, it happened in Denver. Tell me about how Minneapolis nabbed the spot this year.

KIMBERLY WAIGWA: It actually wasn't this year. It was supposed to be 2020.


KIMBERLY WAIGWA: But for very obvious reasons--


KIMBERLY WAIGWA: --it was not. The last time it was in Minneapolis was 1986. And so, to my knowledge, it's finding a place that has the capacity to host, right? Close performing venues. And Minneapolis has been a home to the National ACA Conference and GALA in the past, so it kind of just made sense that it was coming here now, from Denver.

NINA MOINI: Yeah, and tell me what makes the Twin Cities a special place for choral singing, especially for LGBTQ+ singers.

KIMBERLY WAIGWA: Yeah, I think, well, one, I feel like you go anywhere in the Twin Cities, and you know that there's a choir between church choruses, professional choruses, community choruses. I think Minnesota does a great job. I would say it's arts and parks.

Minnesota is deeply invested in nature and the environment and also deeply invested in a way that not a lot of other states are in arts and performing arts, whether that is dance, stage, and theater or singing. I think the Twin Cities is just kind of built for that. It's in the blood of the people. And certainly, us transplants benefit from it as well. [CHUCKLES]

NINA MOINI: Yeah, so what will you be up to this week? What does your week look like leading up to this event?

KIMBERLY WAIGWA: Sure. So yesterday was tech rehearsals. [CHUCKLES] And so today, the festival actually starts. So we have a concert set to open everything up called Mni Sota Confluence, which is the Dakota name for Minnesota. And that will be kind of a tribute to the land, the water, and the people. And that will be a collaboration between One Voice Mixed Chorus, which I direct, Calliope Women's Chorus, and then also the Twin City Gay Men's Chorus. And so we've been working on this for about a year--


KIMBERLY WAIGWA: --to welcome singers in, to give them a taste of not only what we are doing here as a chorus, but to just be like, this is a place that respects the water and respects the land. And we'd love to welcome you into that.

NINA MOINI: So tell me about 7,000 singers. What are the levels of ages? What's the range that we'll be seeing and hearing?

KIMBERLY WAIGWA: The range is immense. So there is not only a couple of queer youth choruses coming from like Washington, Nashville, New York, and Portland, but there's even a festival chorus, a group of people from all over who've come together to sing called the sage singers. And so that'll be people-- kind of our queer elders who are coming together. So it really is from high school to-- so probably 90? [CHUCKLES]

NINA MOINI: Oh, that's wonderful.

KIMBERLY WAIGWA: I don't know that there's anyone really left out. Yeah.

NINA MOINI: So, we heard "Rise Up" in the beginning. We heard a little sneak peek. So is there going to be a point in the festival which the 7,000 singers come together, and will they be singing that song?

KIMBERLY WAIGWA: I don't know if they'll be singing that particular song, but it does lend itself very well to kind of the opening sing. It's called Rise Up Singing. And so that'll be happening at Peavey Plaza at 5:00 PM, and so all delegates are invited to come to that. We'll be singing "Everybody Rejoice" from "The Wiz."

And a local artist, Humbird, actually took the chorus of one of her pieces and gave us permission to use it. So we'll be doing a lot of singing in the oral tradition, hearing it and singing back. Yeah, just coming together to sing because it's been eight years because of the pandemic since the last festival. So that'll be the first opportunity, but certainly not the only.

NINA MOINI: Sure, and so tell me, just to close things out, what are you most excited for this week? Why is it so important to bring everyone together this way?

KIMBERLY WAIGWA: Well, one, I think it's important just because the GALA Festival as a choral movement has served as a means of expression for expression and community building and advocacy for LGBTQ rights. And so having a space that honors that is very important.

And how often do you get 7,000 other queer people to be in community with to celebrate while they're on stage and to just commune with them, right? We have email, we have Facebook, we have all of these apps, but how often do we get to be together? And then especially the power that music has to move not only our personal selves forward, but the world forward is immense. And so I think it's very important that we have this space.

And additionally, it's not only choirs from all across the country, but all across the world. There's a big blockbuster called Harmony of the Spheres, which is singing music of all different cultures, as well as we have some--

NINA MOINI: Wonderful.

KIMBERLY WAIGWA: Yeah, lots of different things happening.

NINA MOINI: It'll be exciting. Waigwa, thank you so much for joining us to tell us about this, and best of luck.

KIMBERLY WAIGWA: Yeah, thank you so much for having me. Hopefully, some of your listeners will hopefully check us out.

NINA MOINI: Absolutely. Well, that was Kimberly Waigwa, artistic director of Minnesota's One Voice Mixed Chorus. We'll have a link to the schedule of events of the festival on our website, mprnews.org. Thanks for joining us today on Minnesota Now. I'm Nina Moini. I'll be back in, filling in for Cathy Wurzer tomorrow. See you at noon tomorrow.

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