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Bright note to combat February blahs


December 16, 2015
By Dorothy Cotton

1257 words – MR

Bright note to combat February blahs

I hate February. It is my least favourite month. By now, I have usually had quite enough of cold weather, short days, cold weather, snow … did I mention cold weather? People get depressed in the winter. It has something to do with the lack of sunlight. It occurred to me that my column also is often about gloomy subjects – mental health perils, lack of faith in police, crime, violence, victimization. Not fun stuff.

Phooey to that, I say. I think I will talk about something cheery. Music. You might not think this has much to do with policing, but just wait…

I recently was in Vancouver and heard a concert by the Vancouver Men’s Chorus. This is a group of about 100 men of every conceivable age and ethnicity. Just about all of them are gay; the chorus advertises itself as being for “gay men and their friends.” Musically, they are quite good – which is a little surprising for a choir that is really pretty well open to anyone who wants to join. You do not appear to have to be a virtuoso. The concert was terrific – some serious numbers, others very funny and all very well done. I was impressed.

There were a whole lot of other things that impressed me at least as much as the music.

As many of you know, I am a member of the no-longer-a-spring-chicken group. As I looked at this choir, I noted that there were a number of members who were at least as old as me. If they are THAT old, then I know that as gay men, they have not always had an easy road. They still may have a tough time in some quarters, but what a long way we have come in this regard!

When this choir began 35 years ago, it must have been a sort of safe haven for these guys. It must also have taken a huge amount of courage for the initial members to be publicly identified – in fact, to actively advertise themselves as gay.

I also noted a variety of men from ethnic groups not noted for their tolerance of homosexuality. Yet there they are, names in the program, faces smiling, right out there in the open. Again, one is struck by change.

There were some very good soloists. In fact, some of them sang solos. Other people were not soloists – but somehow, when you put them all together, it sounded great – even if each person individually might not have been a great singer.

The concert I went to was one of a series being held in a church – the kind of church that years ago would have condemned people for being gay. Some of the choir sponsors are mainstream organizations like major banks. You would not have seen that a few years back.

I have played in a number of musical groups that use churches as their venue, as churches often have pretty good acoustics. One of the things pointed out to me was that although the choir’s concerts take place over the period of a couple of weeks (which means that the concerts overlap with the church’s usual Sunday services), this church has let the choir leave its stage set up for the duration.

They don’t have to dismantle and put everything away after each concert. This means that presumably the church people are having services in and around the risers with their usual church-type props (altars and stuff) redecorated and moved. As I said, I have played in many churches but never one where they let you leave your stuff or move their stuff – especially over a Sunday. These church folks clearly have a bit of a different way of looking at things.

The other notable thing about this choir is that it seems to sell out most of its concerts and does not seem to be in financial trouble. This is really quite unique among arts and musical groups, most of which are chronically on the edge of financial disaster (many have folded altogether in recent years).

What does this have to do with policing?

For starters, it reminds us that we have stopped doing some of the things we used to do – like criminalize and arrest certain kinds of people. Police were not always the best friends of the gay community, for example, so this change is good. If you sometimes feel like society is not moving forward, you might go to one of these concerts. It really made me feel like SOME things in the world have gotten better.

It also reminded me of what a multicultural country we are – not that we really need any reminders of that. Choirs like this used to be pretty well for the WASPy types among us. That was clearly not the case with the VMC.

It also reminded me that often, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. While not everyone in the choir has a spectacular voice, as long as everyone did their part, the overall sound was incredible. Police work is like that sometimes. Not everyone is a star – and there is actually limited room for stars, but as long as everyone does their part…

As for the church – who said there has to be an altar right in the middle, looking the same way it looks every Sunday? A little flexibility goes a long way.

Mostly, this concert reminded me that things change, things have to change and that I (and everyone else) needs to beware that “because we have always done it this way” is not a reason to do it that way forever. If this choir put on the same kind of concert everyone else does, they would no doubt be suffering financially the way other arts groups are. Somehow they were able to put a twist on things that has made them enormously popular.

Change is so hard for most people. We go to workshops and lectures on change; we have committees and task forces to oversee change. The difficulty may be partly because along with change comes the inevitable admission that we got something wrong. That will always be the case.

I sometimes wonder how things will change in the next few decades. I will eat my hat if there are not things we are currently doing that seem like the right thing to do now – but which will seem, in a few years, clearly wrong headed. In my field, clinical psychology, I can look back at some practices which were commonplace a decade or two ago and seemed like a good idea but we have since learned they don’t work or may even be harmful.

I am quite certain there are practices in policing that are similarly well intended – but not right. The trick is identifying them. Once we do, the challenge is for someone to have the fortitude to initiate the change. One can only imagine what the response was 35 years ago when a small group of gay men said “Let’s start a choir.”

I started out by saying this was going to be a cheerful column. The good news is that change happens (no matter how much we resist), and people do persevere and even thrive in difficult circumstances. We are better as a society than we used to be. We are not perfect yet, but we are better. This makes me cheerful.

(Next time you need cheering up, go to a concert – http://www.vancouvermenschorus.ca)


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