Bridging Voices (The Portland GSA Youth Chorus) is a youth chorus for gay, straight and questioning youth, ages 13-21, and strives to be a safe, accessible place for youth to experience empowerment and unity through music. It is Portland’s first Queer/Straight Alliance Youth Chorus and is one of the largest choruses of its kind, in the nation.
While it is known as a chorus, it is actually more than that. For queer youth who struggle with identity, family acceptance, bullying at school and other challenges facing sexual minorities, Bridging Voices is hope. For these young adults, the chorus provides a community they more closely identify with and a family of like-minded allies who accept and respect them. As a result, they discover they can finally be who they are meant to be — without excuses or explanations. One of the core principles of the chorus’ mission is to build bridges, not walls and to break down the foundations of homophobia and transphobia through visibility and diversity.
“I have seen some kids come in through the door with dark, stormy clouds over their heads and in a matter of months, one day a week, transform into more confident young adults who are comfortable sharing what’s on their minds and for once, being themselves.” – Bridging Voices parent
With arts vanishing in many schools, the chorus is also a platform for performers to express themselves not only through music, but poetry, performance art and even dance, and in the process, build self-esteem and grow more confident with each performance.
It is a NON-AUDITION chorus—meaning everyone can participate. Rehearsals are held most Sundays at Waverly Heights UCC (3300 SE Woodward Street). Even though it is not associated with a religious organization, Waverly, has generously sponsored all of the rehearsals and most of the performances. Youth performers travel from all parts of the greater Portland metro area, some coming together from as far away as Banks, Vancouver, Gresham, Hillsboro, Milwaukie and Canby. We invite all youth, ages 13-21, to bring a friend and drop-in on a rehearsal. Check out the “Join Us” section for more details.
“I was treated like family. Never in my life have I felt more comfortable with myself. For the first time the words I sang weren’t just words but the fuel to my fight for equality and the human right to love whomever I choose. This concert didn’t just bring me closer to myself or my cause, but also to my family. Following the concert, my crying mother told me how proud she was of me.” -Bridging Voices singer
In 2013, a group of concert goers were inspired by a performance featuring Diverse Harmony, Seattle’s QSA Youth Chorus and one of the first LGBTQ+ allied youth choruses in the country. Together, with a team of youth advocates, founding members Adam Schecter, Colin Frey and Becky Bard formed a similar chorus and called it, Portland GSA Youth Chorus. It officially launched at Waverly Heights’ Pride Service in June, 2013. Since then, Waverly Heights United Church of Christ has generously served as our sponsor by continuously providing rehearsal, concert and meeting spaces, administrative help, volunteer assistance and leadership and we treasure their invaluable support.
With Colin Frey leading the choir as volunteer Artistic Director, the very first performance was held six months later, as an outreach performance for the 15th anniversary celebration of SMYRC (Sexual Minority Youth Resource Center). We have had many outreach performances, an activity that has become an important component of our mission and we have been honored to perform for, among others, the Ronald McDonald House, the Dougy Center, PFLAG Portland, the General Conference of the United Methodist Church, and the 50th Anniversary Gala Jubilee of the International Court System, where the youth met Judy and Dennis Shepard and learned about the work of the Matthew Shepard Foundation.
Before Season 3, Frey announced he had been accepted into a highly competitive graduate program for conducting and would be stepping down from his role. Local musician and teacher (and coincidentally, one of our first year volunteers), Erik Gullickson, seamlessly stepped in as the new AD. The chorus simultaneously, underwent a process of rebranding and kicked off the season with the new name, Bridging Voices: Portland’s QSA Youth Chorus.
With these transitions came renewed energy, as we committed to an ambitious outreach and performance schedule, producing two full concerts, Connections and Road Show. We traveled to Eugene for a joint concert with Sorumundi, and even brought twenty-six singers to Denver, Colorado to participate in the GALA Festival for an amazing week with new friends, new experiences, and some fantastic music-making!
This is also when we began an amazing collaborative relationship with Portland based singer-songwriter Matt Alber when we joined him on stage with The NYCGay Men’s Chorus, singing his song, “Monarch” for the opening concert at GALA, to an audience of thousands. We are excited to also be featured in the documentary-series that he is co-producing with award-winning filmmaker and musician, Jon Garcia called, Room to Grow, set to be released later in 2017.
In Season 4, we produced our first holiday concert, Seasons of Giving. Programmed to recognize the need for peace and healing, each song connected to a non-profit focused on bettering the lives of youth and others in our community, with one special song highlighted in honor of chorus member, Fallon Smart. Our May concert found us taking our Broadway-themed show, LOUD + PROUD, uptown. This was the first time we needed to move to a space with greater seating capacity and First Unitarian Portland offered an exciting venue with incredible acoustics.
Now entering Season 5, we are thrilled to celebrate this milestone with new singers, new concerts, and new collaborations! But we also face a new transition, as co-founder and Executive Director Adam Schecter has bowed out of the chorus. He worked tirelessly and with great passion to grow and develop the chorus, and we are grateful for his service and deep belief in the mission of the chorus. We remember how he often expressed that as a young man, his life would have been more positively impacted if there had been a Bridging Voices in his community.
As we move forward, Bridging Voices continues to assemble a growing group of vibrant youth. This would not have been possible without tremendous support from PFLAG, Waverly Heights and the Central Pacific Conference of the UCC (United Church of Christ) as well as, undaunted encouragement, mentorship, and advice from Diverse Harmony and GALA (the International Association of Gay and Lesbian Choruses).
Whether you are a prospective singer, potential volunteer or simply want to support youth in their journey to acceptance and truth, we welcome you! We hope you will join your voice with ours, because at Bridging Voices the future is stepping up to take the mic and you’re not going to want to miss what happens next.