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Beer Choir, an elevated drinking group that claims “talent not required,” is actually very talented.
At first, it seemed a bit silly, a packed bar singing just the word “beer” over and over to accompany Strauss’ “Also Sprach Zarathustra,” (commonly known as the theme music to Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey). But by the time the group settled into a beautifully layered “Shenandoah” last month at South Park Brewing Co., it’s clear that San Diego Beer Choir’s tagline, “Talent not required,” is a little misleading. This group can sing.
“Trivia was too much work,” said Carol Manifold, the Choral Consortium of San Diego’s founder, who sought a way for consortium members to engage with each other outside of their existing choirs, and to reach out into the community. The group stumbled upon a nationwide project: Beer Choir.
The Choral Consortium was formed about 10 years ago to avoid overlapping concert dates and share resources like risers and scoop on event spaces. Now a nonprofit, the consortium represents approximately 60 local choirs and choral groups. (Yes, 60.)
Beer Choir was founded five years ago by St. Louis-area composer and conductor Michael Engelhardt and now spans dozens of individual chapters across the country. The concept seemed a great fit for San Diego, with its sprawling choral scene and craft beer culture, so Manifold, along with fellow La Jolla Symphony & Chorus member Sam Rohrbach, have been hosting events since October.
The project aims to bridge the gap between public audience and performing choirs, and to give the usual consumers of music a chance to perform alongside choral members. “I hope that people become increasingly involved in having music in their lives on a regular basis,” said Manifold.
Even if someone has never read a line of sheet music before, it’s likely there’ll be a familiar song in the Beer Choir songbook. It’s a selection of ultra-famous classical hits, drinking songs and traditional folk tunes, with a healthy mix of beer-focused parody adaptations (like if Weird Al had a symphonic album).
That said, Beer Choir seemed just as fulfilling to the trained choir nerds doing multi-part harmonies. And it’s also a place where erstwhile singers can reignite what they once loved about school or church choirs, or even a wild night at karaoke.
“There’s a definite quality to a piece of music when there are multiple musicians,” Rohrbach said of the universal draw of singing in groups. “Singing is just as much about listening than it is about singing, and there’s a feedback loop you can’t get by yourself.” And, Manifold added, “Your heartbeats start to synchronize, and your breathing definitely does.”
San Diego Beer Choir meets Wednesday evening at AleSmith.
The San Diego History Center celebrated 250 years of “contemporary San Diego,” with its annual gala, “The Makers of San Diego History.” It’s a major fundraiser for the Balboa Park institution, but this year’s event specifically — and officially — recognized the San Diego LGBTQ+ community.
Two specific honorees were Toni Atkins, California Senate president pro tempore, and former state Sen. Christine Kehoe. Both were recognized for their work in making history in politics.
I asked both honorees about the award and their political history as LGBTQ activists in San Diego.
“The San Diego History Center Makers Award is a wonderful recognition of my public service,” said Kehoe, who, when elected to San Diego City Council in 1993, became the county’s first openly LGBTQ elected official. “I’m very honored to be sharing the Makers Award with my good friend Sen. Toni Atkins, who is also an LGBTQ trailblazer.”
Atkins also spoke highly of her colleague.
“It’s an incredible honor, particularly to be acknowledged alongside my political mentor, Christine Kehoe, who paved the way for so many to follow,” said Atkins. Atkins is the state Senate’s first woman leader, described by Kehoe as “an historic accomplishment.”
This award highlights the historical landmarks — “struggles and triumphs” — each politician has experienced in this city and their own lives.
“I have been very lucky in my life in the LGBTQ community. I came out in my 20s; I had moved to San Diego and found a thriving and vibrant gay community here,” Kehoe said.
When Atkins came out in college, with the exception of a few lost friends, she said she experienced positivity and love from her community and family. The roots of Atkins’ struggle lie in expectations. “I think I’ve had to overcome assumptions about who people think I am, or will be, because I’m LGBTQ, and I do think people in my community have had to work doubly hard to be successful,” said Atkins.
Kehoe defines the AIDS crisis in the 1980s as being fundamental to her — and the community’s — rise to activism, though it was devastating.
“That activism and political power we uncovered helped focus the community on the importance of demanding ‘a seat at the table’ where political and policy decisions are made,” Kehoe said. “And it launched many openly LGBTQ candidates for political office, myself included. The right to serve in the military, to marry, to prohibit anti-gay bias in housing, jobs and health care — all of that started with the fight against AIDS.”
Both women have a degree of caution about their hope for the future of San Diego’s next 250 years.
“We achieved a level of equality and acceptance, but it’s not universal in our county, our state or the world. We still have work to do. We have had success on issues and been granted rights only to see them rescinded — such as the transgender community being allowed to serve in our military,” Atkins said.
“Never vote against your own civil rights,” Kehoe said. “If your candidate is squishy on any aspect of full LGBTQ equality, then find another candidate. All other issues rest on our full equal rights.”
“We have persevered through so much — it is our unity and coming together at critical times that has sustained us and given us successes and advancements. Our love and tolerance must remain at our core,” Atkins said. “We must stay vigilant.”
The “LGBTQ+ San Diego: Stories of Struggles and Triumphs” exhibition runs through January at the San Diego History Center.