One Voice Chorus director Gerald Gurss was driving home one night listening to the NPR StoryCorps podcast, and discovered a new segment: “Out Loud,” which captures the stories of the LGBTQ community. Gurss was moved by storyteller Glenda Elliot, a woman in her 70s, reflecting on the love she shared with a woman named Lauree in the 1940s. At this point in history, the cultural ideal of “The American Family” did not include gay couples, and Glenda and Lauree did not know how to “understand their love.” As Glenda noted, “There were certainly no role models of what it means to love someone of the same sex.” They each got married and went their separate ways, though remaining in touch and aware of their bond. Lauree expressed a strong desire to have children, and the two vowed that if they were ever both single, they would reunite. Lauree ended up getting cancer and passing away.
The story is a remembrance of the love between Glenda and Lauree — a “certain kind of love that never dies” — one which remains with her and all of those who have been touched by the story.
Q: What does the concert’s theme “Rite of Passage” mean to you? What “Rite of Passage” does the show explore? What do you hope the audience will come away with?
Gerald Gurss (GG): Rite of Passage explores both the universal “rites of passage” we experience in life and the LGBTQ-specific rites. Some of the topics explored are: first love, lost love, coming out, losing a loved one, HIV.
Q: How does “Glenda & Laurie” tie in to the theme?
GG: Glenda tells her story of her first love, Lauree. Lauree was the love of her life. They both grew up in an era when one couldn’t simply “come out.” Glenda lost Lauree to cancer before she could ever fully experience their potential as partners.
Q: How did Glenda’s story move you? How did it resonate with you?
GG: I think we’ve all had that moment when we think about our “first love,” and many of us had the chance to explore that in a relationship capacity (for better or worse). Not many of us can relate to how it must feel to have fallen in love and lost it before its fruition. When I think of the people I love most in my life, there’s a certain pain that comes with the idea of not having them with me ever again.
Q: What came first: the lyrics or the melody? How did you set about writing the piece? Do you have a process for music writing in general?
GG: Well, obviously, the lyrics came first. They are an (almost) exact extraction from the transcription of her story on StoryCorps. For about 3 months, I taped the transcription to my wall above my piano. When I would sit at the keys, I would read the text for inspiration for either melodic or harmonic ideas. At one point, the whole piece almost came to me, but when I set the text to the melodic ideas, it wasn’t a match. I’m a firm believer that the music enhances the text, and my initial attempt simply did not achieve any propulsion to the story. When I start out writing music that sets a text, I first write out the text on staff paper and write a rhythm that I believe matches the natural flow of the speech. That, then, evolves into a meter for the piece (which can change throughout the piece based on the need for the text). From that rhythmic scheme, I then develop melodic content with the goals of reaching certain harmonic apexes and catharses.
Q: What is your favorite thing about this piece?
GG: My favorite thing about the piece is the ending. The mezzo solo (the voice of Glenda) soars to a high note sustained over a surprising harmony. This leads into the final micro-chorus. The final chorus ends so joyfully that one feels the gratitude Glenda expresses in her narrative.
Q: Did you face any challenges while writing this piece?
GG: Yes! I wanted to be true to the words Glenda spoke, yet some of the text didn’t lend itself very well to melodic imposition. This created the need for some narrative by the soloist. Additionally, I wanted the opening motive in the key of G Major. It simply spoke to me. The rest of the piece is in E♭ major. I spent a day trying to figure out the harmonic transition from G Major to E♭ Major — one that was cohesive, or musically unifying.
Q: Any other comments?
GG: Glenda will be at the premiere of the piece, and that’s pretty exciting! I hope she feels we enhanced her powerful story with our music.