The international flash mob phenomenon SantaCon serves as inspiration for this year’s San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus winter extravaganza, “SantaConCert,” at Davies Symphony Hall on Thursday and Christmas Eve at the Castro Theatre.
The event launches the chorus’ 35th season, culminating next spring with a world premiere in collaboration with the cast of “Beach Blanket Babylon” to commemorate the 35th anniversary of the assassination of Mayor George
Moscone and Harvey Milk, The City’s first openly gay supervisor.
It was that tragedy that first thrust the hastily formed chorus onto the public stage, just four weeks after its first rehearsal, when members gathered on the steps of City Hall to pay musical tribute to Milk.
As the first choral group in the world to self-identify as gay, its use of the word speaks to its mission.
“As long as there is discrimination against gays and lesbians, we feel that it’s extremely important that we stand up proudly,” says artistic director and conductor Timothy Seelig. “So we are activists, but we also strive to be the best musicians that we can be.”
A native Texan, Seelig served as artistic director for Dallas’ Turtle Creek Chorale for 20 years. After retiring in 2011, he was invited to take over the reins of the SFGMC.
“This was a job that no one could pass up. It’s the grandfather of the movement in the most beautiful city on Earth,” he says.
The Christmas Eve concert is becoming its own Bay Area tradition, drawing largely straight audiences of friends, family and holiday revelers for consistently sold-out performances.
Seelig’s challenge this year was to incorporate a holiday theme that spoke of San Francisco’s culture, spirit of celebration and frivolity. The first part of the show features, among other tunes, Tim Hockenberry’s “Christmas by the Bay,” an ode to cable cars, Union Square and the Buena Vista Cafe.
The second half is where the performers cut loose.
Describing his inspiration for the show, Seelig says, “I was downtown one day last Christmas and suddenly saw all these people in the streets wearing Santa costumes, celebrating. I thought ‘OK, what just happened here?’
Somebody explained, ‘It’s SantaCon!’”
He adds: “All 250 chorus members will be in full Santa regalia. And there’s a sort-of Mrs. Claus [who is 6-foot-6], who, although she’s been singing karaoke at the North Pole for 355 days with a group of elves called the Clausettes, remains vocally challenged.”