Stonewall offers NYC premiere of Andrea Clearfield work
by Justine Medina and Susan Galardi for Vocal Area Network
Posted March 6, 2024

Stonewall--ClearfieldThe Stonewall Chorale, the country's first LGBTQ+ choir and treasured New York City institution, is again making history. At its March 23 concert, the group will present the New York premiere of Andrea Clearfield's moving and evocative, gender identity-themed choral work Here I Am: I Am Here, conducted by Artistic Director Cynthia Powell and scored for piano, string quartet, soloists and narrators. As the second full presentation of the work, this performance follows the 2022 premiere in Boston by its commissioning chorus, Coro Allegro, as part of their series "Letters to Our Children: Voices Across Generations of LGBTQ+ Youth." Stonewall is thrilled that composer/librettist Andrea Clearfield will attend the March 23 concert.

Here I Am: I Am Here is based on actual letters: a loving letter from a mother, Mimi, to her transgender son Jacob; and a letter of validation and support from the non-binary adult, Sam, to their younger self. The narratives explore the misconceptions and fears of parents who are initially unable to accept their children-as well as the pain of the children dealing with gender identity, conversion therapy, and suicidal ideation. While difficult and sometimes graphic, the stories underscore the power of love and connection as a healing force. According to Stonewall tenor Quincy Dean-Slobod, the work is "about overcoming shame and fear and finding joy in living authentically."

The message of Here I Am: I Am Here is more important now than ever, in light of increased violence against queer and transgender children-most recently with the deadly assault on 16-year-old Nex Benedict. As anti-trans bills are introduced across the country to deny queer children and parents basic rights and dignity and families are forced to leave their home states to remain safe, the need for the community to galvanize in support of one another is critical. Works like Here I Am: I Am I Here hold space for us to come together and proudly assert that we are here both as trans individuals and as allies, in support of our trans community.

Clearfield's understanding of this need for connection and community is profound, and her exploration of the texts formed the basis for building the musical architecture of the piece. The meticulously crafted, concise libretto cuts to the essence of each narrative, continually circling back to every human being's origin story: "It started with a birth; I am here." Clearfield's musical language-comprising biting atonal motifs, painfully beautiful melodies, light-hearted uptempo pieces, and agitated rhythmic patterns-captures the range of emotion. Stonewall member Susan Galardi commented that the piece "takes on you on an emotional journey…ultimately to the connection that comes from truly seeing another human being for who they really are."

Stonewall's March 23 program further emphasizes themes of salvation and transcendence with the performance of Franz Schubert's glorious Mass No. 2 in G Major. Seating for the concert is limited, so advance purchase of tickets is encouraged. The performance will be 7:30 PM on Saturday, March 23 at Holy Apostles in Chelsea. Visit www.stonewallchorale.org/tickets. General admission $35; students/seniors $25.

Linda Romano handles public relations for The Stonewall Chorale.