PFLAG Juneau Pride Chorus member performs a solo during 20th anniversary concert rehearsal. Photo by Clara Miller.

Juneau pride: LGBTQ chorus celebrates 20 years

Saturday, March 25, 23 women will sing about peace, love, acceptance and equity for the 20th anniversary of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays’ (PFLAG) Juneau Pride Chorus.

Director Leslie Wood will be stepping down after 17 years leading the choir. She’s a founding member (the group formed in 1997) and became the conductor in 2000.

“Women came to the first rehearsal, some men. It wasn’t necessarily geared towards women but that’s who showed. It’s been our group’s sport ever since,” she said, noting that it’s a rarity to have a solely women’s choir. The Juneau Pride Chorus is actually the only chorus of PFLAG, which is now also a member of the Sister Singers Network and the Gay and Lesbian Association of Choruses.

“We didn’t really know where we were headed, what kind of music we wanted to do, but we knew we would uphold the PFLAG mission of supporting lesbian and gay rights,” Wood said.

While Wood did some conducting while she was student teaching for her degree in musical education from the University of Oregon, she didn’t learn how to be a conductor until she took over, she said. Her style falls somewhere between cheerleading, dancing and teaching music, and it works for her.

Through the years, Wood has led Juneau Pride Chorus to performances in Chicago, Seattle, San Diego and twice in Denver; that’s not counting the annual concerts, the performances at weddings, funerals and gay pride events.

In 1998, when the Alaska Legislature proposed the Alaska Marriage Amendment, it galvanized the group, Wood said. They sang in protest, and while the amendment passed, it did attract more members to the group, like Rachel Zahnd. She saw the Juneau Pride Chorus inviting people to sing with them, tried it out, and decided to join up. She’s been with the group ever since, raising her children while singing.

“It’s like a family,” Zahnd said. “It takes a chorus to raise a child.”

It’s a place Erika Partlow Smith always looks forward to going. She’s been with the chorus for four years.

“I was telling someone last night that it’s magic,” she said during a break during rehearsal.

Jennifer Mannix has been with the group for 10 years. She had seen concerts and wanted to participate. PFLAG is made up of members of the lesbian and bisexual community and their allies, and she has found the atmosphere supportive.

“This group of women is really wonderful,” Mannix said, adding that even after long days of work when she just feels like crashing at the end, once she goes to choir, she feels rejuvenated.

The messages in the songs also inspire her, like Sara Barailles’ “Brave.”

“I sing it to my daughter,” she said.

All the songs have positive messages. For the verses of “Heroes” the lyrics recite name after name of notable women — Harriet Tubman, Malala Yousafzai and Elizabeth Warren. Some songs, like Libby Roderick’s “How Could Anyone,” have been combined with a line from the poem “The Truth” which says: “I will believe the truth about myself no matter how beautiful it is.”

They sang that song during one trip to Denver as one of many choirs seated in circular arrangement.

“We stood up. Each chorus sang a song and invited people to sing along. It was so exciting standing there, moving my arms and having people sing with us on that song,” Wood said, saying she was amused by the other people’s reactions to the line from “The Truth” placed in “How Could Anyone” “It was so cute to hear all the little chuckles and hear people singing it like they got the humor in that. It was just powerful having 700 women singing that song. It was the highlight of my career even though it was the easiest song to conduct.”

One of the important aspects of Juneau Pride Chorus is being a visible leader in the LGBTQ community, she said. Songs like “We Will Go Forth” by Margie Adam capture that sentiment.

“It’s so powerful because seeing people who are visible and are unafraid of being public and showing what they like to do — artists or speakers or leading marches,” Wood said, summarizing the thought as: “If somebody is doing it, then I can do it too.”

Wood said that a board member of The Gay and Lesbian Association of Choruses would be coming to Juneau for the 20th anniversary concert to commemorate the event.

The concert will be at the Northern Light United Church (400 W 11th St.) at 7:30 p.m. on March 25. Advance tickets are $16 for adults, $35 for a family, and $13 for seniors and students in grades K-12; they can be purchased through chorus members, at the Juneau Arts and Culture Center and jahc.org. Tickets at the door are $18 for adults, $38 for a family, and $15 for seniors and students K-12 grade.

Contact staff writer Clara Miller at clara.miller@capweek.com.

PFLAG Juneau Pride Chorus study their music sheets during rehearsal. Choir leader Leslie Wood can be seen conducting. Photo by Clara Miller.

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