Chorus History

In San Francisco in the fall of 1978, a shocking event rocked the gay and lesbian community; it became a national tragedy which helped to spark one of the most inspiring and empowering cultural and musical movements. The first openly gay politician in American history,Supervisor Harvey Milk, was assassinated along with Mayor George Moscone. That evening, the world’s first openly gay chorus sang, for the first time in public, on the steps of City Hall for an impromptu memorial service. Three years later, that same San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus, the first chorus to include the word “gay” in its name, toured the US, forever changing the lives of millions of people and inspiring the formation of many new lesbian and gay choruses.

GALA LogoBy 1984, fourteen of those choruses had bonded together and founded what is now the largest gay and lesbian choral organization in the world – the Gay and Lesbian Association of Choruses (GALA Choruses). GALA Choruses has since grown to over 8,000 singers from more than 170 choruses in the United States, Mexico, and Canada, all sharing in the common mission of empowering LGBT Choruses as they change the world through song.

Program CoverAlso in 1984, a small group of three Nebraskans attended the Twin Cities Men’s Chorus concert in Minneapolis. Upon returning to Omaha that small group recognized that it was time to share those same messages of inspiration, inclusion, and empowerment with their local community, and they organized a chorus called The Mid City Chorus. The ensemble’s first performance was at a variety show for the Metropolitan Community Church. On December 16, 1984, those founding ten members (9 men and 1 woman) presented a Christmas concert at the Max, and around that time formally changed the Chorus’s name to the River City Mixed Chorus. RCMC was incorporated as a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization in March of 1986.

Upon its inception, RCMC became a member of GALA Choruses, and was a dynamic element in the beginning of the GALA movement--a direct result of those founding members who had the courage and vision to come together and stay together here in America’s heartland. GALA Choruses holds a national festival every four years, bringing member choruses from all over to a centralized location. RCMC has performed at eight GALA festivals: Minneapolis 1985, Seattle 1989, Denver 1992, Tampa 1996, San Jose 2000, Montreal 2004, Miami 2008, and Denver 2012. The next GALA festival in 2016 will once again be held in Denver, and the RCMC is very much looking forward to its next performance there.

UmbrellasThroughout its 30-year history, thirteen Music or Artistic Directors have guided the RCMC in its mission to bring inspirational music to the Omaha community. John Robert Zeigler, founding member and RCMC’s second Music Director, increased the membership of the Chorus from ten to thirty-five singing members. After Mr. Zeigler passed away in April 1986, the Chorus employed a slate of guest conductors until 1988 when John Kelly became Music Director. He was concurrently serving as Director of the Des Moines Gay Men’s Chorus, so he travelled every Monday to Omaha for rehearsal. During 1989, concerts were performed in collaboration with the Des Moines Gay Men’s Chorus in both cities. In 1990, as part of a national tour of the Names Quilt, members created a quilt block to honor eight former RCMC members who passed away between the years of 1984-1990 as part of the AIDS crisis.

In 1991 Jonathan D. Cole, Music Director of Omaha Community Playhouse, joined RCMC as Music Director, and the following year, John J. Bennett joined as Co-Music Director. Mr. Bennett took the reins solo in the next year as Music Director for the next eight seasons.

With the help of grant funding from GALA Choruses and private donations, RCMC commissioned several works during this relationship with Mr. Cole that are treasured selections in the Chorus’s permanent repertoire, including Three Anthems, Hold Strong Together, and Ye Shall Come Out with Joy.

In the summer of 2001, another respected composer, Mark Kurtz, was hired as Music Director. In 2004, Mr. Kurtz was commissioned to compose a song to assess the major political breakthroughs and social changes for the GLBT community; this piece, entitled Making Our Way, Finding Our Groove celebrated the Omaha GLBT community’s accomplishments as well as gave a call to vigilance. Other pieces composed for RCMC include Being the Rainbow (2002), We Will Live Happily Ever After (Kurt & Tim Stolz, 2003), Happy Anniversary! (2004), Dance of the Stars (2006), The Gender Blender (2008), The Silver Swan (2009), and this concert’s world premiere, Heart of the Song (2014).

BarronThe current Artistic Director, Dr. A. Barron Breland, professor of music at Creighton University, joined the River City Mixed Chorus halfway through the 2010-11 season. Under his direction and based on the successes of his predecessors, RCMC is blossoming. The Chorus has a record number of singing members. For the first time in Chorus history, RCMC has corporate sponsorships from major local businesses and corporations. Grant funding and in-kind donations are at an all-time high. And, the Chorus has also increased its number of performances due to sold-out shows.

All of this started with just 10 people who had the courage to stand up, be proud of who they are, and sing it out loud. Thanks to the singing members, to the invaluable volunteers, and most of all, to you, the supporting audience, the River City Mixed Chorus will continue to sing, continue to change lives, and continue to build community here in the metropolitan Omaha area for another 30 years.




 Musical/Artistic Directors and Accompanists Through the Years

Year(s)     Musical/Artistic Director(s)     Accompanist(s)
1984     Jerry Kruse *     Jerry Kruse *
1985-1986     John Ziegler *     Dale McDole
1986-1988 (Interim/Guest)     Dale McDole, Judith Bieker, Kevin Jones, Nick Behrens     Michael McCabe, Nich Behrens
1988-1990     John Kelly     Nick Behrens, Roberta Siebert, Mark Armstrong
1991     Jonathan D. Cole *     Nick Behrens
1992     Jonathan D. Cole *, John Bennett     Nick Behrens
1993-2000     John Bennett     Jonathan Swoboda, Brent-Alan Huffman, Ron Guthrie
2001 (Interim)     Brian Jay     Aleta Fenceroy *
2001-2010     Mark Kurtz     Aleta Fenceroy *, Salli Compton
2010 (Interim)     E. Dwayne Moore     Salli Compton
2011-Present     Dr. A. Barron Breland     Salli Compton, Keith Hart


* Deceased