One of the many challenges facing the GALA choral movement is ethnic diversity.
I could see this in quite a few large choruses, from highly diversified regions of the United States, which underrepresented people of color, especially African Americans. It certainly wasn't for lack of trying, as evident in their programming; these groups routinely and respectfully attempted multicultural material. But by and large at GALA, it seems the Africans have rhythm and bang on things, the Natives (American Indian, Maori, Polynesian and otherwise) are happy, and the Jews are miserable and sing about peace. I am reticent to cite musical selections, because doing so would identify the choruses in question. (Trust me, I have a list.) These choruses are all fine groups which do not deserve to be raked over the coals for honest attempts at inclusion and musical variety, many of which were effective crowd pleasers.
To be fair, there is a history in the gay community of "Village People" type multiculturalism, celebrating diversity through stereotypes reduced to well-intentioned sexual objectification. Perhaps that's fine, but will it encourage African Americans and people of color to join the chorus? Now, as far as the Jew material, I feel I am entitled to comment. Please buckle your seat belt.
I want to address why "Kislev Cowboys" is funny. Writing about humor is not amusing or witty, so this may sting a little. "Kislev Cowboys" is not funny because there's no such thing as a Jewish cowboy. No. Maybe that's why you laughed. Fine. That's not the joke. That's like laughing at the final verse of "Zip Coon" because obviously a Negro could never run for President. (apropos, huh? If you are lost, google "Zip Coon.")
"Kislev Cowboys" is funny because dreidel is a stupid, boring game. It's on par with Candyland. No one likes to play dreidel. The joke is that these fun-loving cowboys would want to play dreidel.
Let's parse this a bit. What are the funniest moments of the song? The best is certainly when the cowboys play dreidel on stage. Why? You can see how lame it is. It is a fitting non-sequitur to both the active life of the macho cowboy and the quiet stillness of the prairie. Why the blazes would cowboys play dreidel? Well, what else is there to do? The Pony Express must be late with the Netflix again. Or, maybe it's how cowboys determine who gets to be in the saddle.
The other highlight is any prominent solo line like "I made it out of clay" or "Dreidel I will play" delivered all hammed up with cowboy shtick. This is because one set of musical conventions has been substituted for another, and it works completely. To do "Dreidel" as the sing-song childish nursery rhyme it is would be appalling. To substitute another equally appalling but unexpected cliché is funny. Get it? It's not your Bubby's dreidel, but it's still cheesy! It's all about the cheese! (Oi that's a milchigte luau!)
Captain Smartypants got it right. I don't need to be pandered to with some weepy fiddle and shalom this and that. Give me a break. Or how about some nice I - N6 - I - N6 - I - N6 - iv - I ? As Morrissey put so eloquently, "It says nothing to me about my life." Hey, why don't you buy a copy of Heeb magazine and get a little up to date?
At a bleary 10am on Saturday July 19, Eric Lane Barnes held a master class workshop for small ensembles. The composer of "Kislev Cowboys" made a salient comment: if you don't have a good Hanukah number, don't insult the Jews by doing a bad one. I applauded. And I think this applies to all attempts at multicultural programming.