PR for People Monthly February 2020 | Page 6

Caldwell was shocked by the stories Failla shared – of LGBTQ people who had been targeted by their governments and repeatedly subjected to sanctioned harassment and assault; of executions, and “honor” killings carried out by family members.

“I grew up in the rural south and I had a lot of trouble being gay in a very conservative and religious environment,” Caldwell says, “but honor killing was never on the table.”

Caldwell went home and did his research. He read the stories. He learned that over 80 refugees who identify as LGBTQ have been rescued from their hostile home countries in the past couple of years, and still more are in process. He watched the film “Out of Iraq,” about the struggles of a gay Iraqi couple – Nayyef had been a translator during the war in Iraq and Btoo had served in the Iraqi Army. They ended up spending years apart before reuniting in Seattle.

This, Caldwell decided, was a story that the Seattle Men’s Chorus could amplify.

With support from a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Chorus has commissioned a choral song cycle that illuminates the stories of several of the refugees who have been served by Failla’s Underground Railroad.

Caldwell was deliberate in selecting composers who had a personal background that was consonant in some way to that of the asylum seekers. He wanted the libretto for these new works to be authentic in reflecting their experiences.

Chicago-based Lyn Rye, for example, is a bassist and composer who also works for Majid Al-Rabia, a women-led, LGBTQ+ affirming Islamic community. She had never written for a large-scale chorus before, but that wasn’t her deepest concern.

“Before I wrote a single note of the music I asked to become involved in the work first,” Rye says, and with help from Michael Failla, she did. She was able to have WhatsApp conversations with Iraqi LGBTQ rights activists who have been in hiding in Beirut.

“I spent months with Ibrahim and Mahmoud and became one of their supporters – it’s a type of work that I’d been wanting to do and was equipped to do in some ways. I’ve really been trying to show up for Ibrahim and Mahmoud, and it was that human element of it that came before writing the music.”

Rye’s resulting piece, “The Call,” is based on the cultural tradition of summoning Muslims to prayer, and uses an intricate series of time signatures and a tonal palette that is new to the SMC.

Another composer, Michael Bussewitz-Quarm, had already created a large body of choral works that focus attention on social issues, but this Love Beyond Borders project had particular resonance for the transgender composer. After discussions with a trans Iraqi visual artist who has gained asylum and is now living in Arizona, Bussewitz-Quarm based his song “Speak to Us of Clothes” on a poem by Lebanese-born Kahlil Gibran, who personally identified as a visual artist primarily, although history remembers him as a poet.

For another piece, Caldwell teamed up with his writing partner Sean Ivory. “The Wedding Day” is the based on the love story of the couple featured in the “Out of Iraq” film that had first spurred Caldwell to conceive of this project.

Jassem and Mado arrived in Seattle late last year.

Photo credit Barbara McMichael.

Lyn Rye, composer of a new work for Love Beyond Borders. Photo credit Sean Forrest.