IM Interview with Andrew Patner

Posted on November 7, 2010


Queercult talks via IM with the wonderful Andrew Patner, Classical Music Critic for the Chicago Sun-Times and critic-at-large for 98.7 WFMT Chicago and

queercult: Hey Andrew – do you have time for a quick chat about music and, well, gayness?

Andrew: Sure –

queercult: First question – I know you sang in the Chicago Children’s Choir when you were a boy, we had the same choir director, the amazing Joe Brewer! Is that where you got your love of music?

Andrew: I have loved music for as long as I can remember. Both of my parents, neither of whom was a musician, loved music of many kinds and so it was always around me. I was also fortunate to grow up in Chicago with the amazing radio station WFMT, which kept both great classical music and great folk music and show tunes in the air.

I sang in the children’s choir of my synagogue, the old KAM Temple, in the Kenwood neighborhood and there was introduced both to the music of the great composer Max Janowski and to the enthusiasm of his wife Gretel who led our choir with Judy Maslin, the wife of our rabbi at that time. We also were a part of a very interracial community children’s choir of most of the churches and synagogues in Hyde Park-Kenwood and performed each year at the Interfaith Thanksgiving service at Rockefeller Memorial Chapel.

I auditioned for and joined the Chicago Children’s Choir in 1970, when I was 10. They had just returned from the first (and last for a very long time – LOL) tour of Europe. My lifelong best friend, Kenny Blum, was already a member.

queercult: And you grew up to be a presenter on WFMT… which I agree is amazing (I grew up with WFMT too). So everyone keeps talking about how classical music audiences are diminishing – lots of blue-haired ladies. Is this true? What can be done about it? Do we give enough support to classical music?

Andrew: We can always do more for music and the arts of all kinds. And music faces a particular crisis – and not only in the U.S. – because of huge cutbacks in music education in the schools. But music is resilient. New audiences require new strategies but many of these have been quite successful, and there is NO shortage at all of superb and dedicated young musicians! Enough with the moaning! 🙂

queercult: Do you still have the same beautiful tones from when you were a kid… and are you singing still? Or mostly just commenting and introducing others to music?

Andrew: Good question. I sang in the CCC for seven years, as a second alto, and then, when my voice went through its lengthy change process back and forth between second tenor and baritone. I was never any kind of a star but I have always had a pleasant voice. When I graduated from high school (and the choir) at 17, I intentionally decided NOT to pursue any formal training so I would keep that pleasant, casual quality. Since then my singing is mostly for me, for friends, and in occasional cabaret settings with a pianist friend and a mic – I’m a crooner!

queercult: The great crooner Andrew! I’d love to hear you croon. Last question: Do you think there is such a thing as a queer sensibility to some music? Music is very powerful, after all it gets banned for being a bad influence on people.

Andrew: So many of the people who taught us singing and music and so many of the people who created music of wide popularity – Copland, Billy Strayhorn, Bernstein, Cole Porter, Samuel Barber, Menotti, Lorenz Hart (as lyricist), Sondheim, Poulenc, Britten, Cage, Marc Blitzstein, Virgil Thomson – were gay that I imagine that gave many young people and children a sense that we were “OK.” And of course being a teenager in the 1970s, so much popular dance music came from gay people or was for gay people, that had a very powerful effect on me, particularly, too, as with all of the above, by growing up and always living in a place with heavy mixing of Black and white populations. Music was so important, and music as a chance to claim an identity was so important.

Whether there is or was or will be a “queer sensibility” per se is a complicated question!

queercult: Of course… what the hell is a queer sensibility really. But I was thinking even of just music without words. Britten for instance, writing for Peter Pears, if you can hear somehow in the music all our longing, hurt, betrayals, love, repression and oppression and secrecy, but our particular joy (is there gay joy even?)

Andrew: Oh, of course – I’m just saying it’s a HUGE and complex subject. But I realized I left out something very important for me: Benjamin Britten’s music was hugely important for us in the Children’s Choir and for my close friends (who would grow up to be straight, gay, and in-between) and to know of his relationship with Pears and the subject matter of his writing, and his writing for Pears and Pears’s voice was very moving and in today’s language “affirming.”

A very moving moment for me was when I was 12 years old, in the summer of 1972, my family went to England and Europe as a family for the first time and as we finished touring the National Portrait Gallery in London there was an area of new acquisitions and there smack dab in front of us was the famous double portrait of Britten and Pears. Both of them were of course still alive and active. For a 12-year-old boy to see that portrait and to see that the National Portrait Gallery was displaying these two giants as a couple was tremendously important.

When I came out (late) at 23 in 1983, Britten was gone for some years, but one of the two people I wrote to as a part of my coming out was Sir Peter Pears. And both he and the other figure, Christopher Isherwood, wrote me back as well. Alas, I never met either of them though they had each invited me to do so.

queercult: You’re getting me all emotional here!

Andrew: Did you get all that?

queercult: I did! And I guess it moves me because it brings me back to my 12-year-old boy soprano self. Who had no idea that Britten was gay. If only there had been visible gay history in 1972!

Andrew: There was, but it was presented differently.

<em>Andrew Patner has a very popular Facebook page, here, as well as a blog, The View from Here. He is also very active on Twitter, here.</em>

Posted in: 20th Century, Gay, Music, U.S.