If you’re more interested in serious vocalizing, the Philadelphia Voices of Pride is the region’s only all-inclusive, mixed-voice chorus. They rehearse every Tuesday at the William Way LGBT Community Center and welcome all voice parts and experience levels, although you must audition to become a member of the choir. If your pipes aren’t quite up to snuff, they have plenty of non-singing roles for you to play. PGN spoke to the new artistic director, Dan Schwartz, about his love of music and what he does away from conducting. Hint: It also involves bending elbows.
PGN: Where are you originally from?
DS: West Philadelphia. Born and raised.
PGN: Ha! Just like the Fresh Prince.
DS: [Laughs.] That’s right. I actually went to school with Will Smith’s nephew. I got to meet Will once as he was picking up his nephew from school. I lived there until I went to Temple University for my undergrad and master’s.
PGN: Any siblings?
DS: I have a brother who is three years older and is also a musician. He plays jazz saxophone and he also went to Temple. He now teaches at St. Joe’s Prep. That’s the high school we both went to.
PGN: Cool. Are your parents musical?
DS: My dad’s side of the family is very musical. He’s been singing in a church choir for many years and his brother played the clarinet.
PGN: What do/did your parents do?
DS: My dad’s a school psychologist and my mom’s a speech therapist.
PGN: And how did you get started in music?
DS: I started with piano lessons at age 7 and then took trumpet and voice lessons in high school. The music program at St. Joe’s wasn’t very good back then so I joined an all-Catholic orchestra and concert band and jazz band on the side. At about 13, I started studying classical percussion with Susan Jones, principal timpanist of the Pennsylvania Ballet. My undergrad was in percussion before I switched to voice and choral conducting for my master’s.
PGN: What’s your favorite type of percussive music to play?
DS: The most exciting thing for me is playing timpani, or kettledrums, at the back of an orchestra. There’s nothing quite as satisfying as laying into one of those gigantic drums.
PGN: The kettledrums are one of my favorite instruments. I love the deep sound and the way they look. I wanted to buy one for my living room!
DS: Yup. They’re really cool but very expensive.
PGN: I found that out. What’s the best kettledrum song?
DS: Ha! I’d say Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony.
PGN: I would have said, “Peter and the Wolf,” which shows you my level of classical expertise. Extracurricular activities?
DS: That’s funny. Um, I also did a lot of theater in high school.
PGN: What was a favorite experience in the theater?
DS: Playing Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof.” It was my senior year and we had a brilliant director, Mr. Braithwaite. He really wanted us to delve into Jewish tradition so the girl that played Golde and I got to go to a traditional Seder and Sabbath meal with some Orthodox friends. We learned prayers and rituals and it was fascinating. I loved learning all the culture.
PGN: So I take it from your mention of St. Joe’s you were a good little Catholic boy?
DS: [Laughs.] I tried to be! At least until I left high school. A lot of people think I may be Jewish because of my last name, but I’m not. The name is Austrian.
PGN: What was a favorite moment conducting?
DS: Well, I just got my conducting master’s in May so I don’t have too much experience. The Voices of Pride concert in May was my first time conducting so I’d say that was my favorite so far!
PGN: OK, silly question. Whenever I watch conductors, it doesn’t look like they’re going to the beat. Am I crazy?
DS: No, that’s one style of conducting that some people use. It’s usually done with an orchestra: The more ahead of the group you are, the more they can see how you’re trying to shape a musical phrase.
PGN: I forgot to ask, do you and your brother ever play together?
DS: Yes, I started out playing jazz drum when I was 10 and he plays sax, and we played with a friend of our parents in a little jazz trio for a long time.
PGN: You were the original Jonas Brothers. Switching gears, what was a first recognition that you were gay?
DS: I hit puberty pretty early, right after fourth grade, and I think I knew then that I preferred boys. It was pretty cut and dried.
PGN: How did you come out to the family?
DS: With a couple of bottles of wine! It was in my freshman year at college. I’d come out to my brother Matthew in the middle of the year and he was a huge, huge support for me. My plan was to come out to my parents at the end of the school year, but I was so nervous about it I couldn’t concentrate on studying for my finals. So with the help of my brother, we went home to tell them. We got to the house before my parents got home from work so he and I had a couple of bottles of wine and when they got home I told them. The day after — with my permission — they told the whole family. They were great about it and have been supportive ever since.
PGN: Favorite book?
DS: I think it would be “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” by John Berendt. When I read, I like to have a good story with good characters. I’m more into pleasure reading rather than something heavy that I have to think about and dwell on. There are such fantastic characters in that book, especially The Lady Chablis.
PGN: Back to PVOP, how do you choose the music?
DS: That is a good question! Actually I’m pretty new, so the theme for the spring concert, “A World of Our Own,” had already been chosen. It was a choristers’ choice, so each choir member got to submit songs and then we narrowed it down from there.
PGN: So has any of your father’s training in child psychology helped you deal with corralling a choir of 40 people?
DS: [Laughs.] I’m a pretty laidback kind of guy, so I think that the less I try to control things, the easier it is and the better everyone gets along.
PGN: How do people become members?
DS: We have auditions. Our standards aren’t super-high: You don’t have to be Josh Grobin to join. As long as you can carry a tune and match pitch you should be OK.
PGN: How did you get the job as artistic director?
DS: It was a long process. They had a large pool of candidates and from the applications they selected eight people to interview and then picked four to actually conduct a piece. I chose Billy Joel’s “Lullaby,” which I related to the gay struggle, and I think that’s a part of why I got the job.
PGN: What are some of your responsibilities?
DS: More than I ever expected. I sit on the board and I get to make the artistic decisions, of course, with the board’s guidance, and I’m the chair of the music committee in charge of music selection.
PGN: Do you have a day job?
DS: I have many night jobs. I also sing in a fantastic group called The Crossing, a 24-voice choir of all professional singers. It’s one of the highlights of the year. Our concerts are broadcast live on WRTI. And I’m also a conducting apprentice and core singer with the Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia.
PGN: Any hobbies outside of music? Collect rare pansies or raise alpacas?
DS: I actually love orchids and I tried to raise them for a couple of years, but apparently I’m not good at raising things. Every flower I tried to grow ended up dying within a week. I don’t think I should have pets or children. I do like to dance and to enjoy a good cocktail as well. I also collect beer mugs.
PGN: What was the first record you bought?
DS: Dave Matthews Band.
PGN: If you were a Smurf, what would your name be?
DS: It would be Papa Juicer. Papa because right now I live with four other people in a very large apartment and I’m kind of the one who brought us all together and handles the bills, so they all refer to me as Papa, and Juicer because I’ve gone through many, many crazy diets in the last few years and many of them entail some kind of fruit juice. So they always make fun of me for my juicing habits.
PGN: Any good scars?
DS: Well, I have a little one on my upper lip from when I got bit by a puppy and it hung on. It’s not really a great story so sometimes I tell people it’s from something more dramatic.
PGN: What was your biggest onstage mishap?
DS: That would go back to “Fiddler on the Roof.” We were doing the big beer-drinking song and clinking glasses and two of the guys went too hard, smashed their mugs and shattered glass went everywhere. The bad part was, shortly after there was a part where the dancers had to be on their knees. Rather than doing the planned choreography, I started dancing around the table picking up the glass — all to the tempo of the music. Everyone else followed and two of the guys ran off stage, got brooms and came back and created a whole broom dance on the spot. The audience went wild. It was a great moment.
PGN: Three musicians you’d love to do a concert with?
DS: Joni Mitchell would be one, she was so influential on popular music; Bryn Terfel, he’s a Welsh baritone who has been an inspiration to me; and Beyoncé.
PGN: Song that makes you cry?
DS: “Samson” by Regina Spektor. It’s a beautiful sad song.
PGN: Tell me about different sides of you.
DS: I’m very laidback now but as a child, I had a bad temper. My favorite color was red and there was a reason for that. Now, as I’ve gotten older and mellowed out, my favorite color is blue.
PGN: A scary moment?
DS: I think I’ve tried to forget most of them. Probably taking my oral exams for my master’s program. I had to sit in a room with all of my professors while they drilled me with questions for about 45 minutes. Right before I went in, I started freaking out and blanked on everything I’d learned and couldn’t even remember my own name, but once I got started I was fine.
PGN: I’m going to guess that since you’re living with four other people that you’re single, but I hate to assume ...
DS: No, you are correct in your assumption. I’ve actually been single my whole life.
PGN: Let’s fix you up. What qualities are you looking for?
DS: I tend to be outspoken, so someone who is soft-spoken. More introverted, the opposite of me. I’m a life-of-the-party kind of guy, so someone who balances me out.
PGN: What’s the balance in the apartment?
DS: Four guys and a girl.
PGN: It sounds like “New Girl,” that show with Zooey Deschanel where she lives with three guys. What’s a fun household moment for your group?
DS: My female roommate likes to collect wigs, so some nights we’ll get really silly and put on the wigs, blast some club music and “wig out,” so to speak. We actually have a special wig dance!
PGN: So what’s next for PVOP?
DS: Our next concert is called “Made in America” and it will feature songs written by American composers like Morten Lauridsen, who has been described as a mystic and was named an “American Choral Master” by the National Endowment of the Arts, and composer/conductor Eric Whitacre, whose ground-breaking Virtual Choir featuring 185 singers from 12 different countries received over a million views on YouTube in just two months, and many other interesting American composers. It’s going to be a great performance.
To suggest a community member for “Family Portrait,” write to firstname.lastname@example.org.