The Artistic Director of Philadelphia Gay Men’s Chorus is retiring after 20 years

Joseph J. Buches’s final performances will be May 17-18 at Suzanne Roberts Theatre.

Joseph J. Buches conducts
Joseph J. Buches. (Photo: Courtesy of Philadelphia Gay Men’s Chorus)

Joseph J. Buches comes from a musical family. His mother was a singer and his father was an organist. The latter taught him how to play the organ when Buches was 5. 

During college, he studied many different aspects of music, including music education, organ and conducting. This led to him becoming a music instructor at Chestnut Hill Academy and Episcopal Academy. 

In 2004, he began working with the Philadelphia Gay Men’s Chorus (PGMC) part-time while teaching. Prior to this, he had sung with the group a couple of times in the ’90s.

“When I started there, there were 35 members and within a year or two, I got it up to over 100 singers,” Buches said. “Now we’re at over 160 singers.”

The number of performers isn’t the only way he’s helped the chorus grow. 

“We’ve grown a name for ourselves, a professional reputation. The artistic product has grown immensely. We’ve done concerts with 16 to 20-piece orchestras. Prior to that, it was usually just piano, bass and drums, if that,” he said.

They’ve also partnered with local dance troupes to add dancers to some of the concerts.

Buches explained that, “I wanted to really put our name out there, and get us known and respected in the arts community in Philadelphia, and I think I’ve succeeded in that way.”

Buches has helped PGMC make such a name for themselves that he now needs to turn down some gigs due to an abundance of requests. Under Buches, the chorus has performed at the Kimmel Center, Carnegie Hall, and with the Philadelphia Orchestra. They’ve also performed at Pride Night for the Philadelphia Phillies. 

In 2014, he left his teaching job to become the chorus’ artistic director and conductor full-time.

As artistic director, he is in charge of all of the artistic programming, like the performances and activities. Since his role is one of only two full-time positions within PGMC, Buches serves as the group’s co-leader along with the executive director, Jason Conner. The two also serve as the faces of the chorus. 

PGMC and The Gay Chorus Movement

When summing up his tenure at PGMC, Buches talked about how the chorus has given him many fond memories and friends, as well as his husband. The two met through the chorus in 2004 and were married in 2014. He also discussed the impact the chorus has made on its community.

“And it also is a safe space for our members. And we always use the term chosen family. We did a song a couple years ago — it’s still in our repertoire — called ‘Chosen Family’ talking about [how] you don’t need to be related to relate,” Buches said. 

He continued and also hit on how PGMC exists as a part of the larger gay chorus movement.

“And I think that’s a big thing for our course, we’re all there for the same mission,” Buches said. “We’re there to make things better for the LGBTQ+ community going forward.

“And even though yes, we have marriage equality now, we may not have that soon. So we need to continue to keep fighting and keep spreading the word of acceptance and making visible who we are and why we are there. That’s the thing about GALA Choruses [The Gay and Lesbian Association of Choruses, an international association of LGBTQ+ choruses]. We need to make sure that we continue that and not get sloppy and not not just sit back and think ‘oh, we’re fine,’ because [there] could be a day where they could shut everything down. It’s the choral movement that kept that moving.”

The gay chorus movement began in 1975 with the founding of the Anna Crusis Women’s Chorus, known now as the Anna Crusis Feminist Chorus.

The San Francisco Gay Men’s chorus was founded three years later in 1978. The group’s first public performance was at a vigil for Harvey Milk, California’s first openly gay public official, following his assassination. This came only a month after the group was formed. Many other groups were formed in the years that followed, including PGMC in 1981.

“The gay choral movement started out of the AIDS crisis, it was a place for gay men to come and mourn the loss of their loved ones and friends,” Buches said. “And it evolved into this whole bigger community. And [it] needs to continue to move in that direction and inspire the next generation. He added that he hopes that the work he has done will also inspire the next generation.”

His legacy

A big part of his legacy will be his outreach to students. One of the ways he’s done this is by asking PGMC’s board to create a fund that will help with scholarships for upcoming LGBTQ+ conductors.

This outreach was through the Youth Engagement Program, which started with PGMC performing for students at the school Buches taught at in 2014. According to PGMC’s website, it has since “reached over 13,000 students at dozens of local high schools and universities,” through outreach concerts.

“Up until COVID, we’ve done it monthly. [We] went to one school every month doing a concert, a youth engagement concert, which is really important for the students to see an LGBTQ person in front of them. We still do that, but it’s not as frequent right now because we’re still getting back after COVID,” Buches said.

Seeing the impact the chorus has on students is among his favorite memories with PGMC, on par with performing at Carnegie Hall. This is doubly true in places where being LGBTQ+ is not as widely accepted. Buches expressed excitement that the chorus will be performing at schools in Bucks County during June after being disinvited last year. He added that he wished he’d been able to organize a central Pennsylvania tour for the same reason.

“Making music was one thing, and I think that’s why we’re there,” he said. “But making music to make change in society, that is the most important thing. And I think that’s what I’ll always hold as part of the main thing [of] what I’ve done for the past 20 years.”

Next steps for Buches and PGMC 

Although his final performances are coming up soon, Buches will be staying on as artistic director until July 31. This is so he can take PGMC to the GALA Choruses Festival in Minneapolis.

But after that, he says he’s “gonna just take a breath for a moment.”

“After 20 years of doing this job, which is a rare thing, it’s an identity that I sort of had to mourn for a little bit just because it is the case in how to move forward and figure out what I’m going to do,” Buches said. “But I’m looking forward to more future endeavors. I’m going to take a breath and see where things lie.”

As for PGMC, they will have an interim artistic director for a year before starting the process to hire a new one. So far, an interim director has not been announced. 

Buches final performances with PGMC will be during the Live Out Loud concerts May 17-18 at Suzanne Roberts Theatre, 480 S Broad St. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit

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