The Beat of a Different Drummer
As you've read our blogs over the past few weeks, you may have noticed a special emphasis on LGBT artists in honor of Pride Month. Recently, the NEA hosted its own Pride celebration, which featured a performance by Sax in the City, a saxophone ensemble affiliated with DC's Different Drummers (DCDD). Founded in 1980, DCDD is a volunteer community organization whose performance groups include the Capitol Pride Symphonic Band, DCDD Jazz Combo, DCDD Marching Band, and several smaller ensembles such as Sax in the City. The group's doors are open to people of every stripe and talent level, united through a common desire to create music and "play with pride." We had a chance to speak with Stan Goff, who originally organized Sax in the City, about his artistic background, his experience with DCDD, and the power of music to forge and strengthen communities. Below are excerpts from our conversation.
My mother was very artistic. She was a painter and a musician, and I grew up with music and painting and was encouraged early on to always be creative in whatever way that I felt I wanted to pursue. I was really lucky to be as nurtured as I was. So my earliest recollection is my mother playing the piano at home, and growing up with not just the radio, or hi-fi as it were, but real music. My mother was a drum majorette in her high school band, so it was sort of expected that my brothers and I would go into music. As soon as we were old enough, we started in the band programs at our schools. I ended up being drum major of my high school band in Texas, which was a really big deal. So music was always a big part of us growing up.
[When I moved to DC in 2000,] I went to a concert of a community band, DC's Different Drummers, which was celebrating their 20th anniversary. I have a pretty strong music background, [and I was] very pleasantly surprised that the music that they were playing was at a pretty high level. Everyone was having a great time, so the following January I started with them. Being able to play on a regular basis as an adult has just been a huge gift, and a boon to my life. It's become sort of my second family.
Soon after that, I was part of a saxophone quartet that formed. It fell apart after a couple of years, and then in 2007, I think, I decided that I was missing that aspect. So I put out a notice to all of the saxophone players and bands that I wanted to start a quartet or an ensemble, depending on who shows up. We had about five or six people show up, and we started playing every other week or so. The people we have now, it’s sort of my other band family.
Music has been a way for a lot of people to express themselves without being chastised or called out. Speaking for myself, it's been a tremendous avenue for me---I can always be myself as a musician, and I couldn't always say that in other parts of my life. I spent 11 years, in fact, with the Turtle Creek Chorale in Dallas, which is one of the top LGBT male choruses in the country. In that setting, it was the first place where I could really sort of forget that I was LGBT, and really just be me, and be musical, and enjoy it. I was a music major for a couple of years at Northwestern and I knew there were a lot of people that were LGBT around me, but it was still a pretty closeted atmosphere. I felt a certain amount of guardedness about being out. But as an adult, being able to perform and participate with LGBT organizations has been a huge relief---to be able to relax and be myself and not be judged on anything other than who I am as a person and not what I am. I think that has become a sanctuary for a lot of artistic people, to be able to do that---to still be artistic and expressive in a way that's safe.
When I compare notes with people that have performed in other community bands, they don't have nearly the sense of camaraderie, of family, that we have. They just show up, go through rehearsal, play, and they go home. And we really have much more of a family atmosphere, [we’re] much more supportive of each other. We get together, we have socials afterward---it's a wonderful organization. I think I speak for other LGBT artistic groups around the country.
A lot of [LGBT] people, first of all, don't have the support of their families. I think [that happens] less and less with younger people today---they grow up in much more open families---but [that hasn’t always been true] for those of us of a certain age. I'm certainly fortunate that my family has always been supportive of me, but I've known plenty of people, that when they came out, their families ostracized them. So to find someplace where you're welcome and safe creates an atmosphere where people are much more free to join together emotionally, as well as artistically. And people, particularly in the gay community, create their families. They replace the families that they, unfortunately, were born into but not accepted by with the families that they create themselves.
The arts in general, when the economy is bad, are really challenged. There have been some groups that have failed and disappeared over the last five or ten years. With them gone, it makes the landscape a little less colorful. If [people] are not artistic themselves, they need to be able to enjoy it. I think that we serve the LGBT community, and hopefully the community at large, in that capacity.