Daryl Curry & the Turtle Creek Chorale

                           Daryl Curry

                          Daryl Curry

I am Daryl Curry and I wanted to give you some of my personal story and how I came to be in the Turtle Creek Chorale.  I was born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky. The fourth of  four kids – two sisters, one ten years older and one nine years older than me, and a brother who is one year older. My dad was a cop and my mother was a stay-at-home mom. We lived in a typical post World War Two neighborhood where everyone was white, mostly Protestant (we were Southern Baptists) with a sprinkling of Catholics.  No one was wealthy, but then no one was impoverished either.  My parents were both from rural Kentucky,  and we spent all our available time, like weekends and vacations, on my grandmother’s tobacco and dairy farm. To this day when I see someone using a tobacco product, it takes me back to a time of countless hours spent in the tobacco fields, pulling off the worms, suckering, stripping, staking and finally hauling it to the barns to dry until time for it to go to auction.  I cherish my many memories of all those years on the farm, but I was always grateful that I didn’t actually have to live there but could return to Louisville to all the comforts and amenities that it held.

               Daryl (front right) with brother and sisters

              Daryl (front right) with brother and sisters

I received all of my formal education in Louisville -- from elementary to high school, college and medical school. I was a classic overachiever, which I think was my way of hiding the fact that I was gay. My thinking was, if I played sports, no one would guess ... If I joined every club and organization, I would be liked and no one would care ... If I made good grades, I would be envied, not ridiculed.  I knew from a very early age, perhaps sex years old, that I was somehow different than the other boys in my neighborhood, because I really wanted to carry books for other boys, not for the girls …..

During medical school, as I began to confront and accept being gay, I made the decision that, in order to succeed in this, I would just have to leave Louisville and put some distance from family and social stresses of trying to be who they thought I would be.  I wanted to discover who I thought I could be.  The pediatrics program at Children’s Medical Center of Dallas seemed an adequate distance. I drove a 16 foot Ryder truck 850 miles from Louisville to my new home in Dallas in June, 1983.

I knew no one in Dallas. A friend moved here with me to be my roommate, as he too was searching to find himself; however, the first job he secured in Dallas required him to travel 20 or more days a month, so I rarely saw him.  Within a few weeks of moving here, one weekend, one of the other single interns and I were scouring the paper to find something cheap to do as we were both off duty but had no money to spend on entertainment.   She found an ad for a concert by a men’s choral group, the Turtle Creek Chorale, with tickets that were $3 (even that amount was barely in our budget). She knew that music was a big part of my life and knew that I had a history of choral singing so we schlepped down to SMU for the concert.  During my college and medical school years, I had sung in the Motet Singers of Louisville (kind of a big thing for Louisvillians) and leaving that source of camaraderie and close friendships, coupled with excellent singing was perhaps harder than it was leaving my actual family behind (I knew I’d see my family again and again but knew my Motet days were over).

            Daryl (left) with friend David McKeown in 1979

           Daryl (left) with friend David McKeown in 1979

I was enthralled by that chorale's performance – it not only seemed like they were all professional singers but they seemed to truly enjoy themselves onstage.  At the end of the concert, someone invited any and all interested men to pick up information in the lobby about auditioning for the new season to begin in August. I did just that.

I remember at my audition after singing for the newly-hired director, Michael Crawford, he asked me while looking at my audition sheet, if I thought it would be a problem for the hospital for one of their interns to be singing in a GAY choir.

“WHAT??” I said!!

“What, what?” he replied, “What part of that do you not understand?”

At that time I had no idea that the chorale was made up of gay men, but after a moment or two of thinking, I said, “I doubt it’ll be an issue”.

However, it kinda was as issue at first. I had never been in any environment with more than 1 or 2 gay people – and it intimidated the HELL out of me. In fact, I was SO intimidated that I would arrive 10 minutes late and leave 10 minutes early to each rehearsal to avoid having to confront anyone face to face and have to make small talk or do whatever gay men do in groups.  Remember, I said I was new to this and was still “testing the waters”.  All of those old high school and college insecurities about people finding out I was gay seemed small when compared to the insecurities of wondering if I was “gay enough” for this crowd.  But, in time, I guess I was gay enough, because it had become obvious to me in a very short time that I had found a home with these guys. That was in 1983 and except for a 7 year sabbatical, I have sung with the Chorale ever since.  During those 7 non-chorale years, I sang with a small group called 2 X 2, started by Janey Hall and me, with Janet Samuelson and Rod Faulkner, the other vocalists, and Danny Ray as our arranger/composer/accompanist. After 2X2 folded in 2007, I returned to the chorale, as singing was, and always will be, an important part of my life.

Tim Seelig became our artistic director in 1986. Although we had no money in the bank, we did everything in our power to pay Tim his promised salary, but we fell short most of the time.  However, he continued to commute to Dallas weekly from Houston for the first half of that season until he settled permanently in Dallas.

            Daryl Curry (center) with Turtle Creek Chorale

           Daryl Curry (center) with Turtle Creek Chorale

I am not here to tell Tim’s story, but, for context, I will tell you that he, too, was searching for a new identity and purpose.  He had recently come out to his wife, two children and his very large Southern Baptist church in Houston.  It was quite messy.  He was asked to leave the church, and the change in his family dynamic was devastating  for him.

So I suppose it’s a cliché, but true all the same, that what we had was the “perfect storm” – meaning a series of unlikely events or situations were coming together, for whatever reason, to become what we now think of as the current Turtle Creek Chorale – a strong, powerful force in the community. 

The AIDS crisis was just looming in the mid 80’s, but we all know what happened in the ensuing 20 years.  Countless people worldwide were sick and dying, including many in the chorale, and no one seemed to be able to make any sense of what to do or how to help.  With Tim’s strong leadership and his newly defined sense of purpose, the chorale became sort of a haven for the community as we struggled to come to terms with this devastating disease. We were able to provide solace and comfort through our music and message for so many. We were able to help heal the wounds through the beauty of music. Of particular importance, I think, was a song cycle written by one of our own, Kris Anthony, that dealt specifically with loss, death and grieving – “When We No Longer Touch”.  For those of you have heard it, you know how well this illustrates how we were able to promote healing of our community. A feature length documentary was produced, based on this Kris Anthony work of art, which won an Emmy for the producer, Jenny Martin.

daryl xmas show.jpg

 During this same time we saw the membership ranks swell to well over 200 singers. (My first year, there were 53 singers). We had become something unique and special for our community and the community rewarded us with their attendance and their donations. The chorale prospered. During these years, the chorale also became a voice for other causes as well – probably the most notable was our association with the Susan G Komen Foundation.  To bring awareness to breast cancer, we commissioned  a song cycle titled “Sing For the Cure” which has now been performed worldwide, and was narrated by Dr. Maya Angelou.

Tim was our artistic director for 20 years.  I will not pretend that all those years were happy and rosy and conflict free. Tim is a very strong personality and often butted heads with other staff members and with our board of directors.  However, I will say that whatever was happening behind the scenes did not seem to affect our audiences.  We continued to fill our concerts and leave our audiences happy and fulfilled.  Tim stepped down after 20 years and, as most of you know, is now Artistic Director of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus.  We certainly owe Tim an eternal debt of gratitude for his leadership and vision during his 20-year tenure.

There is a song that always takes me back to that era whenever I hear it.  It embodies the feelings of fear and angst that we all felt during those years.  It illustrates the agony of losing someone close, someone far too young to die. That song is “Bring Him Home” from Les Miserables.