Denver Gay Men’s Chorus Artistic Director James Knapp Announces Retirement

With more than 35 years of choral conducting experience leading university, church, and community choruses, James Knapp is in his 10th and final season at the helm of the Denver Gay Men’s Chorus (GMC).

He will officially be retiring as the organization’s artistic and managing director in July. 

“I’m turning 65 in July, and I’ve been doing this for 41 years,” Knapp explains. “It’s just time. It’s been a wonderful experience, and I’ve loved being with the chorus. We’ve done some very important work together, but my partner and I are from New England, and all our family is back there. So, it was a family decision. I’m ready to pick my own projects and be able to manage my stress level a little bit more. Being with the chorus is a full-time job.”

Knapp and his partner will be moving back to Maine, where he will teach some master classes and choral workshops.

His replacement has not yet been announced. 

“I let the chorus know in late spring last year that I would be retiring, so they have plenty of time to find a very special fit,” Knapp says. “It’s not like hiring a CPA to add your staff or taxes. It’s a very specific and important marriage between the organization and the next artistic director. Not only is the artistic director in charge of all the performances, but there are so many more pieces, with collaborations, working with the community, and representing the organization in the city. It’s a pretty big deal.”

DENVER, CO – APRIL 1: The Denver Gay Men’s Chorus performs Motown and More at the Ellie Caulkins Theater on April 1, 2022 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Seth McConnell)

As a passionate campaigner for stylistic diversity within choral singing, Knapp has a unique approach to activist choral singing. He comes with 20 years of experience with GALA Choruses (Gay and Lesbian Association of Choruses,) having also been the artistic director of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Houston (2001-2009) and the founding director of the Bayou City Women’s Chorus (2005-2009).

His choruses have appeared at Carnegie Hall, regional conventions of the American Choral Directors Association, and performed concert tours throughout Britain, Europe, and Russia.

Out of everything, Knapp says he will miss the sense of community associated with the Denver GMC most of all.

“It has always been very important to me that we serve our community,” he proclaims. “We have also been very proactive in going outside of the LGBTQ community, not at the expense of, but in addition to. Each year for the past several years, we’ve designated a marginalized community to collaborate on a concert with. We’ve worked with the homeless community and those dealing with housing insecurity; we’ve worked with the Hispanic community celebrating Latino and Hispanic artists, so I hope the organization continues to meet at this crossroad of arts and activism. I do think they go hand-in-hand.”

Knapp fully believes that social activism element is what makes the Denver GMC stand out from other choruses.

“Yes, we have fun; we sing Broadway, and we sing Pride songs, but we are constantly strengthening the social justice aspect of our work in the community,” he says. “I believe that’s what makes our organization different. The Denver GMC was founded in 1982, so this is not new to them. During the AIDS crisis, during political upheavals, when a tragedy happens like Club Q or Orlando, we have been out there in the community. I also hope that’s my lasting legacy. Not only are we striving to achieve music at its highest level, but also having a strong message behind that and weaving together social activism by being involved with the communities.” 

Thanks to Knapp’s hard work and contributions over the years, he has been the recipient of several awards and accolades. Houston Mayor Bill White proclaimed June 9 as “James Knapp Day,” and U.S. Representative Sheila Jackson Lee awarded Knapp the Certificate of Congressional Recognition from the U.S. House of Representatives for artistic excellence 

Additionally, he was elected as Grand Marshall for the Houston Pride Parade in 2009 and won the 2022 Denver Mayor Award for Excellence in Arts & Culture. 

“At the end of the day, what’s important to me is making a difference, but it certainly is an honor to be recognized like this,” Knapp says. 

Even though Knapp is stepping away from the Denver GMC, he hopes that it will have a greater presence in the city’s educational institutions and continue to evolve in its inclusivity.

“There has been a big change in the face of the chorus over the last 10 years,” he recalls. “It has become a much more diverse chorus. We have every walk of life in terms of identity and orientation, and I hope the chorus continues to build on that. It is known as the Denver GMC, but we have opened our doors to all people including gay women, nonbinary, and trans singers.”

Knapp only has a couple concerts left, but the one he is looking forward to the most is the upcoming Disney Pride in Concert, scheduled for March 31 and April 1 at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House. He believes this production will be the pinnacle of the season. 

“As you know, Disney has a mixed bag of experiences with the LGBTQ community,” he says. “They try to do the right thing, and I’m very proud of Disney, and this was a brainchild of all the choruses who have been trying to get permission from Disney to create this show. As you can imagine, being the largest media company in the world, there’s a lot of layers to go through. During COVID, the Boston GMC, and I have to give the largest kudos to them, they negotiated with Disney, and this is the first time they’re partnering with an organization to create an LGBTQ-specific concert package.”

The two-hour show will be a celebration of LGBTQ life, love, family, and perseverance. 

“Disney movies and musicals have really resonated deeply with the LGBTQ community because they kind of mirror our experiences of society,” Knapp continues. “Whether it’s Ariel, Belle, or Quasimodo, these characters are struggling to fit in and trying to accept themselves. This show is a beautifully crafted piece of art and choral theater, and what’s really cool is, they’ve opened up their whole catalog. We chose several numbers, and audiences can expect a multimedia extravaganza. There will be 120 voices, a 25-piece orchestra, choreography, and Disney opened up their vaults for us to use visual assets from the Disney films.”

Due to licensing and copyright, the Denver GMC cannot make any changes to the songs or choreography, but they are allowed to provide the narrative of the show.

“Getting permission from Disney is like an act of Congress, but I’m very excited that we were able to have liberty with the narrative,” Knapp concludes. “I believe there’s five different points in the concert where personal stories from an array of diverse chorus members will be interwoven with a musical number. It’s going to be showcasing the individual’s story and the meaning and connections to these timeless and universal Disney themes. We have the opportunity to showcase the stories of our chorus members, and I am so happy that this is a concert I get to be a part of before retiring.”

For more information about the Denver GMC and to purchase tickets for the upcoming Disney Pride in Concert, visit      

DENVER, CO – APRIL 1: The Denver Gay Men’s Chorus performs Motown and More at the Ellie Caulkins Theater on April 1, 2022 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Seth McConnell)

Source link

Tags: No tags

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *