After 50 posts over the span of 5 years, Humans of TCGMC is coming to a close. In our final post, we honor our long-standing principal accompanist, teacher, and friend, the incomparable Timothy De Prey.
I’ve been looking forward to this for a while, because you are one of the longest standing pillars of TCGMC. How long have you been working for us? How did you start working for us?
Thirty-two years this year. And what’s really coincidental is that’s half my life. So I just came out with my age! But think about that. Half of my life I’ve been playing for the chorus
So a friend of mine, David Lowman, who was, I think he was the third director um, was starting the job, and he asked me if I would be the accompanist. However, I was dating somebody at the time who said, “No, I don’t want you in a room of gay men without me there.” So like a fool, I said no, and the same thing happened with Minnesota Opera; I was asked to go on tour with them and he said no. That relationship didn’t last. Later on, David called me because their accompanist was going on tour and he asked me to sub for their Christmas concert thirty-two years ago. I did it, and that’s where I fell in love with the chorus.
I fell in love with everything about it – the songs, the singers, the mission, the music, the audience. I have a college friend who’s come to almost every single concert, and she talks about the fact that she was like one of the only women who came to that concert 32 years ago Christmas and the only straight woman for sure, so the audience has changed drastically. By this time, the name had been changed to the Gay Men’s Chorus. That’s a really interesting thing about my life; the chorus’ name is on my resume, so there’s no hiding.
Around that time, I used to teach this lovely young boy and lovely young girl. I’d given their parents my resume, but they must have missed it, because I invited them to the chorus concert and they never came back to my house and never returned my phone calls. I know why.
After that Christmas concert I wrote a letter to the executive director saying, “If you ever need a pianist again I would love to do this.” It happens that the pianist was ill and had died from HIV in January, so I never really auditioned for the chorus. David just asked me to play. That was it – I’ve been here since then, and I’ve never missed a single concert. One time I had strep throat, and I still played.
Tim! Oh my god!
I know and I remember how sick I was. But I’m dedicated.
Um, yes, you are. What do you love so much about playing for the chorus?
It’s my dream job, and the mission statement aligns with my values. Music. The chorus keeps me on my toes. There isn’t a concert that I don’t have to work hard at and it has opened up so many different styles and genres that I was not playing when I started so I am I’m just so thankful for this opportunity um I wrote down a list of the names of the people that I shared the stage with because of the chorus… Anne Hampton Calloway, who everyone knows, who sang at my wedding last month. I commissioned her to write a song for Scott and me. I’ve also played with Michael Feinstein and Matt Albert. And, of course, Britney Coleman from Broadway and Laurie Ruben.
I do have one regret. Ken Cole, who’s a friend of mine who was the executive director of GALA at the time, asked me if I would accompany this soprano in the opening ceremony for this song, “Glitter and Be Gay,” which is a monster of a piece. I was already getting stressed out about the music that we were doing, so I said, you know, I’m not gonna be able to enjoy myself if I’m gonna be obsessed about accompanying this in front of 7,000 people? The singer, I later found out, was Kristin Chenoweth. Yes, I missed my one opportunity to play with Kristin Chenoweth.
I’m so sorry. But it also means you were talented enough, and supported enough, to play for her.
Oh yes. The chorus has supported me from the very beginning – the administration, the guys, the audience has given me the confidence to do what I do. I’m not hesitant or afraid of not playing well. I have developed as a pianist technically and stylistically, as well as belief in my own ability.
I’ll talk a little bit about the balance of performing and teaching surely because I’ve been at MacPhail [Center for Music] for 25 years now. I firmly believe that by being an active performer you set an example to your students. I know many, many excellent musicians who no longer play or sing or whatever their instrument is because they just got too busy and I’m out there teaching. I’m a better teacher because of performing and I’m a better performer because of teaching. If I struggle with a specific musical issue, I have to actively try to figure out what I’m doing and then I can apply everything that I just taught myself to my students and the same thing with them.
It’s a bit of a broader question, but what does music in general mean to you, why did you choose it as your profession?
I was never into sports, so growing up in the family and in school I latched onto the piano. The rule of the household was you had to take piano until you were a freshman in high school. I played until I was a freshman and then never stopped. I drove everyone crazy. I got a sense of value from other people and from myself by being a musician. I found my soul and my person in the piano, and that’s why I pursued it and never got any backlash from my family about not making a lot of money.
In fact, one of my favorite stories is when I bought my Steinway piano, and this could make me cry. When I bought my piano decades ago, it was worth $22,000, and now it’s about $45,000. I had to tell my mother that I was gonna be spending this money, so I got her on the phone, and I’m thinking, “I’m going to be in trouble here. She’s gonna give me a lecture about fiscal responsibility.” I said, “Mama, I found this piano I’m going to be buying.” And she said, “I can’t wait to hear you play it. I can’t wait to see it and hear you play it.” That’s one of those moments that got me. And when I played for her, it was beautiful. She loved it. She had M.S, so she would sit in a wheelchair and read a book while I was practicing. I was like, “Mom, I can’t practice if you’re in the room,” but she wanted to listen! My parents were so proud.
I have to ask… As someone with thirty-two years in the chorus, who is recently married, what do you see in your future?
I will eventually leave the chorus, but I think I’ll just cut it down to become a featured pianist for one piece per concert or something like that. I always think it’s funny because I’m the principal accompanist, but there’s no other accompanist here! I’m not quite living my golden years yet, but I can see them and see them on the horizon.They always say that, career-wise, musicians don’t retire, so I look forward to the day I retire from my administrative job at MacPhail, but I’ll continue to teach and play. I don’t know at what capacity, but one of the things I really would like to do is compose.
One Christmas, I asked all my young students what their favorite Christmas song was, and I arranged it at their level. And I have a little book with them. I told a student this the other day, and I thought, “I could write like this!”
I love making music, I love the feeling when I play. I really appreciate that Gerald gives me solos, like, “No One is Alone” at the cabaret, and at our recent concert in Phips. Another thing I love is that, he’ll start me, but if I have a prelude, he’ll put his hands down. I don’t have to follow him; I can become my own musician.
Okay, final question. You’ve met many, many people over the past thirty-two years serving the chorus. For those near and far who may be reading, what would you say to them?
Well like I said earlier, I didn’t audition for the chorus and I’ve always kind of felt guilty; I just kind of got the job. But I just appreciate the love and support I get from every single person – especially those who come up to me after rehearsal and thank me. As I’m leaving, I have chorus members thank me and send me emails after a concert about my playing, and that keeps me going. I’m never taken advantage of, and I’m never overlooked. As long as that continues, I’ll continue, until they tell me to GO AWAY.
Josh Elmore (he/him), singer and member of our small ensemble OutLoud!, created Humans of TCGMC in 2018. He graduated from Carleton College with a B.A. in Linguistics and has since worked in sales, higher education, and, most recently, as a bilingual insurance agent (Spanish). Endlessly curious, he has dabbled in improv theater, stand-up comedy, sword fighting, the cello, and modeling for fantasy-themed photo shoots.