Kevin Stocks Q&A

June 14, 2021
Kevin Stocks shows how music can expand LGBTQ+ equity.

“One of the priorities that came out of our most recent strategic planning survey to internal and external constituents was to collaborate with, and focus outreach towards, communities with whom we might disagree. Our constituency identified the value in making sure our message can reach those who may not have access to the experiences and stories of LGBTQ+ people. We know community is built when empathy is engaged, and a person’s humanity is seen and better understood.”

Before you took over as executive director of TCGMC in 2019, you spent more than a decade in live event management, most recently as director of events for Gray Duck Media. What’s the top thing to remember when managing live events?

One of the things I like to do when planning and managing a live event is to put myself in the shoes of the attendee and walk through the entire process from communication leading up to the event to follow-up after the event. Going through that exercise, and being thoughtful about the guest’s experience, can help to identify processes that need attention. First impressions are so critical for an event attendee, and a bad experience at the beginning can taint the entire experience, even if everything else runs smoothly.

How does it feel taking over such a beloved institution like TCGMC, which is now in its fourth decade?

It’s an honor, and I’m humbled by the opportunity to serve an organization such as TCGMC, and the Twin Cities LGBTQ+ community. This organization was at the forefront of the movement for LGBTQ+ rights and representation, and while there has been a lot of progress made in the past 40 years, there’s still a lot left to do. Specifically, I think about rights and representation for the trans community, as well as LGBTQ+ communities of color.

You grew up loving choral music, singing in the Oregon Children’s Choir and at the Oregon Bach Festival. What drew you to the music?

I think a big part of my attraction to choral music at a young age was the fact that it was something that came to me naturally, and music was part of my childhood. My parents are both musical, so we did a lot of singing and music making growing up as a family. Also, the idea of being part of a collaborative experience with others was appealing to me. Like many young people, I wanted to belong somewhere and be part of a community and music making was a way to do that.

After graduating from St. Olaf, you traveled the world managing family stage shows. Do you have a favorite memory from that time?

One of the highlights of my time as a tour manager was the opportunity to see many corners of the United States, and also to have international experiences. A two-week residency in Hawaii will always stick out, but I also valued the chance to spend a week in parts of the country I might have never otherwise experienced. I’ve spent time in just about every major metro area of the United States, so I feel like there are ways I can relate to folks from all over our country. Or, at least, have some frame of reference when I read stories in the news, or meet someone from somewhere I’ve toured.

You spent a decade promoting live performances for the St. Olaf Choir, St. Olaf Band and St. Olaf Orchestra, including stops at Carnegie Hall and Walt Disney Concert Hall. Of all the venues you’ve been in, which has the best acoustics?

Carnegie Hall is certainly a highlight due to the prestige associated with that venue, but one hall that is absolutely stunning is Severance Hall in Cleveland. It doesn’t have the international renown, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a better room for an orchestral, symphonic wind or choral performance.

Outreach is a crucial part of the mission of TCGMC. Now that we’re inching to a post-Covid world, what are your priorities?

One of the priorities that came out of our most recent strategic planning survey to internal and external constituents was to collaborate with, and focus outreach towards, communities with whom we might disagree. Our constituency identified the value in making sure our message can reach those who may not have access to the experiences and stories of LGBTQ+ people. We know community is built when empathy is engaged, and a person’s humanity is seen and better understood. Recently we partnered with the Minneapolis Veteran’s Hospital for Memorial Day with the intention of building a bridge and healing some wounds that have been an outcome of past military policy, most recently specific to the acceptance of service people who are trans. In this video collaboration we interviewed two VA staff members who talked about the services that are available to all who served our country, and one of our small ensembles sang a piece called “Ella’s Song.” The song, which includes the text, “We who believe in freedom cannot rest,” speaks to the intersection between the social justice work that’s needed in our local communities today with regard to racial inequities and the freedoms that are protected by our military service members.

How did TCGMC manage during Covid? Did you do Zoom concerts?

It was our priority to do whatever we could, in whatever way we could, to continue to nurture our mission of building community in a way that would be safe for our singers, staff and audiences. So we did rehearse over Zoom, which is admittedly not very artistically rewarding, and had our singers record their voice parts at home so they could be combined into a virtual concert which we presented on YouTube. We were very fortunate to have some amazing members within our organization who were willing and capable of taking on a significant amount of the production work. We presented three virtual concerts to coincide with the three main stage concerts we would traditionally perform in person and are very proud of the outcome.

What’s next for TCGMC?

We are looking ahead to our 41st season that includes in-person singing, and three main stage concerts. We’re mixing up our concert venues a little, but excited about the prospect of returning to something that feels more like what collaborative singing should feel like. There’s nothing like the sound and feel of live choral artistry both from a performer and audience standpoint. However, we also recognize that we have been able to reach a wider audience though our online presentations and see value in continuing to invest in those types of projects as well.