Phil Cynar
Renaissance City Choirs in concert

Uniquely bonded and allied by their lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) identity and a love of singing, women and men from the region raise their voices in concert this Sunday evening, Dec. 9, filling Oakland’s Carnegie Music Hall with seasonal song that’s as diverse as the choir itself – joyful, campy, soulful and sassy.

Jeffry Blake Johnson, D.M.A.  is artistic director of the Renaissance City Choirs (RCC), an organization now in its 27th year of providing the region’s LGBT community – as well as a number of choral music-loving heterosexual neighbors – with an outlet for artistic expression and the advancement and appreciation of sexual diversity.

Johnson has been busy – up to the tip of his conductor’s baton – with preparations for the 2012 concert, entitled “Warm by the Fire,” but he shared the following reflections to better acquaint people with the special ensembles composing the RCC and a performance that aims banish winter’s chill with song while affirming, through music, the worth and dignity of sexual minorities.

ImaginePittsburghNow: In brief, how did the Renaissance City Choirs (RCC) get its start?

Jeffry Blake Johnson: In 1985, the Renaissance City Choir/Pittsburgh Gay Chorus Inc. was established as a gay male chorus, and in 1987, it became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. That same year, RCC joined the Gay and Lesbian Association of Choruses (GALA) – an international organization with more than 180 LGBT choruses.

To celebrate the choir’s 10th anniversary, RCC hosted a 10th anniversary concert at the Benedum Center and invited nearby GALA choruses – Columbus Gay Men’s Chorus, North Coast Men’s Chorus and Rochester Gay Men’s Chorus – to perform. It was also the debut performance for the Renaissance City Women’s Choir formed in January 1995.

IPN:  What does the RCC uniquely bring to the LGBT community in the Pittsburgh area, as well as to the community at large?  What does this special choir have the power to do with its music – both within the group and outside in the community?

RCC Artistic Director Jeffry Blake Johnson

JBJ: The RCC is a microcosm of American society: LGBT men and women living alongside our openly heterosexual brothers and sisters. We work for greater understanding between people of different backgrounds and identities, as well as the advancement of equality. And more simply, we work to create beautiful art and moments of music that are shared with each other and with our audiences. As a true rainbow community we work on living and cooperating in peace and respect, and we try to share those values within our own LGBT community and the wider community. As an organization, we seek to build bridges within our community and with the community at large.

IPN:  How did you land your job as artistic director of the RCC?  As a transplant to Pittsburgh what has struck a chord (pardon the pun) with you?

JBJ: Since I began living in Pittsburgh in 1996 and working at East Liberty Presbyterian Church (2000 – 2007), which is the home base of RCC, I knew about the choirs and had heard them in many concerts through the years. A friend of mine, who has friends in the choirs, mentioned that she thought the position was open and referred me to the choirs’ website where I learned all about the job opening. I went through a series of interviews with a search committee and an audition in a choir rehearsal. RCC is truly a family, and the people in the choirs very much love each other. That wonderful bond was apparent to me from the beginning. Individually, the singers are funny, wise, silly, talented and vivacious, and they bring all of those qualities to their music-making and advocacy.

Pittsburgh’s amazing diversity of communities throughout the city, and of course, it’s beautiful rolling hills, rivers and bridges struck a chord with me.

IPN:  What one thing, in your opinion, that would improve Pittsburgh for its LGBT residents?

JBJ: Marriage equality would be one of the most meaningful things for the LGBT community in Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania. We need this, not only for those of us who wish to be married, but as a symbol of respect to demonstrate that we are not second-class citizens in our society. There are 1,138 benefits, rights and protections provided on the basis of marital status in federal law. Until we have full marriage equality, we will be paid less, and our families will be treated as inferior in comparison with our heterosexual brothers and sisters.

IPN:  Silly question, but is everyone in the choir a bona fide LGBT individual? If not, tell us about what’s likely to be the RCC’s “one percent.”

JBJ: There are approximately 65 plus members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and allies singing with the Renaissance City Choirs. Although no one has been polled specifically, we do have a number of openly heterosexual folk singing with us. And, we love that!

IPN:  If a reader has time for just one seasonal concert, why should it yours?

JBJ: “Warm by the Fire” will provide a multi-faceted experience. Our audience will hear beautiful classic holiday music, as well as a sassy new composition from composer Jake Heggie (composer of the opera Dead Man Walking) and lyricist Mark Campbell (lyricist for the opera Silent Night, winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize in Music). We’ll sing holiday tunes with the Edgewood Symphony Orchestra and enjoy the performance of the LGBTA youth performance troupe Dreams of Hope. And, for many people, one of the most anticipated traditions of the holiday season will be taking part in our annual singing of the “Twelve Days of Christmas” replete with rowdiness. If you have not experienced “The Twelve Days” with the RCC, you don’t know what fun you’re missing.

Watch a preview video of the 2012 RCC holiday concert here.

 

The “Warm by the Fire” concert begins at 7 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 9 at Carnegie Music Hall, 4400 Forbes Ave. in Oakland (15213). Click here for more information or to purchase tickets (general admission: $25 advance,  $30 at door; premius seats: $50; students: $10.)

Pittsburgh’s got a happening LGBT community. Click here to read more about it and some of its people.

In 2011, ImaginePittsburghNow.com highlighted the sustainability of some of Pittsburgh’s most cherished holiday traditions. This year we’re calling attention to a few of our favorite seasonal things, with a bit of a twist toward greater diversity or international flair. Send your suggestions to us at Twitter.com/ImaginePgh, or Facebook.com/PittsburghRegion.

Ben Kamber

Our Region’s Business hits the road to northern Allegheny County, the site of our region’s latest asset dedicated to sustainability — Chatham University’s Eden Hall campus. The university recently broke ground on the 388 acre site, which once functioned as a retreat for female employees of the H.J. Heinz Company. When complete, the campus will welcome 1,200 resident students and will have an extremely limited environmental footprint. David Hassenzahl, dean of Chatham’s School of Sustainability and the Environment is joined by Alice Julier, program director of Chatham’s Food Studies Program to discuss the campus and its integration with the broader Chatham mission.

Happy Animals Yield Healthy, Tasty Meat at North Woods Ranch

This is certainly not your grocery store variety of beef and pork. North Wood Ranch’s ultra-organic animal rearing practices are producing some of the healthiest and tastiest meat you can find anywhere. The Marshal Township ranch is the brainchild of Oliver Griswold, a one-time aeronautical engineer who decided to create the ranch after reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan.

Urban Farming Takes Hold in Pittsburgh at Healcrest Urban Farm

Successful farming can no doubt be difficult in any location, but how about in the heart of the city of Pittsburgh? With a background in community development, Maria Graziana set out to answer this question after acquiring nearly two acres of land in the city’s Garfield neighborhood to establish Healcrest Urban Farm. Graziana discusses the idea behind the farm, which sits on the site of several abandoned home lots.

Chatham University Receives Chemical Landmark Designation From The American Chemical Society

On the heals of the 50th anniversary of the publication of “Silent Spring,” Chatham University is being recognized by the American Chemical Society for the work of it’s most recognizable alum in transforming the thinking of the nation’s chemical industry. Patricia DeMarco, director of Chatham’s Rachel Carson Institute discusses Carson’s impact on the chemical industry and the importance of this recognition for the university.

Our Region’s Business airs Sundays at 11 a.m. on WPXI-TV. Hosted by the Allegheny Conference’s Bill Flanagan, the 30-minute business affairs program is co-produced with Cox Broadcasting. The program is rebroadcast on PCNC-TV at 3:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Sundays, and at 3:30 p.m. Mondays. It also airs Sundays on WJAC-TV (Johnstown-Altoona) at 6 a.m. and WTOV-TV (Wheeling-Steubenville) at 6:30 a.m.

Bill Flanagan

It’s fitting to close out a year in which Pittsburgh was designated a “Best of the World” place to visit by National Geographic Traveler by racking up several more accolades.

Sperling’s BestPlaces ranks Pittsburgh as the best city to relocate to in the United States, ahead of Austin, Minneapolis and Denver, among others. The organization, which has been crunching metro data since 1999, says “Pittsburgh is an affordable city that offers the amenities of a megalopolis with added stability.”

The Brookings Institution also places Pittsburgh among a rarified group, one of just three metros in the nation that have fully recovered from the Great Recession. According to Brookings’ Global Metro Monitor, the other two are Knoxville, Tenn. and Dallas.

And The Economist has weighed in with a look at employment growth in the five years since the onset of the Great Recession. The headline, “Let’s All Be Texas,” may have missed the real story. Sure, three out of the five best-performing economies in the country are in Texas: Austin, Houston and San Antonio. And Oklahoma City ranks third. But Pittsburgh ranks fifth, ahead of Dallas and even Washington, D.C. In fact, our region is the only metro in the industrial Midwest to make the top ten.

The timing of all this attention is even sweeter as we look forward to next year. 2013 is the 30thanniversary of the year that our region hit rock bottom. In 1983 the metro unemployment rate was 18.3 percent. In Beaver County it was something like 29 percent. The following year, more than 50,000 left the region.

Those trends have been dramatically reversed, and over the past generation our region has been re-imagined and re-made. Happy anniversary to everyone who’s played a part. With the kind of momentum we’ve had lately, the best is yet to come.

Laura Fisher

When workforce demands start growing, the ShaleNET  program gets going with comprehensive recruitment, training and placement and retention services for employers and employees in the natural gas industry.

ShaleNET is a U.S. Department of Labor-funded $4.9 million multi-state workforce program addressing current and future jobs in the burgeoning natural gas industry. Focused initially on the Marcellus Shale natural gas play in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio and New York, ShaleNET in September received another DOL grant totaling $14.9 million. This second grant will extend programmatic and geographic reach.

An innovative partnership between educators (primarily in community colleges and technical schools) and the natural gas industry, ShaleNET now will also prepare individuals in places like Texas and North Dakota to successfully fill key shale gas jobs. The program draws on best practices and demonstrates the value of “stackable credentials”  in preparing workers for jobs open now and those anticipated in the future. Stackable credentials can be accumulated over time to build up a person’s qualifications and help him or her to move along a career pathway or up a career ladder to different and potentially higher-paying jobs.

The partnership approach distinguishes the ShaleNET initiative. Through industry and academic partnerships, employers and potential employees are able to benefit from ShaleNET’s one-stop training model. Redundancies are reduced, curriculum is current and standardized and those seeking training don’t have to guess at which training options will provide them with what they need to be successful on the job.

Leaders from industry and academia recently gathered for the fourth annual ShaleNET Workforce Forum. They included representatives from the four schools delivering ShaleNET training:  Navarro Community College, Corsicana, Texas; Pennsylvania College of Technology, Williamsport, Pa.; Stark State College , North Canton, Ohio; and Westmoreland County Community College, Youngwood, Pa.

Also participating in the forum was Jane Oates, U.S. Department of Labor Assistant Secretary of Employment and Training Administration and Allegheny Conference on Community Development CEO Dennis Yablonsky. Both were featured speakers addressing the unique benefits of this partnership and its potential to become a national model for workforce development.

Watch the video below to learn more about ShaleNET’s value to training providers and as a government investment and why Pittsburgh is uniquely poised to advance this type of approach as a successful model.

Dennis Yablonsky

Part of the power of Pittsburgh is the way that individuals come together to find solutions across sectors, organizations and interests. That is exemplified in the robust discussions generated at the Robert M. Mill Labor-Management Lecture Series, which returns to the Community College of Allegheny County on this coming Monday, Dec. 3.

At that 3 p.m. session, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and I will discuss what is needed to build a modern transportation system that serves the needs of both business and individuals. I’m looking forward to hearing from John D. Porcari, deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation, who will keynote the event. Admission is free but reservations are required to LaborManagement@ccac.edu, or call 412-237-4476.

The timing is fortuitous, because transportation funding remains an urgent  concern for our region. The Conference is continuing to urge state legislators to take up the long-term statewide funding solution outlined in the 2011 report by the Transportation Funding Advisory Commission (TFAC). It’s a realistic, achievable framework for meeting the funding needs of not just public transit, but also of the commonwealth’s highways, roads, bridges, ports and rails.

This ongoing labor-management series aims to enhance the understanding and recognition of the large role labor unions and labor relations have played in Pittsburgh’s successes. Previous sessions have featured Leo Gerard, international president of the United Steelworkers and John Surma, chairman & CEO of U.S. Steel (and former chair of the Allegheny Conference). Interviews with CONSOL Energy President Nick DeIuliis and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka following their appearances at an October 2011 session can be heard here or below.

Ben Kamber

The Fateful History of Fannie Mae

James Haggerty, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal based in Pittsburgh, has penned a new book on the history of Fannie Mae. Titled The Fateful History of Fannie Mae, the book chronicles the development of the mortgage giant in the 1938 New Deal era up until the present financial crisis. Haggerty discusses how Fannie Mae was never originally designed to dominate the mortgage market as it did just before the collapse of the housing bubble in 2008.

PNC: Fiscal Cliff, International Instability Presents Challenge For Investors

The looming fiscal cliff threat, instability in the Middle East and continuing uncertainty in Europe are just a few of the pressing challenges facing investors. Mike Maglio of PNC Wealth Management discusses these and other issues that can potentially drive uncertainty in the market and lays out a strategy for long-term investment planning.

Dynamics: Revolutionizing Decades Old Credit Card Technology

Dynamics, one of Pittsburgh’s hottest start-ups, is completely changing the way consumers interact with their credit and debit cards. By implanting a computer into the cards, Dynamics is adding enormous functionally by opening up the communication channels between consumers and banks. Jeff Mullen, founder and CEO of the CMU spinout, discusses the technology driving the company’s growth and why Pittsburgh is a great location to start a business.

Spreadshirt: Now Anyone Can Create A T-Shirt Shop

Calling all designers and budding entrepreneurs! Ever wanted to design your own t-shirts and other apparel but didn’t have the start-up capital to get your ideas off the ground? Spreadshirt, an international e-commerce company with U.S. operations in the Pittsburgh region, has the answer for you. Bill caught up with Phil Rooke, CEO of Spreadshirt, at the company’s Greensburg facility to learn more about this innovative e-commerce company. Check out the Our Region’s Business store here.

Our Region’s Business airs Sundays at 11 a.m. on WPXI-TV. Hosted by the Allegheny Conference’s Bill Flanagan, the 30-minute business affairs program is co-produced with Cox Broadcasting. The program is rebroadcast on PCNC-TV at 3:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Sundays, and at 3:30 p.m. Mondays. It also airs Sundays on WJAC-TV (Johnstown-Altoona) at 6 a.m. and WTOV-TV (Wheeling-Steubenville) at 6:30 a.m.