Shawn Cullen, artistic director and conductor of the Heartland Men’s Chorus, talks possible KC “Gay-borhoods” in The Pitch Questionnaire
Kansas City transplant Shawn Cullen seems to be fulfilling his childhood dream of teaching by leading a group of 125 men in the Heartland Men’s Chorus, KC’s own ensemble of gay singers. The Chorus has been around for 35 years, and as of May, Cullen is the new Artistic Director and Conductor. Though Pride celebrations have been postponed this year, Cullen reminds us that Pride is more than a parade and that music can have an impact that lasts a lifetime.
Hometown: Tucson, AZ
Current neighborhood: Midtown/Hyde Park
Your drink: Bourbon + rocks
What does Kansas City need more of? Coming from Arizona, I think Kansas City needs more sunny days in the winter—and while I’m at it, I’d put in a general request for less snow and ice.
What’s your hidden talent? More a skill than talent, but I can confidently get you off the ground in a small single engine plane, and almost always get you back on the ground!
What’s your guilty pleasure? My blood type is chips and salsa.
Who did you want to be when you grew up? I always really wanted to be a teacher. I would even come home from school and make my little brothers play the part of students in my homemade classroom! #nerdalert
What would you tell your younger self? Invest in Apple, practice more piano, and remind me to share more time with people I love.
How would you describe the LGBTQ+ scene in Kansas City? I would describe our scene as being vibrant, growing, and poised for a new wave of presence in KC. Next on the check list: Let’s pick an OFFICIAL Gay-borhood and start populating it with tons of fabulous.
What does Pride mean to you? Pride to me means to embody who you are.
Now that in-person Pride events are canceled, how do you plan to celebrate Pride this year? Well, we gotta remember that Pride is a feeling, not a parade. I’m going to find moments to connect with friends in small gatherings to celebrate authenticity when we are able. I’m also going to take a moment to remember where we’ve come, and where we need to go. Who we can support and who we can inspire and support on a continued journey to equality and justice for all. (But also, I love a good parade!)
How would you describe the impact of the Heartland Men’s Chorus on Kansas City? Yes, HMC puts on productions that are musically excellent, entertaining, and filled with messages of love and acceptance—BUT, I believe the true impact is HMC’s unique ability to create a space for LGBTQ+ and allied singers to build connection to others and themselves through music. 125 lives are enriched each week working towards something bigger than themselves, in turn, rippling our mission’s impact on stages, in schools, churches, and other other OUTreach events.
How is the Heartland Men’s Chorus received in the Midwest? HMC is looked at as one of the largest, most successful, and musically excellent men’s choral ensembles in the country. Ambassadors of love and acceptance through music both here at home in KC, and throughout the United States.
When did your passion for music begin? I was singing and dancing by five, had a trumpet in my hand by nine, and soon after I was waving my arms conducting Beethoven and Disney soundtracks before 6th grade. My passion for music grew to take over every part of my life, and I’m happy to report—still obsessed.
Why did you choose to teach music? I honestly couldn’t see myself doing anything other than helping others be impacted by music like it did for me. I was inspired by my teachers that changed my life, and I wanted to work to do the same for others.
What song is your favorite to direct and why? Too hard to answer! There are songs in each show and every season that make my heart beat fast and my eyes get shiny! Anyone that knows me knows that I am a HUGE musical theater fan; so directing anything that delivers a story and shares a narrative that makes you think and feel, those are always my favorite!
How can our readers support the Heartland Men’s Chorus and queer Kansas Citians as a whole? During this challenging time when singing together or for audiences isn’t quite safe yet, FOLLOW US on Facebook or Instagram. Stay in touch with us as we share some exciting news about continuing our 35 year legacy in Kansas City for many more to come!