Our highly skilled and fearless leader, NHGMC Artistic Director, Luc Andre Roberge, has been directing the chorus and its productions since the Fall of 2000. He started with NHGMC as a singing member ― a very talented bass ― in September, 1998, the year NHGMC was founded. Luc grew up in Manchester, New Hampshire, in a family that loved music and singing. He still lives in Manchester with his husband, Rickey Shepard, a bass and former assistant to the chorus’s brilliant accompanist, Gary Finger.
In addition to his professional work in music, Luc also maintains a business career, working in district merchandising for CVS/Pharmacy. He’s been with CVS for 20 years. He earned a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from New Hampshire College. On the music side of the fence, Luc studied advanced music theory, conducting, and voice, at the University of New Hampshire. He has also completed the Choral Concepts and Conducting program under Donald Neuen, Professor of Conducting at UCLA. Luc is a member of the American Choral Directors Association. He also directs the choir at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Manchester. Coincidentally (or not) Gary accompanies Luc and plays for the choirs that Luc directs.
As our director since 2000, Luc has the most unique perspective on NHGMC and its history. “We’ve had a lot of real good moments, but we’ve also had some growing pains, which any organization will have… changes in leadership and leadership style. But through it all, you move forward. Yes, you have to look back, but you must always look ahead. The chorus has done some wonderful things, and I am very grateful for all the friends I’ve made. With each new season, I look forward to new guys joining us, wondering what type of people they’ll be and what type of energy they’ll bring to the organization.”
“I’ve witnessed the good, the bad, and the ugly. But there are so many good moments. My biggest high is when we do something really fabulous. We seem to have wonderful concert seasons. We always seem to pull it off, though it gets stressful for everyone when it doesn’t come together until the last couple of rehearsals. But the thing I enjoy the most about the chorus is being around all you great guys. Being with the guys energizes me. Often times after rehearsal on Tuesdays, I get a second wind. After 9:30, I’m filled with energy because of what we’ve accomplished!”
Millennium 2000 also marked the year Gary joined NHGMC. Along with the singing members, Luc and Gary are a proven, powerful team, crafting great choral arrangements and delivering high-quality entertainment for the people of New Hampshire.
In the early years of Luc’s directorship, he continued to sing an occasional piece, including his incredibly powerful (and dare we say legendary) bass solo, Old Man River, performed at our Spring 2003 concert series, Take Five, which is also recorded as our fifth anniversary CD. Take Five, by the way, is still sold on this web site and at our live concerts — a must-hear!
For Luc, his family, the chorus, and our audience, the Spring 2003 concert in Manchester was a sweet, poignant experience. Luc had just come out to his parents, Jeanne and Tony Roberge, on the evening before the concert. “I remember sitting with them and telling them… there was some crying. For them, it was such a non-issue. However, my mom was very upset over all the concerts she had missed!” Indeed, Luc’s parents were instead focused on their unbounded pride — completely and lovingly focused on their son’s musical achievements, not his orientation. “It was so much of a non-issue, they went and told all their friends about the concert, and a couple of dozen of their friends showed up at that concert!” When it was time to sing his solo, Luc sprung a surprise. “I dedicated the song to my parents. I informed the whole audience that I had just come out to my parents, how it was such a non-issue with them, and I acknowledged that they were there with a lot of their friends. My mom cried and cried, and at the end of the song, they both got up and gave me a big hug. Actually it was also a very emotional moment for the audience and the chorus. I found out later that a lot of the guys had difficulty singing that song after I had prefaced it with my coming-out story. They were fighting back tears.”
Both of Luc’s proud parents attended every concert since 2003, until his beloved father, Tony, passed away in March 2013.
Luc also led the chorus’s 10th anniversary Spring concert series, Celebrates Ten, in 2008, and our 15th anniversary Spring concert series, We Got That Swing!, in 2013. Celebrates Ten is also recorded on CD and available on this web site — also a must-hear!
To say that Luc “discovered” a love of singing and music is an understatement. He has been living it his entire life. At age seven, Luc performed his first solo during his First Communion Mass. He took private music lessons on his parents’ Hammond organ. In junior high school, he started taking private clarinet lessons, and became a member of his junior high school band. About the same time, he and his parents started singing in their church choir. During his senior year of high school, Luc was chosen as Drum Major, and he led the marching band at parades, football games, and pep rallies. By that time, he occupied first chair in the band, was section leader for the concert band, and played saxophone in the jazz band.
“I started playing the organ in the fourth grade. I had a nun come over to my parents’ house, doing private practice. But I wanted to be in the band, and obviously you can’t play organ in a concert band. So I picked up the clarinet cause my brother had played it. I really liked it. From there I played tenor sax in high school jazz band. I also played alto sax, but soprano clarinet was the one I enjoyed the most. I sang in church choir, and that’s where my interest in singing came from. I went to New Hampshire College, but at the time they had no music major there. It was a business school with very little liberal arts. My major started off in accounting and computer science, then switched to Business Administration. As much as I loved music, playing and singing, in my senior year of high school I decided not to do it as my main life’s career. I figured if I had to do it to make a living, it would take the passion out of it. I thought I wouldn’t enjoy it as much.”
Luc and Rickey got married on December 21, 2013, twelve years after they met in May, 2001, at the salon where Rickey worked as a stylist. “I had been going to that salon for a while, and we just started dating. I wasn’t looking to get into a relationship, but the two of us just hit it off so well. And from the beginning, I’ve looked at him as a real good friend as much as anything else. It’s been the best relationship I’ve ever been in. We’ve never had out-and-out fighting, never had a yelling and screaming match. Sure, we’ve had our disagreements, we agree to disagree, but have never experienced any yelling and screaming. It’s funny — he tells everyone about an incident at one of the first rehearsals he attended back at the Unitarian church. He says I pulled a ‘Linda Blair’ moment on him when my head spun around at him. Well, I could hear him talking in the back of the room. I had to let him know I wanted silence! It didn’t matter that it was him. At rehearsals, I need silence.”
Of course, our Tuesday rehearsals are fun, as well as a lot of hard work. Luc believes humor is important for the chorus, as he facilitates the fun banter, quick-witted humor, and friendly zingers among members. Luc can certainly dish it out, though it’s irrelevant whether or not he can take it because he gets it back in full measure… but that long, sharp, pointy maestro object he waves in our faces does scare us. “It’s walking a fine line. As a director, I need to determine how much time during rehearsals to work diligently and how much time to laugh and crack a few jokes. The last thing you guys want, after working hard all day in your own jobs, is to have the director harping on you all night long. I think we need to reach that happy medium, staying focused, working hard and enjoying it all at the same time.”
Way (way) up at the top of Luc’s interests: Christmas! For Luc, Christmas time has always been a special season of joy and celebration. He and Rickey host their legendary annual holiday party for friends, family, and chorus members. Anyone who has attended one of these special events will tell you that their home looks more like Santa’s Village ― a spectacular display of thousands of Christmas lights and ornaments, holiday music, delicious food, and, as of Christmas, 2013, 22 (or is 23?) Christmas trees! We think he may have kept Hallmark in business, since thousands of his ornaments were purchased at Hallmark! Luc’s ornaments are strategically hung like “theme parks” – Star Trek, Star Wars, snowmen, Wizard of Oz, Santas, and so on.
“As a child, I remember we had wonderful Christmases. Not just because of the toys and gifts we got — my parents didn’t spoil us — but it was such a great time! The only grandparent I knew used to sleep over on Christmas Eve. We had relatives come over to the house, we’d have our big meal, and we’d have parties after Midnight Mass. It was a very positive experience throughout childhood. I loved decorating, loved putting up the tree. It wasn’t till I was a teenager we had real tree. Putting together our first artificial tree was a family project, first putting all the needles into holes in these five-inch metal rods, then putting those rods together to make the branches. We did it together as a family, and I thoroughly enjoyed it!”
“One of my favorite Christmas TV specials of all time was the annual classic, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, with Burl Ives,” Luc told our audiences in his introduction of Holly Jolly Christmas in our Winter 2010 concert series. Yet he lamented, “When I was a child, we didn’t have VCRs or VHSs, so I had to wait an entire year just to see it again!”
Fair warning: After the holidays, never ask Luc, “So, have you taken down your Christmas trees yet?”
On his job at CVS: “I wear many hats, and report directly to the district manager, who is in charge of eighteen stores… I do new employee training, some personnel work, some merchandising, some loss-prevention audits… I make sure employees are doing their jobs honestly. If a new store’s being set up or remodeled, I go in there with a crew.” Luc has no particular job title; he’s a jack of all trades. “I tell my boss I must be his personal gopher.” At CVS, Luc stepped down as a store manager eleven years ago. “I first started as an assistant manager, then became a store manager. It’s nice that I’m not working incredibly long hours as a salaried employee anymore. Being an hourly employee gives me more time… One of the reasons I stepped down as store manager was because I couldn’t be director of the chorus with the long hours.”
Before CVS, Luc worked at Rite Aid and Osco Drug. “Here’s the funny thing — I started at Osco before graduating from high school. I was a typical freshman in college who didn’t pay too much attention to my academic studies. But in my sophomore year, I started working more hours at Osco and my grades went up. In my junior and senior years, I was working full time, but was getting almost all straight A’s! The harder and the more I worked, the better my grades got… at that time I could go on only four hours sleep.”
“My parents weren’t able to support me going to college, so I had to work full time to continue. I couldn’t get any assistance from the college… the thing that irritated me most about that college was when I went to the financial aid office, and they said, ‘You know, your parents should remortgage their house,’ and I said, ‘They’re retirement age!’ They also suggested my brother and sister help out! So I did what I needed to do. I worked full time. It was a killer… In my junior year, I went to school during the summer. So instead of finishing in May, I finished in December. I just wanted to get it over and done with.”
How did NHGMC get started in 1998? “There was a bunch of guys from New Hampshire who had gone to a Boston Gay Men’s Chorus concert, and several of them were singers, and they thought it was time for New Hampshire to do something similar. They were able to find a director an accompanist, and they put the call out… thirty or forty guys came to the first rehearsal, but after that it died down to about a dozen. For all those who showed up at first, it was something new and they were merely curious to see what it was all about. I wasn’t there when the chorus did its first concert series. I joined in September.” The only original singing member currently singing with the group is first tenor, Stephen Valido.
Luc’s other interests? “Other than music and Christmas, I don’t think I have much time for anything else. Music consumes so much of my week. Gary and I are together a few nights per week!” And speaking of Gary: “I think Gary is excellent. It’s like a good relationship. We know each other extremely well, almost to the point where, like partners, we can finish each other’s sentences. A lot of times he knows what I’m looking for in a piece of music before I even articulate it! I was very pleased to have the chorus perform at his wedding. He hadn’t requested it, but I thought it was important… I didn’t want to surprise him, so I asked him if he felt comfortable putting all three singing groups together for one song, All Are Welcome.”
Luc does love science fiction. “I’m a big Trekkie… I love Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Voyager, and also Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” His favorite types of music: “I’m very eclectic… I love to listen to classical music but equally enjoy pop. Country/western music doesn’t do anything for me. Jazz? I enjoy it, but can take it or leave it…” His favorite musical is My Fair Lady with Audrey Hepburn. His favorite food: “I love pasta… give me lasagna, and I’m just in heaven! Rickey’s a vegetarian. He does most of the cooking at home and he doesn’t eat pasta… but I eat whatever he makes.” His favorite color is blue.
How did he become a director? “In 2000, the director was retiring… there was also a vacancy for accompanist, so the Board asked me and Gary to fill those positions… they knew me as someone with the ability to direct the chorus.” NHGMC was Luc’s first choral directorship. “In my senior year in high school, I directed the band on football fields and at parades as Drum Major. I took directing lessons at UNH back then.”
What made him want to be a director? “I knew I could do it, and I like the idea of putting a program together. One of my passions is to look at, listen to, and learn new pieces of music and to teach them to others. To me, there’s nothing greater than taking a piece of music from the very beginning, when no one knows it, to the point of performance. It’s an extraordinary experience, not only fulfilling for myself but also fulfilling for the audiences.”
“One concept that’s difficult for people to understand is that when a concert’s done, I’m done with it and I put it behind me. Not because I didn’t like the concert or the music, but because I’ve been dealing with the music for six or seven months before the guys even start rehearsing it! I’m looking forward to the next season and the season after that. Even with our CDs, Gary and I are in the studio listening to the pieces over and over and over. Once the CD comes out, I don’t need to hear it again. Again, not that I didn’t like it or enjoy it.”
His most memorable chorus moment: NHGMC’s performance at Palace Theater, Manchester, in the program, Area Code 603, in which several other New Hampshire groups performed as a benefit for the theater. “I think we did a wonderful job. The audience was very receptive to us even though there was some negativity thrown at the chorus… It was awesome. Yes, there was some negativity, but we were the only group that got a standing ovation!”
Another most memorable moment: In 2004, leading NHGMC as the first openly gay chorus to perform at Walt Disney World. “As wonderful as it was to perform down there, it was also one of the best vacations! When you can go to a place like that with many friends, it’s just a great experience… We were singing on the monorail to and from the park! Just to be down there with your friends made it a magical experience… Originally, Disney wanted to bring together many different choruses, but they canceled the festival because there wasn’t enough input from the other choruses. We had already booked our plane flights! We had already made a financial investment to go down there. But they were able to pull together a deal for us with the Orlando Gay Chorus. I think they did a pretty good job for us.”
One thing most people don’t know about Luc: “When I graduated from college, my plan was to move to Florida. I had spent about two months, January and February of 1988, at my aunt and uncle’s place down there. I wanted to live there because I don’t like the cold. But now, I’m not saying that I enjoy the cold and snow, but I do like being up here in the four seasons.”
Luc’s family is a big part of what he’s all about. He shared some very moving, personal thoughts about his family, particularly about his sister, Marie, who passed away in October, 2007, following a five-year battle with breast cancer: “My family’s a small family. I have one brother and one sister. I’ve always thought of family as very important. In the past, I was never really that close to my brother. We’re very different spirits. My brother and sister were both adopted. If my sister were alive today, she would be six years older than me. My brother is a couple of years older than me. My parents were told they could never have children, and that’s why they adopted… but then they had me! My parents never hid the fact that my brother and sister were adopted. My parents never wanted to make it a taboo thing, and I never looked at them as anything but my brother and sister. When my sister was struggling to get back on her feet financially, I helped her. I put her through grooming school for animals. When she passed away, one of the most precious things was when her husband and I were right there with her to the very end. I held her right up to the moment when her life ended. She’s always still here with me in my life now, even though she’s not here physically. It was important that I help her in life and be there for her at the end of life because she had always been there for me. I’ve become closer to my brother now… we have quite a different relationship, now that we’re both taking care of our parents.”
The main theme that has governed Luc’s life: Being a people person. “I need to enjoy the company of others, because life is so short and people come in and out of your life. I think I have a fairly good and large pool of friends and acquaintances. I couldn’t imagine being a loner. People energize me so much. I love spending time with people. That’s why I don’t mind being out Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday nights. I would rather be out with people than just sitting home watching television every very night of the week.”