Biography: Gary Finger, Principal Accompanist

Principal Accompanist Gary Finger

Our highly accomplished accompanist, Gary Finger, first joined NHGMC as a baritone in January, 2000, with his boyfriend at the time, Rick Carkin — now Gary’s husband. Later that year, when the original accompanist (Gary MacDonald) departed, Gary Finger  accepted the position of principal accompanist. It happened at the same time Luc Andre Roberge was appointed NHGMC’s director of music. Since then, Luc and Gary have been arranging beautiful music together!

Gary grew up in San Antonio, Texas, and currently resides with Rick in Manchester, New Hampshire. Besides NHGMC, Gary also plays piano for services at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Manchester.

With the 2010 passage of New Hampshire’s same-gender marriage law — five  years before marriage equality became the law of the land nationwide —  Gary and Rick became legally married at the Unitarian Universalist Church on 10-10-10 — a very special, memorable day for them, their families, and guests. The ceremony featured many moving performances by NHGMC, instrumentalists, and other vocalists. “Overall I felt a little overwhelmed because of the importance of being able to do what we did.” says Gary. “I feel that getting married is a great privilege, and the fact that it was taken for granted by so many heterosexuals simply amazes me. The thoughts going through my mind that day? Just a flood of everything. I thought about the performers, the guests, and especially about my brothers who had traveled long distances to be with us.” Gary comes from a family of five boys.

Gary’s love of singing started in the first grade, singing songs in class. However, his love of playing piano started in a rather unusual way. Since his two oldest brothers had studied piano in their grade school years, a piano had been sitting in his parents’ home, just doing nothing for years. But Gary didn’t have any urge to play it… that is, until his best friend in the fifth grade wanted to play the piano. “I wanted to do everything he did, so I wasn’t interested in music so much myself. He was my very best friend, though I didn’t realize it back then I had a crush on him. When I expressed interest in learning how to play, my mother said it was okay. But then I was very surprised how I took to it — not that it was easy, but just that I had a knack for it!” Gary took his first piano lesson in February, 1961.

“I played organ in seventh and eighth grades in grade school — Catholic, of course — for high masses and church services, and innumerable piano recitals through high school. I played for my parish choir from my freshman year of high school through the first half of junior year of college. I played for productions at San Antonio Music Theatre,” says Gary.

Gary studied music at the Prep Department of Music at Our Lady of the Lake University, San Antonio. He briefly attended the University of Texas, Austin, then transferred to and graduated from North Texas State University, Denton, with a Music degree in Performance. For the next twelve years, Gary lived in Dallas, where he rapidly established himself as a well-respected accompanist with numerous area sings. He was also Music Director of productions at Theatre Three at the Quadrangle and Dallas Repertory Theatre. “I played for several classical singers in Dallas and accompanied them in numerous recitals, and I played at the Old San Francisco Steak House, from 1976 to 1984.”

Gary Finger & Assistant Beth Ditkoff

But living in Texas didn’t feel right for Gary. “I had been wanting to leave Texas for a long time.” Curiously enough, it was romance that opened the door to his relocation to the Northeast. “On a trip to New York City in late 1983, I met an older man, and we pretty much fell in love. A few weeks later, he came to Dallas for a visit and stayed nearly a month. A couple of weeks after that, I came to NYC for another visit with him.” During the visit, Gary traveled to Boston to apply for a job with NYNEX, one of the telephone companies formed in the 1984 AT&T divestiture. When he returned to Dallas, he discovered a message on his answering machine – a job offer! “It was a great thing because I was a little afraid of New York. I thought of Boston as more livable… So at the end of the following week, I drove to Boston — stopping in NYC to pick up ‘the guy’ — to find a place to live. Three days later, I left the car in NYC and flew home to pack up and rent a U-Haul. ‘The guy’ came to Dallas to help with the move, and we drove it all up to Boston. From the date of the job offer to unloading the last box in Boston, three weeks elapsed. A very fast move!”

In his corporate career in Texas, Gary served as a service rep and supervisor for Southwestern Bell. He transferred to NYNEX, first as a service rep and then as a computer operator in the Andover, Massachusetts, data center. With a job promotion in 1987, he relocated from Boston to Manchester. He survived the mergers with Bell Atlantic, and into Verizon, and retired from corporate life as a data center systems engineer in 2007. During his corporate career, Gary played a few times at Boston’s Back Bay Hilton, but he really went without playing until 2000, when he started at the Unitarian Universalist Church and NHGMC.

Gary met Rick in July, 1992, at the Front Runner bar in Manchester, when it was located near Chestnut and Bridge.

Gary’s favorite type of music is classical, particularly symphony, instrumental, and opera. His favorite singer is Joan Sutherland, who passed away on Gary and Rick’s wedding day. Other favorites include Beverly Sills, Anna Moffo, and Sherrill Milnes. Pop singers include the Mamas and Papas, Rebecca Luker, and Kristin Chenoweth. His favorite movies: The Thin Man series, The Best Years of Our Lives, Forbidden Planet, War of the Worlds (1953), and all three Lord of the Rings. (Gary is known to speak fluent Elvish!) Gary loves musicals from the early 20th century, so no surprise his favorites are Jerome Kern musicals (especially Show Boat) and Cole Porter musicals (especially Anything Goes). His favorite foods: Barbecue, TexMex, and New England boiled dinners. His favorite colors are deep shades of green and red.

His thoughts about NHGMC and the guys: “My chorus experiences have been in great part positive, and it has been in my privilege to serve on the Board for a couple of years from 2000 to 2003. I have great admiration for all the men of the chorus, particularly those who do not actually read music, yet come to rehearsals week after week, and rehearse and rehearse, and deliver the goods for four performances at the end of every season.”

His thoughts about our music director: “Working with Luc has been great. I have a lot respect for his abilities. Actually now we’re working together outside the chorus because he directs the choir in the church where I play — so we better like each other! He listens to my repertoire suggestions, lets me arrange music, and from time to time I get a solo!” For example, in our Spring, 2010, concerts series, Love to Sing, Gary’s solo knocked the audience’s socks off, playing George Gershwin’s original arrangement of I’ve Got Rhythm.

One of his most memorable moments with NHGMC: “In the Spring of 2000, singing as a baritone, when we sang two joint concerts with the Pioneer Valley Men’s Chorus. As we were about to walk on their stage in Northampton, Massachusetts, I realized that I was one of only eleven men of the NHGMC there to sing. I thought, ‘Oh my God, what have I done?!’ Then the door opened, and we walked to the front of the church. I was terrified!”

The main theme that’s governed Gary’s life:  Treat others with kindness. “At NYNEX, I was in a meeting after work with a group of gay employees who were trying to organize a gay/lesbian group within the company. One of the facilitators, hearing some of the horror stories of how people were treated, said, ‘I’ve never been able to figure out why we can’t just be nice to each other.’ Well, most of the time I think I succeed, and sometimes fail… but it is never my intention to hurt anyone. In addition, you never know when you’ll cross paths with a person, and that meeting will change your life. In 1959, it was my fifth grade best friend. In 1966, it was a visit to Denton, Texas, where my godparents’ daughter was going to school. In 1973, it was a temporary secretary working at the same title company as I, who recommended I apply for work at Southwestern Bell. In 1983, a chance meeting in NYC that propelled my move to New England. Something you say might just change a life.”