Since leaving the U.S. Army and becoming a classical singer and actor, Michael Hanko ’86 had not spent much time dwelling on his unhappy years as a gay lieutenant (and ROTC cadet) at a time when gays were barred from military service. But last year, while working on a translation of a piece of German lieder music, Hanko decided to experiment with writing his own lyrics. He began thinking about his Army days. “I guess somewhere, deep in my psyche, there was this unaddressed emotion,” he says.
The German lieder form — expressive poetic compositions, typically for one singer with piano accompaniment, composed by the likes of Schubert and Mozart — helped Hanko to capture an emotionally charged story that included both deep pain and humor. Working with colleagues Byron Sean and Stephanie Fittro, he developed an hourlong cabaret show, Platoon Lieder. Hanko will perform the show at Reunions May 31. The event is sponsored by the Fund for Reunion/Princeton Bisexual, Transgendered, Gay and Lesbian Alumni (FFR/BTGALA).
The themes of Platoon Lieder, Hanko says, speak to a wide range of audiences, not just those who are gay or who have served in the military. The story examines common problems — feeling like an outsider, choosing the wrong path — as well as positive outcomes. While stationed in Germany, Hanko began taking the voice lessons that helped him to find a new career in music.
Hanko, a baritone who lives and works in New York City, will be coming back to Princeton for the first time since he graduated with an A.B. in music 27 years ago. He recently found his class beer jacket in his parents’ attic. Tucked inside the pocket was a registration form for FFR/BTGALA.
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