'A different Kind of Goosebump ...': my chapter on LGBTQ choral singing in the new Oxford Companion of Choral Pedagogy
i am proud to announce that the new Oxford Handbook of Choral Pedagogy has just been published, and in it my chapter on LGBTQ choral singing, entitled: "A different kind of goose bump": Notes towards an LGBTQ Choral Pedagogy.
My hope is that through this book, choral directing students will discover LGBTQ choral singing as a unique and vibrant area of study. Perhaps this research wil also inspire them to get involved, help them personally and bring new talent to LGBTQ ensembles across the world.
So what is this chapter about? It looks at the extent to which we can define LGBTQ choral singing as a unique area of study, with its own pedagogy. While mainstream choral pedagogy has a vital role in LGBTQ choral singing, my analysis of singer interviews and a literature review suggests that LGBTQ choral pedagogy is in other ways unique. Indeed, directors of LGBTQ choirs and choruses are ahead of the game in key areas.
First, the relationship between gender role and voice part should be loosened, so that everyone on the gender spectrum can sing the part that best suits their voice and gender identity. Why should a soprano or alto be necessarily female? Or a baritone necessarily male? History reveals this strict binary has not always been the case. LGBTQ practice proves that flexible approaches to gender can have significant advantages, both for singers and for the sound choirs make. Many of us are capable of safely making a wider range of pitch and resonance than conventional gender roles and concepts of vocal 'success' enable us to use.
Second, the transgender changing voice is a complex and under-researched area, where those of us managing LGBTQ choruses have developed an entirely new area of vocal pedagogy. The issues experienced by singers in MtF and FtM transitions are very different from each other, and vary hugely from person to person, depending on the nature of their vocal mechanism, their age, their initial gender identity and their previous vocal use. Such singers have separate and unique needs, and should be taught differently. While existing work on the changing voice of the teenage boy (and girl) is useful, it by no means covers the effect of hormones on the adult voice, or the issues experienced by MtF transition.
in LGBTQ choruses, we also make repertoire choices that function uniquely. Our choices tend to focus more on the needs and aspirations of LGBTQ singers and other minorities. The program choices we make tell different stories, and connect communities in ways that inspire new singers to take part, facilitate new access and attract new audiences to see choral singing. The styles LGBTQ choirs program are often more varied,because their purpose is different. This influences the way in which we audition and teach our groups, our definitions of vocal success, and the kinds of vocal resonance we seek from our singers. In our groups, choral singing functions in unique ways, creating new and more contemporary kinds of goosebump.
I conclude by suggesting that college programs should change, so that all choral directors get training in these unique areas. Our goal should be that in all secular and religious choral contexts, LGBTQ singers are enabled to sing as safely and enjoyably as their straight(er) counterparts.