Singing the tune of a ‘gender-liberated choir’

Singing the tune of a ‘gender-liberated choir’

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Thanks to composer and voice coach Emily Bate, the Philadelphia choral-music scene just became far more diverse and accepting.

Trust Your Moves, an LGBTQ ensemble out of West Philadelphia, invites all genders and musical abilities. Rather than using traditional vocal terms like soprano, alto, tenor and bass, Bate uses gender-neutral language, referring to parts as high or low. Singers also can switch parts or sing lines in different octaves according to their comfort level.

Gender-nonbinary, transgender and transitioning individuals need not apply to TYM — because auditions aren’t required to join.

Bate coaches those who are transitioning, particularly if they’re taking hormones, which can affect the range and quality of their voices. Yet such fluctuations affect every voice, regardless of gender status and hormonal treatment, she said.

“Our voices are really elastic from day to day, week to week. We should expect change as a constant feature of doing vocal work, and hopefully remind ourselves to be gentle with ourselves about what we sound like.”

Hence, those who wish to join TYM don’t require previous musical experience.

Bate started the chorus last June after teaching vocal workshops for people of all musical levels. She wanted to create a space “where everyone felt entitled to use their voice.” Her mission includes empowering everyone — even those who don’t believe they have good voices — to sing with confidence.

“That’s a mindset that’s robbing people of that experience of their body,” Bate said, adding she emphasizes self-expression and musicality to convince everyone they can sing.   

So far, it’s working.

“I’m really excited to tap into that ethos,” said TYM singer Mika Miles. “Emily prioritizes the emotions of the songs and connecting to the songwriters’ intentions and expressing them, rather than focusing on the technicality.”

For repertoire, Bate selects a combination of musical works by Philadelphia composers and songwriters, as well as LGBT pop hits like “Make Me Feel” by Janelle Monáe — a song TYM performed at its first concert. Next month, the chorus will sing several pieces by local musicians, including the debut of “The Nothing” by composer and painter Daniel de Jesús and a song by Hot Tears, Molly Fischer’s musical project.

“It’s so satisfying knowing that all of the song choices are resonating with my values,” said Miles.

Many TYM members previously sang in more traditional choirs — where they ultimately felt unseen “either because of the binary-gender stuff or because of religious-themed music,” Bate noted. 

TYM serves as the antidote to those experiences.

“Emily calls Trust Your Moves a gender-liberated choir,” said member Mai Schwartz. 

Choral music has been a major note in Bate’s life since she was a child. The daughter of a choir director, she grew up singing church music and traditional choral pieces. She adopted her mother’s belief that the voice is a fundamental human instrument that everyone should be able to access — and that communal singing is integral to a healthy society.

“I grew up and recontextualized everything she taught me as a queer person,” Bate said.

Along with creating an inclusive space, Bate helps foster community and friendship through TYM — something Schwartz appreciates.

“Communal singing can serve a really spiritual purpose,” said the singer. “In my life, Trust Your Moves serves a function that, in many people’s lives, church serves. I go every week, I’m connected to these people, you do this beautiful thing together.”

TYM will perform its third concert May 20 at Calvary Center, 48th Street and Baltimore Avenue. Suggested donation is $5-$10. The group rehearses Monday evenings at Calvary Center. No audition is required to join. For more information, visit www.emilybate.com/trust-your-moves.  


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