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First transgender choir in Chicago is underway
by Carrie Maxwell, Windy City Times
2015-10-19

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Chicago's first-ever trans choir, ResonaTe Choir, was formed in early October of this year as a non-profit organization, and is currently in the auditioning and planning stages.

Liz Jackson Hearns ( co-founder and executive director ), Zakary Siler ( co-founder and artistic director ) and Das Janssen ( co-founder and board member ) make up ResonaTe's current leadership structure.

Hearns is a singer, songwriter, voice teacher and owner of a voice-lesson studio, Jackson Voice Lab ( JVL ) in Chicago's North Center neighborhood. Siler is the director of music and arts at St Peter's Episcopal Church in Chicago's Lake View neighborhood, while Janssen is an associate professor of philosophy with specializations in phenomenology and gender studies at Chicago State University.

"My music background is minimal—very much at the hobby level—but I'm trans myself," said Janssen. "When I first started taking testosterone, people kept asking if I was ill. The vocal folds were thickening, but I was still speaking as though my voice were higher. Taking lessons with Liz has allowed me to alter old speaking habits and develop my voice into a pretty clear baritone."

"The choir was formed partly as the result of my students, including Das, asking about performance opportunities and partly out of a very apparent need for an organization to support accessible trans voice health," said Hearns. "Zakary was also inspired by his work at The Crib and we seemed to have been thinking the same thing individually and came to one another with the idea at the same time. The amount of coincidental events that have occurred to help ResonaTe come to fruition are significant and we're very grateful.

"I'm very passionate about the science and health of voice, which I think is part of what led me to working with trans singers. Trans voices present a wonderful, unique and truly joyful way to use my skill set as a voice teacher and I feel honored to be working with this community."

"The choir will provide a crucial opportunity for trans people to gather in a community, develop our potential and produce something amazing together," said Janssen.

Hearns explained that the titles they chose are reflective of the roles they'll be taking on when the choir comes together.

"Zakary was the clear choice to be artistic director since he'll be conducting the choir and has past experience as an artistic director for other projects," said Hearns. "Das was my first trans voice client and has been an invaluable resource for navigating the trans community, so he was an obvious choice as well. For me, ResonaTe is kind of my brainchild and emerged from direct requests from my trans clients at JVL. I took on the role of executive director to help steer the ship and follow through on our broader vision for a trans voice center."

ResonaTe's mission is, according to its website, "to provide a safe, engaging and creative environment for trans singers to develop confidence and community through vocal education. ResonaTe hosts and teaches choral groups for trans singers and allies. We strive to create a welcoming place to give members the opportunity to meet and support each other while using music as a joyful opportunity for self-expression through the transition process. Choirs are directed by experienced choral conductors and guided by the ResonaTe team of voice specialists."

The choir has an affiliation with a number of organizations, including St. Peter's Episcopal Church, JVL and Butterfly Music Transgender Chorus in Boston.

"We're especially grateful to Sandi Hammond of Butterfly Music for her guidance and support so far," said Hearns. "We're looking for and welcome ways in which to partner with various organizations in the broader community and we hope to add to that list as the company grows."

"I'm excited for this amazing opportunity," said Janssen. "For trans people, so much of what we do as a community is focused on the struggles we face, struggles for rights, struggles against violence and it's refreshing to work with people who are committed to bringing us together to create art. Sometimes you just have to sing, whether it's the blues or singing for joy and having a voice is the way to do that, to speak truth to power all the more effectively."

"Zakary and I are both big dreamers, too, and judging by the overwhelming positive support so far, we hope ResonaTe will grow into something significant and supportive for the trans community," said Hearns." We're also looking for collaborators and professionals who work with the trans community to provide educational presentations or workshops for ResonaTe members."

"From the few people that we've met so far, it seems like singing is a very important aspect of life that may have been lost to some degree during their transition," said Siler. "We're humbly excited to provide a place where people can regain this part of themselves and meet others with similar experiences."

Since the choir is still in the auditioning and planning stages the co-founders haven't set up a rehearsal schedule or decided on an ensemble structure. The choir's first performance is tentatively set for Feb. 2016.

ResonaTe will be holding auditions Oct. 24 ( 3-7 p.m. ) and Oct. 26 ( 7-10 p.m. ) at St Peter's Episcopal Church, 621 W. Belmont Ave. To request an audition or for more information, visit www.resonatechoir.org and www.facebook.com/resonatetransvoice .


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