Choral music has a rich history of gender issues. Years ago women were not allowed to sing in performances and men and boys would play female roles—yet another example when men did everything. In church music men and boys have been used for centuries in choral music and celebrated has countertenor and sopranist. So why have we allowed gender to trickle into our rehearsals and our choir programs?
We are in a time where inclusive language is more important than it has ever been. Our non-binary and trans friends need us to see them and invite them into our spaces. They want to feel just like you and me, they don’t want special treatment. They just want to be seen and heard—just like you and me.
How can we do better in our churches and musical programs? Step one, stop gendering everything! Choral music directors—start using the part names or high voices and low voices instead of men and women. I started doing this years ago, and I admit there was a learning curve for me, but I do it well now. Also, composers have to do better in their notation. Having a section in a composition that says ‘men only’ or ‘women only’ shouldn’t be there. Write ‘low voices only’, ‘high voices only’, ‘soprano/alto only’, or ‘tenor/baritone’ only.
“But, Westley, I don’t have a trans or non-binary person in my choir.”
Move forward with the times and be ready for when that person walks into your ensemble. Also, we have all had a woman sing tenor in our choir, she is no different. She is a tenor, not a man. Language is important folks, and the language we use affects people more than we can imagine.
Join me in on this journey of acceptance?
Associate for Music Ministries
St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Evanston, IL