Choral Singing as Personal and Political
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Published in: July-August 2018 issue.


SOCIAL CHANGE does not come easily. We can pass laws, win court battles, and even gain greater social recognition, but for every gain there is an anti-LGBT backlash from a still sizable segment of the population that feels threatened by these changes. Laws can be undermined if not overturned altogether. Sustainable change requires that the larger culture accept a new set of foundational stories about what it means to be human. Achieving a society in which social justice for all is a shared value in law and in practice requires a long game. It is a multi-generational effort. Such work requires cultural interventions that heal and sustain those fighting for justice even as we push for change in the larger culture.

            LGBT choral musicking—a term used by anthropologists to include the cultural contexts of different musical practices and the relationships they produce—can be a social justice practice that serves this purpose well. Singing in a chorus is not for everyone, nor is listening to choral music everyone’s cup of tea. In fact, I have always found my own love of it a bit perverse given the religious foundations of so much choral music. Yet, as I have been studying this form of activity as a force for queer social justice, I often mention my research to random people in my travels, and many respond by telling me that they have an LGBT chorus in their town, or that they have a friend or relative who belongs to one. 

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Julia “Jules” Balén, a professor English at California State University, Channel Islands in Camarillo, is the author of A Queerly Joyful Noise: Choral Musicking for Social Justice (Rutgers, 2017). The second section of this essay was excerpted and adapted from this book.



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