A few months ago, a new choir began rehearsals through the Community Music Center. It’s called New Voices Bay Area, founded and led by Reuben Zellman as a chorus for transgender, intersex, or gender queer singers who might have felt unwelcome in traditional choirs. They will be taking part in the City of San Francisco’s observance of Transgender Day of Remembrance tomorrow evening, after a candlelight march from City Hall to the UC Hastings College of the Law.
“I’m a chorus director by profession,” Zellman says. “I teach at San Francisco State, and several years ago it started to become really clear that the ways that choruses were set up in most settings were just really unwelcoming and unfriendly to transgender people like myself… And it just felt to me like it was really time that this area had, especially here in the Bay Area, that we had a space that was safe and celebrated a whole variety of voices where you could come sing in the chorus without knowing what your part should be. I was seeing more and more singers who really wanted a place to sing, but just did not feel like there was a comfortable place for them. And so I approached the Community Music Center and said, ‘I have an idea about something we should do.'” The singers in the choir have many issues that others might not think of: having a changing range that can accompany taking hormones, or becoming familiar with a different range or vocal clef than they might have sung before. “I’ve really been enjoying it,” says Anna Dickinson. “It’s definitely stretched my skills, enabled me to work on different parts of my voice that I haven’t had formal training in, and also just to have the camaraderie of everybody else in the choir.” Lucas Sanchez began singing off and on as a teenager. “I was singing much higher in my register, and now that I know more of who I am, wanting to sing lower in my register, but really feeling at odds of, like, ‘I really don’t know how to do that, and even to read the music…This is a perfect place for me to come, and the social aspect of it is wonderful and it’s just come at a really crucial time. Just to come to this place once a week and sing is… just, it’s beautiful.’”