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Trans & Nonbinary Musicians are Silenced No More

by Ben Nelson 8 months ago in Empowerment
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New Collection of Choral and Piano Music Specifically Tailored for Trans & Nonbinary Voices

Pax Ressler, a composer featured in NewMusicShelf's Anthology of New Music: Trans & Nonbinary Voices

A New York publisher is releasing the first-ever volume of songs written for and/or by transgender and nonbinary people.

NewMusicShelf is out now with Anthology of New Music: Trans & Nonbinary Voices, a collection that highlights composers from multifaceted intersections of the transgender and nonbinary experience and stands as a declaration that despite the many historical attempts to isolate them, these communities will not be silenced.

“As a trans nonbinary singer, I often found opera and musical theater compositions to be aggressively gendered and binary,” reflects Aiden Feltkamp, the book's curator. “I was at a loss for repertoire that spoke to me.”

Aiden Feltkamp, curator of NewMusicShelf's Anthology of New Music: Trans & Nonbinary Voices

They approached Dennis Tobenski, a composer and vocalist who runs NewMusicShelf, with the idea to build a collection of vocal and piano music that centered on identity.

Tobenski’s typical publications focus on a particular instrument or voice type. What Feltkamp was proposing would be like no other anthology before — a first of its kind. However, it was a concept that Tobenski, a gay man, could relate with. In the early 2000s, Tobenski recalls very little music featuring a man loving another man. “What did exist wasn’t exactly visible for a kid like me growing up gay in the cornfields of Illinois. I was forced to either sing about loving women, coopt soprano repertoire about loving men, or not sing about love at all.”

Tobenski and Feltkamp envisioned NewMusicShelf's Anthology of New Music: Trans & Nonbinary Voices as an opportunity to present songs music lovers could connect to without the barrier of gender. They decided selections would include all vocal ranges in multiple music styles that told a variety of stories of the transgender and nonbinary experience. Their only criteria: 1) the composer is trans or nonbinary, 2) the lyricist is trans or nonbinary, or 3) the song was written for or premiered by a trans or nonbinary singer.

Dennis Tobenski, publisher

Feltkamp chose Yoshi Weinberg's "Captain of My Soul" because the piece represents the traditional art song. It artfully blends contemporary composition with fantastically haunting and dramatic poetry and “is an ideal song for an undergrad or graduate level recital,” Feltkamp, a Turn the Spotlight fellow and graduate of Bard College Conservatory’s Graduate Vocal Arts Program, attests.

Yoshi Weinberg, photographed by Marisa Tornello

They selected Pax Ressler’s "Love Song for Me" for inclusion in the anthology because of its up-beat, pride-centric theme. “I hadn't considered including singer-songwriter songs in the anthology, but Pax's work fit the inclusion criteria and was simply too good not to include,” Feltkamp continues.

Dana Kaufman’s “To My Mother’s Closet” was chosen for its topical reflection of Caitlyn Jenner and the impact her televised interviews have had on the trans community. “Frankly, Caitlyn's a terrible ally to her own community and I don't have any positive feelings about her,” Feltkamp laments. “That said, Dana Kaufman does a fantastic job of portraying Caitlyn realistically yet empathetically. The act of going into a parent's closet is relatable, at least to me and a few other trans people whose stories I know, and I can't help but relate to Caitlyn's experience of wanting to be someone that society is telling her she can’t be.”

Feltkamp specifically chose to exclude from the anthology an aria in the opera where Caitlyn sings about her MAGA side. Says Feltkamp, “Caitlyn's story reminds us that the trans experience is as wide as the human experience and that includes the ability to harm our own community and to be someone with less-than-stellar ethics.”

Tobenski and Feltkamp hope the pieces in Anthology of New Music: Trans & Nonbinary Voices will be a resource for voice teachers and presenters and reach audiences beyond the book through live performance.

“Now no one can say that there aren't any roles for trans/nonbinary singers or that there aren't any trans creators in opera and musical theater,” Feltkamp reflects. “My hope is that the collection is a jumping off point that encourages readers to seek out more works by these, and other, trans and nonbinary composers.”

NewMusicShelf Anthology of New Music: Trans & Nonbinary Voices, Vol. 1 is $24.99; available now on NewMusicShelf.com, Amazon, BarnesandNoble.com and wherever books are sold.

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Ben Nelson

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