Seattle's first Trans, Nonbinary choir creates community, fulfills a dream

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Photo courtesy of STANCE
Photo courtesy of STANCE

Despite being famous for both its music scene and its Queerness, Seattle has lacked a choir specifically for Trans and Nonbinary people. But it will have one soon, in time for the holidays.

The newly formed Seattle Trans and Nonbinary Choral Ensemble (STANCE) will be holding more auditions soon, and its preview season starts on November 20, the Trans Day of Remembrance.

"This has been a dream of mine for the last five years, and I'm really excited to finally see it come to fruition," said STANCE founder Haven Wilvich over Zoom.

She started singing choral music in high school, but on her blog, she details some other relevant experience, too: LGBTQ activism. Wilvich writes that she was part of a Queer support group at a Christian university hostile to Queer interests and identities. Despite being officially dissolved, the group kept on meeting, and garnered enough media attention to eventually force the school's administration to reinstate the club's official status.

Though her college days are behind her, Wilvich hasn't forgotten the importance of sanctuary spaces.

"As I came out as Nonbinary, I realized pretty quickly that there weren't many places that were Trans inclusive for singing," Wilvich recalled. "I got really tired of being in gendered sections, where I was referred to as a 'men's section.' It felt very excluding."

"So I started looking around to see if any Trans and Nonbinary choruses existed in the area, and discovered that, unlike many major cities, like Los Angeles, Chicago, and San Francisco, we didn't have one," Wilvich said. "We have a very large Trans community here, and yet we don't have a chorus for us."

Wilvich's dream finally became tangible last year, when she met Kaelee Alicia Bolme, an artistic director fit for the job.

"She and I started discussions... about starting this group together, and we formed a board, and we got our nonprofit status in May," Wilvich said. "We got rolling from there."

"By and for us"
Readers familiar with Seattle's many LGBTQ music organizations might wonder why STANCE would be needed. They might point to the Seattle Men's Chorus, which has existed since the late '70s. Its women-focused counterpart, the Seattle Women's Chorus, was founded in 2002.

"There are a few LGBT choruses in the area," Wilvich explained, "but all of them are led by cisgender people, and many of them are gendered in their very titles. So I wanted to create a space where Trans and Nonbinary people could not only exist in a nongendered space, but where we could have a chorus that's led by and for us."

Mixed choruses are well established, too, but even those don't offer the same musical possibilities as a choir undivided by the binary.

"I think it is definitely unique to have women basses, and male altos and sopranos," Wilvich said. "I think that we bring a unique quality to the music we sing, and we are certainly one of the most diverse choirs, if not the most diverse, in the area."

Diverse music
As for the material, STANCE's lineup is meant to be diverse, too.

"It'll be an eclectic range, from classical to pop, and everything in between," Wilvich said. "We hope to focus particularly on composers of color and LGBT composers."

One of the two songs in STANCE's preview season is "Our Phoenix," written by up-and-coming Trans, Chicana composer Mari Esabel Valverde. By following Stephen Paulus's "A Road Home," which is common at memorial services, the newer piece is meant to round off the year with hope.

"Our fall concert series will be a remembrance, and [an] uplifting performance," Wilvich said, "and our spring concert will be for Pride, and will be very upbeat and excited."

Challenges and enthusiasm
As is often the case with hope, however, there is some uncertainty. Young nonprofits like STANCE need to gain traction fast to keep up with costs, but no big donors have come forward yet.

"I think our biggest challenge right now is fundraising," Wilvich said. "So, assuming we can get the grants we need to be sustainable for the first year, I would like to see this chorus grow, and eventually transition to a self-sustaining organization with leadership composed of members."

"Seattle Pride so far has been our biggest ally and funder," she added, "but otherwise we have largely been turned down [by] major granters. I think a lot of funders are cautious about newly formed nonprofits, and nobody wants to be the first. Everyone wants to see how we do our first year."

It seems that until they "make it," then, STANCE will be relying on the generosity and enthusiasm of the community for the funds it needs, to buy spots in venues and performing rights, and especially to pay its director a living wage.

And of course, STANCE needs more singers, but Wilvich said feedback from the first cohort has been positive so far.

"Everyone we've auditioned has been very enthusiastic about the idea, [about] this chorus finally existing. Many of our singers haven't sung since high school or college, and are rusty, and have largely been excluded from other choruses for a wide variety of reasons."

Another level
Whether they were band kids or not, many Queer people share the experience of a found family, and after two long years of pandemic isolation, many Trans and Nonbinary people might be looking for one of their own. Coming together around art is common enough, but any musician can attest that performing live music together is a bond on another level.

"Singing, to me, is both a community and a full-body experience of emotion and expression," Wilvich said. "My hope is that through this music, all of our singers can find embodiment, which I think is a very hard thing for Trans and Nonbinary people to find in general."

For any readers who might be interested in joining STANCE but are worried about not making the cut, Wilvich had this to say: "We're open to everyone, from beginners to experienced singers. Anyone who can carry a tune is welcome to join us, if they identify as Trans or Nonbinary."

You can donate to STANCE, buy tickets to future events, and learn more at https://www.stanceseattle.org/. The next round of auditions will begin on January 4, 2023.