Is it possible that removing gendered language from our choral rehearsals solves the problem of inclusion? Is it possible that it DOESN’T solve the problem? Is there room for nuance in the conversation? This week, I open up a dialogue with Theo Wren, a freelance musician, multi-instrumentalist, choral singer and Trans Baritone. So far on the show, I have conversed only with Choral Directors. This time, I thought it might be informative to flip that a bit and sit down with someone who has spent many years on the other side of the baton. We in the choral profession have seen a recent wave of cultural shifts related to the use of gendered language in our choral ensembles. So, I sought out the perspective of a singer who, for years felt as if he was in the wrong section.
Greetings, friends and colleagues. As Choral Directors, we stand in front of large diverse groups of people from different backgrounds, races and religions. With that comes a beautiful diversity of opinion. For people in our position, we should be a beacon of peace and reconciliation in a world coming apart at the seams.
Seem dramatic? I don’t think it is. As we all consolidate our time and energy online, it is creating a necessary convergence of many people into public sphere. When that happens, we will come across more people than ever before with whom we disagree. Never before have I seen such aggressive online behavior in my feeds. From COVID-19 all the way to virtual choir question shaming. We can do better.
Why would I need to address this? First, this show, as promised from the beginning, did not set out to be a nuts and bolts focused show. I will occasionally approach the occasional “how to” episode that would be a safe interest session at a convention. But that is not the main mission of this project. I think talking about elephants in the room within the choral profession is important also, and there are very few venues that achieve this in a way that is civil and open conversation. If a discussion topic elicits NO contention at all, then what will anyone learn. I think deep down, no listener want to listen to a bunch of stuff that is so safe that it doesn’t challenge them. That is ultimately what I hope to provide through this platform. My goal is to promote a culture where open inquiry, the pursuit of greater understanding and support for each other as colleagues becomes the norm. I am wary of what I see as a culture of fear on social media and in academia that causes many to just keep their opinions to themselves because they might be accused of Orwellian wrong-think. I think this is dangerous to any field of study. Iron sharpens iron as the saying goes, which means we do NO good when we only smile and nod.
So, in an effort to do this, I will lay out my core principles for this show.
Knowledge and Truth that are shareable by all of us are not only possible, but worthy goals. Some would suggest that we cannot really know anything, and that nothing is really true. Our only way of knowing is through our socialized minds with biases that we cannot escape. This is PARTIALLY true, but NOT because of socialization. Each person holds some part of the story that you don’t know, because no two people look at the world from the same perspective. It is precisely because we all see things differently that we MUST have conversations. It is only through challenging each other’s perceptions can we discover that tiny bit of truth that each person possesses and synthesize it into one BIG axiom or truth. So, we will talk on this show, agree or disagree, and pursue knowledge and truth as an ideal. We will speak as if there is no such thing as a “Two-Sided” issue. All issues have 7+ billion sides and all we need to do today is try to have my perspective and your perspective mingle until we arrive at a truth neither of us had before our conversation.
I believe that people have good intentions and are speaking with me in good faith. I like to avoid assuming the worst about people, and I know that even if someone holds a diametrically opposed position to mine, I know that they are a person who wants what is best for the world. They are a person who loves their children, their spouse, their students etc just like I do. We are fellow humans. Treating people with contempt will have no place on this show. Please hold me to this if I ever slip. This also applies to any online discussions moderated by me on the page.
Since everyone knows something I don’t, I want my guests to be HAPPY with their chance to get their point across. All of my conversations are free form, so there are no timed or “gotcha” questions. If I ask a question, I genuinely want to know what the person thinks about it. That being said, I will rarely do “interviews” and I am not a journalist. My opinions and analysis will be very much a part of each show.
I will strive to avoid logical fallacies but no one is perfect… I will also hold guests to this. The big no-nos will be ad hominem and straw man arguments. I am not interested in this platform being used to impugn anyone’s character, talent or ability. I will also try very hard to understand someone’s position by asking very pointed precise questions when necessary. I don’t want to force someone to defend a claim that they didn’t make, and I would like it to not be done to me… 🙂
One of the things that excites me about this show is it’s potential to be a platform that promotes the profession as an academic discipline, as well as an art form. I seek to promote YOU and what great work you are doing. And if you don’t feel like you are doing great work, I hope these discussions serve as a sharpening tool for you as you listen, and as always keep the feedback coming. Even if you think I’m wrong.