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Celebrating Canada's 2SLGBTQI+ Communities

Songs For And By Nonbinary Trans Voices

Innovative publisher releases first-ever collection of vocal and piano music without gender…

By Tom Tietjen

NewMusicShelf has released the first-ever volume of songs written for and/or by transgender and nonbinary people, Anthology of New Music: Trans & Nonbinary Voices.

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

They approached Dennis Tobenski of NewMusicShelf, a boutique music publishing company in New York City, with the idea of building a first-of-its-kind collection of vocal and piano music: a volume not centred on a particular instrument or voice type, but on identity.

The concept intrigued Tobenski. As a gay man in the early 2000s, he could remember very little music at the time 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, co-opt soprano repertoire about loving men, or not sing about love at all.”

The duo envisioned the anthology as an opportunity to present songs that music lovers could connect with, 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 was trans or nonbinary, 2) the lyricist was trans or nonbinary, or 3) the song was written for or premiered by a trans or nonbinary singer.

A total of 21 songs were chosen. Among them are Yoshi Weinberg’s “Captain of My Soul,” selected because the piece artfully blends contemporary composition with fantastically haunting and dramatic poetry and “is an ideal song for an undergrad or graduate level recital,” says Feltkamp. Pax Ressler’s “Love Song for Me” is included because of its upbeat, pride-centric theme.

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.”

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

“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 theatre,” 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’s Anthology of New Music: Trans & Nonbinary Voices, Vol. 1 is available on Amazon, BarnesandNoble.com and wherever books and music are sold. Visit newmusicshelf.com.

TOM TIETJEN is a freelance journalist based in Los Angeles. His celeb interviews have appeared in Palm Springs’Standard Magazine and Desert Life Magazine. In his spare time, he enjoys whacking on the tambourine to old Monkees songs and catching waves at Huntington Beach.

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