Boston Chorus Lets Trans Members Sing With New Voices

Photo: Steven Senne/AP Photo.
A chorus in Boston is giving space to transgender individuals to sing their hearts out. Butterfly Music Transgender Chorus is helping transgender singers find their voices again as they transition, allowing them to continue singing with a changing vocal range.

The group began in September 2014, when Artistic Director Sandi Hammond posted to Facebook asking if there was any interest in a choral group specifically for transgender individuals. Within a few hours, she had been inundated with responses from around the country.

Choral groups often distinguish the parts for singers by range divided by gender, with parts for sopranos and altos for women; tenors, baritones, and bass for men. But as individuals transition between genders, those lines get blurred and singers can find it difficult to hit the notes. “Because of what happens when you start taking hormones and go through the transitioning process, often you just can’t sing anymore. You need to become reacclimatized to your new voice,” Sarah Borgatti, the chorus’ senior administrator, told Refinery29 by phone.

The chorus was originally designed as a safe space for transgender individuals who felt uncomfortable in traditional choirs, but has since expanded into helping individuals develop their voice throughout the transition. As transgender individuals adopt the exterior that reflects their identity, speaking and singing voices can be one of the more difficult attributes to change. Butterfly Music Transgender Chorus offers speech classes to help individuals “integrat[e] their voice into their gender identity.”

Besides the practical element, the chorus is also important for the sense of community and fun it gives its members. “Often in the transgender community, individuals are coming together for a support group, or the Transgender Day of Remembrance,” Borgatti said. “This is a place to just have music and joy and come together and celebrate. There’s a lot of areas where this country needs to improve on in terms of transgender rights and visibility, and it’s also important to remember that there are lots of places where we can improve on celebration and community, positive things as well.”

The chorus isn't the only one of its kind, but it is a trailblazer. Because most music is written for singers who fit cleanly into a range category like "soprano" or "baritone," the chorus has had to transcribe the music they sing to be more accessible to people who are transitioning. Now they have an entire body of trans-accessible choral music to share with other choirs that are springing up around the country.

The group has its first public performance this spring. The show is both a thanks and a tribute to the chorus’ supporters, who have donated money, time, and effort to the group. It will be not only a show but also a celebration, “a big musical singing party,” as Borgatti described it.

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