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The Choral Commons

Author: Emilie Amrein & André de Quadros

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The Choral Commons is a media platform that provides a space for choirs and singing communities to realize the liberatory potential of the ensemble as a site of radical imagining. We promote equitable artistic and organizational practices that harness the positive social impacts of participatory music making for the common good and confront racism, poverty, ableism, LGBTQ+ discrimination, displacement, and much more. We produce podcasts and community events, offer educational resources on justice-centered praxis, and incubate creative, artistic, and compassionate projects that empower choirs and singing communities to work for a just and peaceful world.
49 Episodes
In January, The Choral Commons hosted a round table discussion on justice-centered choral advocacy, accountability, and strategic planning for the new year with  panelists: Catherine Dehoney, President & CEO, Chorus America; Maria Guinand, Vice President, IFCM; Mackie Spradley, President, NAfME; Elizabeth Swanson, Vice President, NCCO; and Andre Thomas, Vice-President, ACDA.
André de Quadros facilitates a roundtable with guests from the Here, There, and Everywhere series: Emilie Amrein, Dzaya Castillo, Con Fullam, Erin Guinup, Maurice Lekea, Thierry Ruboneka, & Elise Witt
The Tacoma Refugee Choir began as a pilot project in August 2016 in partnership with Tacoma Community House with a group of 22 refugees and community members.  The program was well received and quickly grew to create a welcoming and affirmative learning experience for over 600 participants from 52 nations along with diverse members from the U.S. The group's primary objective is to create space where meaningful relationships can develop and members can uplift one another, using music as a tool to engage members and open the door for authentic expression, interconnection, and healing.  Erin Guinup is the founding Executive and Artistic Director of the Tacoma Refugee Choir. A passionate advocate of community singing and the power of music to heal and unite communities, she has led community singing events and spoken at national conferences for Chorus America, National Association of Teachers of Singing, American Choral Director’s Association, and the International Congress of Voice Teachers in Stockholm, Sweden, and TEDxSeattle. As a solo artist, Erin frequently performs as a guest soloist with ensembles including Symphony Tacoma, Ensign Symphony, Northwest Repertory Singers and Tacoma Concert Band. Specializing in both classical and contemporary technique, she is a sought-after clinician and voice teacher with students on Broadway, regional theatre and operatic stages, and television’s American Idol, The Voice, and America’s Got Talent. She is a composer and author, contributing to the books So You Want to Sing Music by Women and My Body Was Left on the Street: Music Education and Displacement. Most recently, Erin was named one of five Women to Watch by South Sound Magazine.Thierry Ruboneka is a peace advocate, entrepreneur and has a great passion for music. He moved to United States in 2016 with his family as refugees after spending so many years away from their home country DRC which was torn apart with war. He studied Multimedia while in his refugee in Uganda and went ahead to manage one of the most successful digital music startups in Africa. He has over Seven years’ experience in administration, business development and management. After arriving in United States he has worked with organizations for Refugee Services and resettlement, he is an exceptional event organizer with hands on experience very detail-oriented, with a reputation for thorough process documentation creation, review, and training. His ability to speak fluently 5 different languages gained two years’ experience working with immigrants and refugees from different countries and nationalities. in the same year of his arrival he worked with Uganda North America Association to bring the first beauty pageant of Miss Uganda North America to Washington and has started his own start up to promote African Culture and life style. Maurice Lekea, born in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), arrived in the US in 2000. After 19 years of living in Washington, his Asylum case finally got approved in July 2019. While raising 5 children (3 sons and 2 daughters) as a single dad, Maurice went to school in North Seattle College and worked a full time job. He then continued his education at Edmond Community College. Despite speaking no english when he first arrived in America, Maurice eventually became a certified French - English Interpreter/Translator in 2008 . He worked for Rosetta Stone coaching French. He also provided translation services for hospitals, social services, courts, and immigration. Maurice has enjoyed his volunteer work with the Shoreline YMCA after school program “Hangtime”. In August 2019, Maurice joined the choir: “it was an outstanding experience to meet people from different backgrounds, ethnics, cultures etc...developing friendship.” 
Common Ground Voices / La Frontera brings together a diverse group of artists in community music and peace-building projects situated at the border of Mexico and the United States. Through its signature programs, weeklong residencies and two-day encuentros, Common Ground Voices / La Frontera considers forced migration, identity, place, belonging, and shared humanity in this politically charged and historically contested region.CGV La Frontera aims to generate meaningful collaboration through music, explore and create music of shared human values and aspirations, contribute to community music as an exercise of non-violence, and utilize music as a springboard for a meaningful discussion about social and political change within the group as well as with the society in general. We believe in transcending political and demographic borders through art-, theatre-, and music-making; in the transformative potential of immersive and experiential encounters with difference; in the power of proximity to expand perspectives and open hearts; and in the role that culture-bearers play in building community.Emilie Amrein (she/they) is a cultural strategist, a community music practitioner, and an advocate for justice-centered choral practice. She is executive producer of The Choral Commons, and co-artistic director of Common Ground Voices / La Frontera, a bi-national community music project that aims to build relationships and understanding across political, demographic, and perceptual borders as an exercise of non-violence. She is also founder of Peregrine Music, an arts and education organization committed to engaging communities in meaningful dialogue about the most pressing social issues facing the world with creative, youth-driven performance projects. Emilie has presented her work for several distinguished professional organizations, including Chorus America, the American Choral Directors Association, the College Music Society, and the National Youth Leadership Council. Emilie is Associate Professor of Music and Chair of the Music Department at the University of San Diego where she teaches courses on the intersection of music and social justice movements, community music, and changemaking.Soprano and Choral Conductor, Dzaya Castillo Jiménez studied music at the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes and has diplomas in Choral Conducting and Mexican Ethnomusicology. Since 2001, she has served as Academic Coordinator and Teacher Trainer in the community choral program, RedeseArte Cultura de Paz and SALUDARTE de CONARTE in various border cities of Mexico such as Tapachula, Nogales, Ciudad Juárez and also Mexico City. Beginning in 2014, she has served as coordinator of choirs for the Redes 2025 program at Tijuana’s Centro de Artes Musicales, a program that promotes individual, community and social transformation through art. This program currently serves 300 choristers who sing in Community Choirs and 110 youth in Selection Choirs from various neighborhoods and communities in Baja California. She has conducted choirs in renowned spaces as the Weill Recital Hall of Carnegie Hall and at the International Choir Festival "Tlaxcala Canta," and Youth Creating Harmony Festival in Encinitas, CA, among others. In 2018, she founded and directed the International Festival “Coralifornia,” an annual choral festival bringing choirs together from across the continent in song.
Today on The Choral Commons, we take a  deep dive into place-based practice, eco-justice, and our relationship with the land in a conversation with Kyle Lemle. Kyle Lemle works to catalyze the impact of organizations that work at the intersection of environmental justice, forest restoration, and spiritual ecology. Kyle is a climate organizer, a lover and protector of forests, a spiritual practitioner, and a choral activist with the Thrive Choir. Based in Oakland, California, the Thrive choir is a diverse group of vocalists, artists, activists, educators, healers, and community organizers who join together in, what they call, big harmony to celebrate the confluence of their many cultures & identities. Their music illuminates the joy, pain, and beauty of what it means to be human in this time of systemic transformation. As a climate organizer, Kyle has mobilized thousands of people in the streets of San Francisco as a leader of RISE for Climate. Kyle has worked in international and grassroots community forestry projects from the pine forests of the Himalayas to the mangroves of Southeast Asia to the urban forest in San Francisco. Kyle plants trees at sites impacted by violence across the US with shovels made from guns, through his work as co-founder of Lead to Life, an arts collective dedicated to creative interventions bridging racial and environmental justice through ceremony and art practice. You can learn more about Kyle at
Welcoming immigrant children from around the globe, The Pihcintu Multicultural Chorus helps restart young lives. War-torn villages, bloodshed, refugee camps, famine, and political turmoil were devastating realities for many of these young singers before being embraced by the warmth, companionship and harmony that Pihcintu provides.Con Fullam is an award-winning producer, musician, and songwriter, who combined his passion for music with a deep concern for the effect of world issues on children in founding The Pihcintu Chorus. This unique chorus of young women from Cambodia, China, Congo, El Salvador, Egypt, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Uganda, Viet Nam, British West Indies, and Zambia, along with children whose families have been here for generations, have formed a powerful and permanent bond. 
Elise Witt is Artist-in-Residence at Global Village Project (GVP), a school for teenage refugee girls in Decatur, GA. GVP is a special purpose middle school for teenage refugee girls from Afghanistan, Burma, Congo, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Iraq, Liberia, Somalia, Sudan, and Central African Republic. GVP serves girls whose formal education has been interrupted by war and refugee camp experiences. 
Rukhsana Nezam is the founder and director of Justice & Joy, a consulting practice that focuses on the intersection of community development, socially-engaged art and urban planning. She works with governments, artists and grassroots cultural organizations to bring creativity and imagination into community planning and to de-silo the way we run cities. Rukhsana currently collaborates on creative placemaking projects throughout the country, including the ambitious Chouteau Greenway in St. Louis, a project designed to connect 17 city neighborhoods linking parks, business and arts districts, transit corridors, and cultural/educational institutions in a rich and inclusive celebration of art, commerce, culture and history. In this example and throughout her art practice, Rukhsana strives to disarm and disrupt public space norms using play and participatory performance. She urges us to consider how imagination and cultural knowledge can guide urban design, planning and policy and how artists and cultural practitioners can help us re-imagine a better public realm, and civic systems that work for all.We were delighted to talk to Rukhsana Nezam in March. You can learn more about her work with Justice & Joy at the website:
Nicky Manlove and Bradford Dumont facilitate a roundtable with guests from the Engender series: Abdullah Hall, Erik Peregrine, Jace Kaholokula Saplan, Lindsey Deaton, Logan Bradford, Mari Esabel Valverde, and Michael Bussewitz-Quarm. 
On this episode of Engender, Nicky and Brad interview composer Mari Esabel Valverde and speak about the honesty of gender diversity, the humanizing power of representation, and expansive notions of choral excellence. We loved this conversation. Mari Esabel Valverde is an award-winning composer and singer in steady demand across the United States and Canada. Based in North Texas, she sings in multiple professional ensembles and teaches singing and transgender voice training with TruVoice Lessons. She holds degrees from St. Olaf College, the European American Musical Alliance in Paris, France, and San Francisco Conservatory of Music.
In the finale of our second Gather series, Emilie and André interview Jonathan Pallant (from the Dallas Street Choir), Marilyn Irizarry and Leeav Sofer (from LA's Urban Voices Project.) 
OnRaé LaTeal is a musician, producer, activist, and educator based in Washington, DC. She has held a variety of roles at the Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the Smithsonian’s contemporary art museum on the National Mall. She recently managed ARTLAB, the Hirschhorn’s digital art studio for teens, which offers racially inclusive and diverse educational experiences for youth. She is currently serving as Education Coordinator of the Smithsonian’s new community engagement initiative “Our Shared Future: Reckoning with Our Racial Past.” She is also the founder of two DC-based grassroots programs rooted in the arts, technology, and racial and gender equity, the Black Girls Handgames Project and Freedom Futures Collective.  In this conversation, OnRaé provokes us to consider what it means to be on the right side of history. She inspires us with her album, We Keep Us Safe, a 23-song visual album that she created with student artists and activists reimagining public safety. She challenges us to work harder for racial and educational equity in our communities. And with her work, she demonstrates the creative potential of music to energize and coalesce social movements to effect change nation wide. We hope you'll find inspiration in OnRaé LaTeal’s call for all of us to imagine the just and compassionate world of our wildest dreams. 
On Wednesday, Emilie and André spoke with Jonathan Palant and London Alexander about how the Dallas Street Choir is responding to poverty, housing insecurity, addiction recovery, trauma healing, and homelessness in Dallas, Texas.
On this episode, Nicky and Brad have a conversation with Abdullah Hall from the Trans Chorus of Los Angeles about the intersections of race and gender, as well as their experiences with singing and advocacy.  The Trans Chorus of Los Angeles is one of the first all Trans-Identified Chorus in America, consisting of Transgender, Non-Binary, Intersex, Gender-Non-Conforming and Gender-Fluid individuals.
Emilie and André speak with Leeav Sofer and Marilyn Irizarry about how the organization Urban Voices Project is responding to poverty, housing insecurity, addiction recovery, trauma healing, and homelessness in Los Angeles.
Aisha Shillingford is an artist, writer, and strategist originally from Trinidad & Tobago. She has been a spiritual and cultural organizer and network weaver for social movements. Aisha has earned a BA in Environmental Analysis and Policy, a Masters of Social Work with a focus on Community Organizing, and a Masters of Business Administration with a focus on Innovation, Creativity and Social Entrepreneurship. She is the artistic director of Intelligent Mischief, a creative studio and design lab unleashing Black imagination to shape the future.  In this conversation, Aisha offers us a provocation to dream expansively about the future of choral music and community, imploring us to extend our frames of reference to imagine impossible realities. Aisha reminds us that seeds of the impossible have been and continue to be sown in the imagination of those whose realities have been confined by systems and structures that divide, violate, erase, and oppress. She asks us to make space for the unknown in our dreaming of a just and compassionate world and offers a recipe for a collective choral futuring, built on the values of self determination, participatory design, and time intensive relationship building. You can learn more about Aisha and her work at Intelligent Mischief at the website:
This week's episode of Engender features Michael Bussewitz-Quarm, who speaks with Nicky and Brad about her experiences as a composer and advocate for the transgender community. Michael is passionate about effecting change through choral music on topics ranging from the health of the world’s coral reefs and the epidemic of gun violence in the United States to the global refugee crisis.For more information about Michael, please visit her website:
On this episode of the Gather series, Emilie and André speak with Javier Rodríguez, Sophie Wingland, and Ron Yokely about how they are using music to respond to poverty, housing insecurity, addiction, trauma, and homelessness in Chicago. Harmony, Hope & Healing supports adults and children as they heal from traumas associated with homelessness, incarceration, addiction, and isolation. The organization provides on-site music classes and workshops in shelters, residential programs, drug treatment centers, community centers and Cook County Jail. You can learn more about Harmony, Hope, and Healing at the organization's website:
This week's episode of Engender features singer Logan Bradford who speaks with Nicky and Brad about their experiences navigating choral spaces as a trans person. Logan speaks honestly and incisively about their search for a musical and creative home in choral communities designed for cis-gender singers, the notion of birthing a not-yet-imagined reality into existence, and the painful act of walking away from people and communities that continue to harm trans singers.  Logan is a Tucson-based musician and alum of THEM Youth Ensemble.  
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