Messages of unity and equality sang in One Voice

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“Chester cheetah chew the chunk of cheap cheddar cheese.” This is just one of the vocal exercises the One Voice choir does to warm up during rehearsal.

One Voice Mixed Chorus is an organization of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and allied (GLBTA) singers who perform thematic concerts to promote equality and other themes. On April 24, One Voice will be performing environmentally themed songs at three St. Paul schools.

For its annual educational outreach initiative, the choir will be working with students from Community of Peace Academy, Humboldt Jr. High School, and Wellstone Elementary School. Students from each school learned two songs in advance that they will perform with One Voice during the concert.

“The goal is to really engage the students’ interest in the environment and in caring for the earth,” said One Voice Artistic Director Jane Ramseyer Miller. “The second goal is to promote social change by giving them some role models in the GLBT community.”

This is the chorus’s 21st season and they have been performing in schools for 11 of those years. One Voice has performed with students of all ages, from elementary schools to colleges.

Lane Skalberg, a chorus member for 20 years, said about children’s reaction to the GLBTA community: “We have noticed that when [kids] come and join us in the first rehearsal there’s a lot of anxiousness among the kids, they’re not sure what to expect and by the end of the first rehearsal they’re already a lot more relaxed.”

John Bagniewski, who has been with One Voice for five year, said some people have walked out of their concerts after realizing that One Voice is a GLBTA mixed choir. But Bagniewski said this is a rare occurrence. “I know music really has a way of disarming people and opening them up,” he said.

Not all members of the chorus are GLBT; some are allies. One of these is Dick van Deusen, who has been with the chorus for three years. Van Deusen, who is a member of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), saw One Voice perform at Mount Hope United Methodist, and knew he wanted to be a part of their mission.

“They get the story out to the public that all folks are OK,” van Deusen said. “People get it through song. They see us together as a community.”

Other allies agree. “What I love about it is, I’ve sung for 40 years in many, many choirs, and I would say this is the first choir I’ve felt totally accepted in,” said Brian Millberg. “You’d think it’d be the exact opposite because I’m one of the straight people here. Everyone is so open to other people’s lifestyles and we come here to sing.”

John Sorlien, a teacher at Community of Peace Academy, said they wanted One Voice to perform at their school because their work to bring a message of acceptance is similar to the mission of the school. “[One Voice] brings acceptance,” he said. “We teach that everyone is worthy of positive regard.”

Sorlien added that One Voice has never lost sight of its mission to work for social change and challenge people’s views about the GLBTA community. “They are their mission statement,” he said. “They live it.”

Sadie Lundquist and Casey Merkwan are students at the University of Minnesota and interns at the TC Daily Planet.

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