a chorus stands and sings
For more than 30 years, One Voice Mixed Chorus has been building their community by raising their voices in song. Photo by Terry Gydesen.

For 30 years, St. Paul, Minnesota’s One Voice Mixed Chorus has been building community by raising their voices in song. The largest LGBTA (the A is for allies) chorus in the nation, One Voice received a 2016 Challenge America grant from the NEA to not only expand on their inventive Out in Our Schools outreach program in area schools, but also to mount a concert at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts. As part of both efforts, One Voice brought in the talented string quartet, Well-Strung, to work with Johnson High School students and perform with One Voice at the Ordway.

In a nod to Well-Strung, the concert was titled “Well-Versed,” an ambitious affair that combined both poetry and song. It featured the world premiere of a four-movement composition, Still Standing, with poetry written and recited by National Poetry Slam Champion Sierra DeMulder and music by acclaimed Minnesota composer George Maurer.

I spoke with One Voice’s Artistic Director Jane Ramseyer Miller and former Johnson High School student YuFeng Xiong to talk about the power of education, song, and the collective voice.

A very, very special thanks to One Voice’s Executive Director Christopher Taykalo for his input and for his tremendous help in coordinating the interviews.


Jane Miller: This past year we were really, really excited to bring in a string quartet, professional string quartet from New York City called, Well-Strung. Four gay men who also are incredible musicians, both string players and singers. And so they kind of fuse this pop music and classical music in really wonderful ways. Royals My name is Jane Ramseyer Miller and I am the artistic director of One Voice Mixed Chorus. And One Voice is Minnesota's lesbian gay bisexual transgender and straight allies chorus here in St. Paul, Minnesota. AK: now in their 30th year, One Voice Mixed Chorus is stronger and bigger than ever with 125 singers. last year, they received a nea grant to mount a dynamic concert at the ordway center for THE performing arts in st. paul. the performance, titled well-versed, combined COMMISSIONED poetry and music and featured the well-strung quartet in collaboration with one voice. the grant also supported one of their flagship programs called “out in our schools.” jane ramseyer miller. Jane Miller: As I was thinking about “Out In Our Schools,” I thought, "Wow, wouldn't this be great if we could take these, this quartet of professional singers into schools as well and One Voice could perform with them and also allow students to get to hear them." So we applied for this grant and NEA helped to cover the costs to bring them in and for our concert last March. When One Voice performs in schools we go in first and do a bunch of workshops with curriculum with some of the students so in this case the curriculum was with some middle schools in the area. Particularly focused on gender and also exploring poetry, so one of the really, really interesting parts of this concert that Well Strung performed, was a brand-new commission. For this commission we chose Poetry Slam Champion, Sierra DeMulder, who is local here and she created four poems and then local composer George Mauer did the music. And, you know, for a choir like us it's really, really exciting to be able to perform with this professional string quartet. That just almost never happens. So that's the piece that we took into the school concert and it was held at Johnson high school. Johnson high school students came and then also the students from the middle schools, were we've been working with them on curriculum and study in the poetry. So they got a little sneak preview of this commission before it was performed. YuFeng Xiong: My choir teacher brought us to the auditorium and we heard about who they are; the One Voice Mixed Choir and Well-Strung…

My name is YuFeng Xiong, I am a graduate from Johnson High School. I live in St. Paul, Minnesota.

… and when they performed we were just wowed. I realized that I also have never heard a LGBT choir that focused on communities coming together and being so inclusive and for me that really surprised me in a sense, but then at the same time I was also wowed by the music. Jane Miller: I just remember thinking as this started, "Oh, man. I hope they aren't going to think we're too boring." You know, when the choirs singing on their own, but one of my memories is a very-- I mean, it was contemporary, but very choral a cappella piece called, “let my love be heard,” by a local Minnesota composer. Yeah, and the students in the audience just went wild and here it is, this a cappella choral piece. YuFeng Xiong: You know, that piece actually made me cry. I've heard the song performed by other choirs before and when One Voice performed it over at Johnson it was, it was different for some reason. It felt so much more powerful because they had a message that came with the song too. Jane Miller: And halfway through the song the sopranos and altos sort of are just singing this text that doesn't really have words to it and the tenors and bases sing over and over 20 or 30 times, “Let My Love Be Heard,” and it just gets bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger. Let My Love Be Heard YuFeng Xiong: From my experience, I've never had friends that were within the LGBT community, but we are all trying to understand our personal communities as well. And to have this choir come to us, it really speaks for the people within the LGBT community and for the straight students as well. Being a young person, I have to understand that one out of three people within the LGBT community ages 14 to 18 have tried committing suicide too and that's just a fact that you have to understand. Jane Miller: I think YuFeng talked about it really articulately in terms of the kind of vulnerability that LGBT youth experience. A huge percentage of LGBT youth are homeless. There's a recent statistics saying, one quarter, so 25 percent of all youth that come out to their families are kicked out of their homes. Even though we're making progress in terms of legal rights, homophobia, transphobia still, incredibly, on the rise. YuFeng Xiong: And I like to say that music is a good way of communication and expression because music has a sense to touch people not just on the outside, but on the inside as well Jane Miller: And, I think, another thing that YuFeng said that rings really true is that, I hear over and over that audience members watch One Voice singers perform and they experience so much passion and emotion. And, I think, that comes from our mission, I think, it comes from the experience of LGBT people really deeply feeling what they're singing about and having a strong sense of mission and a message to share. " We actually opened the concert with a pop song called "Fight Song," and one of our younger members sang the solo and killed it. Fight Song up AK: THAT WAS JANE RAMSEYER MILLER AND YU-FENG XIONG ON THE IMPACT OF THE ONE VOICE MIXED CHORUS AND THE POWER OF SONG TO EDUCATE, HEAL, AND INSPIRE. FOR THE NATIONAL ENDOWMENT FOR THE ARTS, I’M ADAM KAMPE. MUSIC CREDITS: Excerpt of “Royals,” written by Joel Little and Lani Marija Ella O’Connor Yelich, from the album, POPssical by the Well-Strung Quartet, used courtesy of Music with a Twist and by permission of Sony/ATV Music [APRA] and Songs of Music Publishing [ASCAP] Excerpt of “This Night Is Ours” by Scott Holmes used through Creative Commons and from WFMU’s Free Music Archive. Excerpt of “Let My Love Be Heard” composed by Jake Runestad and performed live by the One Voice Mixed Chorus, used courtesy of Jake Runestad Music [ASCAP]. Excerpt of “Fight Song” by Rachel Platten and Richard Bassett and performed live by the One Voice Mixed Chorus, used by permission of EMI Blackwood Music / Sony/ATV [ASCAP] Excerpt of “In Paler Skies” by Blue Dot Sessions, from the album, Aeronaut, used through Creative Commons and from WFMU’s Free Music Archive.