Nashville in Harmony featured at TEDxNashville event
Nashville in Harmony (NiH) has been a fixture of Nashville’s LGBT music scene for the last decade, and over the years the group has been honored to perform at most of Nashville’s major music venues. NiH is Tennessee’s first and only musical arts organization created specifically for the LGBT community and its straight allies, and its mission is to “use music to build community and create social change.”
NiH’s work to bring people, both within the LGBT community and also the community at large, brought its work to the attention of the organizers of CREO, a TEDxNashville Salon event produced in partnership with Metro Arts in celebration of Artober Nashville.
The October event, held at McAfee Concert Hall at Belmont University on Saturday, October 24, highlighted talks and performances on the central theme of social justice and creativity. Speakers at CREO included Bay Area public artist Walter Hood, Memphis hip-hop artist and DJ Marco Pavé, and artist/author team Robin Paris and Tom Williams.
NiH’s Artistic Director Don Schlosser was invited to speak on how the 140-voice community chorus has worked to fulfil its mission of using music to build community and create social change. “The gist of the talk,” Schlosser said, “is that NiH is using music to shape the public sentiment toward LGBT justice. Legislation is important, but legislation does not change the culture. Fully realized LGBT justice will not happen until public sentiment changes. NiH is working to shape public sentiment by modeling an inclusive community, by singing a message of inclusion and acceptance, and by collaborating with like-minded community partners. The mission of Nashville in Harmony is to use music to build community and create social change. The goal of NiH is social change; the strategy is music.”
The group began, according the Schlosser, as an initiative of the First Unitarian Universalist Church. “A group in the church was brainstorming ideas about how to bring the gay and straight communities together,” he said, “and someone suggested a mixed chorus of gays and lesbians and their allies. A couple of people from that group started the ball rolling, secured initial funding, and began planning for and advertising the group. The group gave its first major concert in December of 2004 with 19 singers.”
From those beginnings, the group widened its scope. “A key value from the start was modeling an inclusive community of LGBT people and allies singing together,” he said. “Before long the group became more intentional about singing to achieve LGBT justice in the community by singing a message of inclusion and tolerance, by collaborating with like-minded community partners, and by volunteering in the community. The group did everything possible to shape public sentiment toward the acceptance and appreciation of LGBT persons.”
For its members, “NiH has provided a safe place for LGBT people to celebrate their authentic selves and a place for allies to actively support work for LGBT justice.” It has also focused on supporting important groups within LGBT community. “Regarding outreach, NiH has collaborated with a wide variety of community partners as an activist and an advocate. We have performed for and volunteered for agencies working for LGBT justice like the TN Equality Project, Nashville Pride, OutCentral, and Nashville Cares.”
It has also served as an important vehicle for developing relationships with the surrounding communities. “We have partnered with agencies working for other social justice issues like Room in the Inn, Fifty Forward, the Oasis Center, and the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure,” Schlosser said. “We have made the LGBT community more visible by singing with the Nashville Symphony and performing at TPAC and the Historic Ryman Auditorium. We have traveled to Birmingham, Louisville, Knoxville, Chattanooga, and Cookeville to spread our message of inclusion to surrounding communities.”
Schlosser has been with NiH almost since its founding. “During the first year I was the pianist for the group. At the end of the first year a search was conducted for a director, and I threw my hat in the ring. After I worked as the interim director for a brief period, the group engaged me as their director.”
During his years of involvement, he has seen the impact the group has made firsthand. “Carla, one of the singers, shared her story with me about how the grandmother of her adopted children was affected by attending a Nashville in Harmony concert. She said, ‘When I first embarked on the adoption of the girls, I intentionally didn't come out to their biological grandmother, who kind of held all the cards,) because she had made some homophobic remarks. A year or so down the road, after I’d joined NiH, I came out to her and started inviting her to NiH events. Her homophobia melted away and by the time her own teenage son came out to her a few years later, she had a completely different perspective.’”
“Another singer, Barry, also shared his story with me,” Schlosser added. “He told me, ‘Although my parents loved me dearly, they never accepted my sexuality, and were convinced I was living immorally. They even blamed my positive HIV status on that immorality. I bravely kept inviting them to our concerts. They surprised me and came to our concert at the Ryman two years ago and loved every minute of it. Our music and our message made a huge impact on their hearts. A couple of weeks later, at our Christmas dinner, my dad announced to my family that my parents loved and accepted all of us as we are.’”
While we have come a long way in the last year in terms of rights, our community has a long way to go in terms of developing social acceptance. So the kind of work NiH is doing remains essential.
One of the group’s biggest events of the year is its holiday show, “Glitter & Bling! Jazzy Holiday Fun!” The event will be held on December 12, at TPAC’s Polk Theater—tickets are on sale now, and make a great holiday gift.