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It's probably not thought about widely by others outside of the trans musical community, but music composition and trans voices often conflict with each other. Think about it; you're changing your body to make you feel authentic to your gender, but your voice doesn't exactly follow.
Furthermore, if you are a singer, that can be devastating. You want to be able to express your authentic self both in body and voice. There is a lack of musical compositions that are trans-inclusive, so Aiden K. Feltkamp decided they would create an anthology of pieces that transgender folks could use, and it's quite a milestone concept.
Aiden explains in the interview below how and why it's important to have inclusivity in the musical world. There are many questions with complicated answers, but it's an eye-opening story about something you probably haven't thought of before.
Aiden K. Feltkamp talks about trans voices and musical compositiion.
Aiden K. Feltkamp
For people such as myself who need a basic explanation of this project; can you tell me what it is and why it’s important.
Of course! As an opera singer, you mostly learn and perform music from 50-400 years ago. However, there are composers creating opera and classical art songs today. In the field, we call this New Music.
This anthology collects New Music -- songs from operas, art songs, and musical theater songs that have been written by living composers -- that feature trans and nonbinary voices. To be eligible for the anthology, the song had to meet one of three criteria: either the music was written by a trans or nonbinary composer, the text was written by a trans or nonbinary writer, or the music was written for, and performed by, a trans or nonbinary singer.
As a trans nonbinary opera singer myself, I found it difficult to find repertoire that aligned with my gender experience. This anthology was, at first, a project to rectify that. Then, I realized that many voice teachers with trans or nonbinary singers, as well as presenters who wanted to diversify their programming, wanted a place to find repertoire for/by trans and nonbinary performers. This anthology fills all of those needs in our industry.
There isn't an existing anthology of vocal works for trans and nonbinary singers (believe me, I've tried to find one!). So this is the first. It's important for that reason, and for the others, I've explained above.
How are trans voices different and why would they need compositions in varied ranges that are not typical in traditional music?
Since trans people span the gamut of genders and ranges, the compositions must also. This is especially important because so much music written for women sits in the treble range, but feminine people can possibly have voices in the bass and treble ranges. The same goes for repertoire traditionally written for men.
What is voice Dysphoria?
In relation to trans and nonbinary people specifically, this is when your voice doesn't match your gender identity and therefore causes you gender dysphoria. Gender dysphoria is feeling discomfort or distress (to varying degrees) because your body differs in some way from your gender identity.
While most transmasculine people find their pre-HRT voice dysphoric, I didn't. Sometimes my speaking voice pre-HRT would cause people to misgender me as female and that would lead to gender dysphoria, but I didn't feel that my speaking or singing voice pre-HRT was at odds with my gender identity.
Sweets by Kate Stonewall
Despite my personal experience, this is a serious issue for many trans and nonbinary people and leads to a lot of gender dysphoria. This is the main reason that I'm working with the Musical Mentors Collaborative on GEMM club: a program that provides free voice lessons to underprivileged and unhoused trans and nonbinary people.
Kim Petras is a popular pop diva whose range doesn’t seem forced. In other words, it seems biological. Are pop music voices easier to manipulate because of technology as opposed to live music which requires more training?
Every voice is equally biological. If we're talking about technique, there are different vocal techniques for different genres of music. It could just be that Kim Petras' voice is naturally better suited to a pop style of singing. It's also possible she could learn to sing more classically if she wished. Production on pop songs can hide technical "flaws" (such as intonation issues or taking a breath where it's less than desirable) where live music cannot, but classical music can also be produced in a way to hide these things. Classical music tends to be more exposed, just as a facet of the genre, and the technique can be more complicated, but I don't think that one genre or style of singing is more forced than another.
Connecting to Songs as Your Authentic Self
What advice would you give a trans person who just sings casually with the radio or in the shower but suddenly feels self-conscious after transitioning?
Is there a psychological thing that happens, say to a trans female, when a past favorite song features a male lead singing about “male” things then suddenly that person transitions and they revisit that same song? I can only speak from my own experience here.
Written by Aiden K. Feltkamp
Aiden K. Feltkamp
Contemporary artists Anne Imhof, Eliza Douglas and composer Billy Bultheel released a new single ‘Dark Times’, the first track taken from their upcoming SEX - comprised primarily of refigurations of songs composed for Imhof's art show of the same name, which was exhibited in Chicago in 2019.
A hyperbolic anti-anthem of the times we live in, ‘Dark Times’ lyrically references poet Bertolt Brecht’s famous poem written for Walter Benjamin titled Motto to the ‘Svendborg Poems’. The song manifests itself as a ballad in which Eliza Douglas’ captivating voice recites Brecht’s haunting lines to the classically composed melody.
The 'Dark Times' video was shot by Lola Raban-Oliva and Jean-René Étienne and edited by Joji Koyama, under the artistic direction of Eliza Douglas. Douglas is an acclaimed artist who has held solo exhibitions at Air de Paris, Paris, Jewish Museum, New York and Schinkel Pavillon, Berlin, among others, a well as having collaborated with artists including Hercules and Love Affair, Antony and the Johnsons and Devendra Banhart, alongside being Anne Imhof’s closest collaborator. Together, the pair have been working together since 2016, with Douglas composing and performing music for Imhof’s performances in this time.
Billy Bultheel is a composer and performance-maker based in Berlin and Brussels. His practice combines heavy electronics with medieval and baroque polyphony. From 2012-2019 Bultheel has been developing musical aspects of Imhof's performances, movies and installations and composed music for Imhof's pieces alongside with Eliza Douglas and Imhof herself. Billy Bultheel has a BA in music from the Royal Conservatory of The Netherlands and an MA in Choreography and Performance at the Justus-Liebig University, Germany.
Anne Imhof's SEX began as an art show
SEX was composed during the formation of Imhof’s art show of the same name. Exhibitions of SEX are immersive, atmospheric events, creating environments inhabited by groups of collaborators. During the day, visitors are able to explore Imhof’s installation of paintings, sculptures and architectural interventions for free. Then in the ticketed evening events, the spaces will come alive with music, lights and live performances. The evening performances contain strobe lighting and explicit content.
Adrian Searle described the evening shows at the Tate Modern thus:
I am left with a head full of images. A man thrashes at his own shadow with a bullwhip, the rhythmic echo of whip against wall a metronomic ricochet through the space. A waltz, set to a heartbeat pulse, becomes a wrestling match, or a tender embrace as the couple slowly falls on to a mat. A procession passes through, bodies lifted by their companions. Carrying becomes caring. Or are they being led to an auto-da-fé? A man looks down at the milling audience from a high gantry, as though he were on a balcony, watching the street below.
Adrian Searle, on SEX as staged at The Tate Modern
Anne Imhof, Douglas and Bultheel, reworked the songs from how they appeared in the show, the result is a compelling record that acts as an accompaniment to the SEX performances, as well as standing alone as a progressive collection of contemporary compositions.
Check out the video for 'SEX" here:
Anne Imhof, Eliza Douglas, Billy Bultheel — Vivaldi youtu.be
Arizona Musicfest is almost here and as the non-profit concert presenter gears up for its 31st year, we were delighted to catch up with one of the star attractions of the season: Ann Hampton Callaway.
An Arizonan transplant, Ann will be joining her sister Liz Callaway and presenting their 1995 cult-classic hit, Sibling Revelry on March 7 in Scottsdale. Those in the showbiz 'know' have for some time appreciated the harmonic wonders of The Callaway Sisters — but if you are new to the party, welcome. I caught up with Ann ahead of the show to find out how her fabulous musical career came to be, what she really thinks of sister Liz, how she's adjusting to life in Arizona, and what marriage has taught her.
AZMF 2021-22 Concert Season Preview youtu.be
Ann Hampton Callaway, I am such a huge fan of yours. You have the perfect career and dare I say, the perfect life, which includes a happy ending with a beautiful wife.
Ann: I remember when I finally was in love and it was actually mutual and it was all going to work out despite certain challenges, and I thought, Am I still going to write good songs? Am I allowed to be happy? Am I actually allowed to have this feeling?
I like to think as gay women, we get to graduate at some point. So let me go back to the beginning because my understanding is you grew up in the Midwest with talented parents, but I'm not sure they were on the showbiz map yet somehow you discovered you were musical. Tell me a little bit about that discovery and when it happened.
Ann: Well, you know, I sensed there was music deep into the DNA of at least my mother's side of the family. I think the way when in the olden days, in the 1800s, there were opera singers in Austria and my mom was a wonderful singer, pianist, and voice teacher, and she sang with the Chicago Symphony Chorus and was quite talented. But she had a challenging mother and parents who didn't really have any intention of her doing anything but getting married and teaching and having a family. And so there were moments in my life where I thought I was living my mother's unrealized dreams. I wanted my own dreams. My father was truly a brilliant journalist, but when the great Sammy Cahn heard him sing at a luncheon when he was introducing Sammy and he sang one of Sammy's hits, Sammy went up to him and said, 'You knocked it out of the park, John' and my dad said it was better than all his Emmy awards and Peabody Awards, having Sammy Cahn tell him that he sounded good as a singer. So my dad was a scat singer and he was a jazz fan, and I fell in love with jazz from my father. But my mom was more show tunes / classical music. And so my sister and I grew up in this very interesting family where there was just the right amount of neurosis, the right amount of difficulty, and the right amount of love.
Find Out Why Everyone Loves the Callaway Sisters' "Sibling Revelry" youtu.be
Let's talk a little bit about sisters. What is your relationship with Liz like?
Ann: We had a normal amount of rivalry and revelry. We had a normal amount of having fun and being kids. And then there was a while where I was like, Why are you my sister? We have nothing in common. But then when I went off to college and my parents had gotten divorced, we finally realized that we could be allies and she was starting to get into her own light and not in the shadow of her sister. In high school — we had a beautiful performing arts department — and she started to find her [musical] family. And that was the birth of Liz Callaway as a singer when she really found her people and got to star in some shows in high school. And then she went to college at University of Cincinnati for a quarter. And I like to say I served two years as an acting major at the University of Illinois because the people there had a very negative, hostile way of teaching. And that was not the kind of environment that I or most people thrive in. So we I decided to move to New York and Liz decided at the last minute to join me. Once we moved to New York we became allies in a big city where there were a lot of challenges. I got off the Amtrak train and they lost my reservation at the Martha Washington Hotel for Women where my sister and I were going to stay and I had no place to go and my little sister's coming, and so I'm crying on the corner and this guy says, 'Oh, go two blocks down and you can go to this hotel and they'll take care of you' — not knowing that that's where prostitutes and homeless people lived. And Liz got groped by the taxi driver on the way from the airport. So that was our welcome to New York! That kind of stuff makes you bond. I always say that she is the sunlit voice and I am the moonlit voice and together we make twilight.
And speaking of New York and how shitty New York City can be, what what made you move out to Arizona where you now live?
Ann: My wife, Kari, who is from Tucson, Arizona, was in deep need of returning to be with her mom and her family and her incredible friends. And I happened to be bewitched by the desert. I'm a person who thrives in New York and its excitement, and I love the glorious spiritual beauty of this part of the world. It's something indescribable, but when people come to our home, they just feel like, Oh wow, you get to live here and you get to experience this. And I tell people we moved to heaven and God is our neighbor. It's just spectacular, inspirational beauty with the skies and mountains and the stars and the sunsets and the beautiful birds. As a songwriter, and as a highly sensitive person, it's an environment to really replenish. It's a sanctuary, a place to to rebuild my energy. And it turned out to be a great place to spend the pandemic.
And many great performers pass through Tucson, Phoenix, and Scottsdale.
Ann: [Tucson] is actually a surprisingly vital and vibrant, funky artistic town. It's really a hip community. And the more time I spend here, the more talented people I meet, and I get to see our friends come through. And so it's a really lovely place to have the best of it all.
You work extensively in the genre of jazz and the American Songbook, what do you love about this genre?
Ann: I do feel very passionate about the genre because to me, it's just great artistry and it's great artistry that becomes more beautiful and more significant, with time, with challenges. There are very few love songs that can provide the level of depth and resonance to a human heart than the ones that were written during this golden age of theater and film writing. And so, yes, I feel very passionate about it, and most of the songs are songs from that era are timeless. And on the other hand, though, I listen to a lot of other music and I'm as seriously busy songwriter...
People may not know you wrote and sang the theme song to the TV sitcom The Nanny, and you wrote Barbra Streisand's wedding song. Tell me a little about your approach to songwriting.
Ann: I was born a songwriter. The way I think things and feel things. I like to distill the moment. When a phrase has a ring of truth it's like a gong that goes off in me and it wants to be realized. It asks me to to pursue it and follow through and make something of it. And so it's just a natural part of my creative life. Over the last two years, with the exception of this year, I wrote a poem every single day. It was an extremely creative exercise, and many of these poems turned into songs. And this year I want to take many more poems that are meant to be songs and actually spend the time to write them into songs. But I do have a very passionate way of looking at life, and as a person who primarily is a lover and cares about people and our world and being a conduit for loving change and compassionate exploration of new ways of living and experiencing life — being a songwriter is one of the most powerful ways to address many of the challenges that we see in front of us . And also to embrace the gorgeousness of life and to honor and celebrate it in the midst of extremely challenging times.
You know, when the pandemic came, I think we suddenly realized even more strongly how we don't know how long we have. And so I don't want to leave this Earth without giving a lot more from my heart as a songwriter. It's a beautiful way of trying to meet the creative power. And I'm very spiritual person, so when I say the creative power I mean I don't think that anybody writes a song alone, you can call it whatever you want to call it, but I feel that I have a bossy muse and she needs to be obeyed (laughs).
How do you know it's a love song when you write a love song?
Ann: I don't worry about what something is. I just try to tell the truth of something. And if it's written with love, it's a love song.... It may be me seeing the world having just kissed someone. There are so many different ways of experiencing love; seeing the world through loving eyes having found love; and learning more about love and getting to share it with someone significantly through the years is a profound gift. So every song is a love song if you are a loving human being.
A WEDDING CELEBRATION Ann Hampton Callaway & Kari Strand - Stephen Sorokoff youtu.be
You're in your seventh year of marriage? Has it transformed you?
Ann: We've been together for 15 years by the way. I proposed to Kari not much later, after meeting her — I just knew she was the one — and she said yes. So, the world's longest engagement, and we always said we didn't need a piece of paper. But then I started to realize that we were part of history, and there were a lot of people who fought to give us the right to marry. And we thought about the legal protections of marriage, and we also thought about it as an inspiration to up the ante of a true relationship. And so we wanted to celebrate our marriage. First, we got legally married at our house, on November 7th, seven years ago. And then we had a huge party at Birdland the following year in June on Pride Week with the greatest singers and pianists and musicians do two and a half hours of great love songs, and it was a love benediction and people all over the world came to celebrate our marriage and we had one of the greatest singers of our time officiate our wedding, Marilyn Maye. That kind of positive, loving energy blessed our relationship and made me feel like, I want to work even harder to be a better partner. This is so precious. I don't want anything to get in the way of us growing every day as a couple. So I think marriage helped me feel the higher stakes of thinking that this is like an art, and I want to get better at it.
We have chick flicks and, with Brandy Zdan's new single, “More of a Man,” I think we might have a new chick anthem. The Nashville-based indie-rocker is a force to be reckoned with. In an interview with Brandy Zdan, I explored her influences, her inspirations, and why she went solo.
BRANDY ZDAN TOUR DATES HERE.
Ms. Zdan's love of music began at an early age. So early, in fact, that she doesn't ever remember music not being a part of her life. “From the time I was 5 and started singing at school choir I knew I loved it.” For Ms. Zdan being in the music industry was not a choice. “It's just always been there, it's in my blood. I started writing songs and playing guitar around 12 or so around the same time I was discovering my folks’ record collection and realizing this whole other world of rock and pop music.”
BRANDY ZDAN - PROTECTOR (OFFICIAL VIDEO) youtu.be
Before becoming a solo artist once again, Ms. Zdan was part of the duo Twilight Hotel. The experiences she went through with her co-singers and co-musicians served her well to prepare for spotlight alone.
“We are all just a sum of our experiences and I've had many,” she said. “I've been blessed to tour all over the world in the various groups I've been in. It's also just broadened my horizons and kept my chops up.” You can tell the experiences have suited her well in her music quest. Not only is she a phenomenal singer, she is also a musician. She has the talent to play guitar, steel, and accordion among others.
My favorite song of Ms. Zdan's is “Does Everything Break.” The haunting guitar riffs and Ms. Zdan's voice pair quite nicely and tug at the depths of your soul. By going back to her roots and becoming a solo artist, Ms. Zdan has been able to come full circle. Older and wiser with a sound that reflects this knowledge. “This is where my heart is,” she said. “It's in singing my own songs. I started doing that back as a teenager playing coffeehouse gigs around my hometown. I knew I'd always come back to it. I just wanted to wait 'til I knew what the vision was.”
Ms. Zdan's new single is a let loose and have fun, tongue in cheek, anthem that will have you tapping your feet along to the beat. “It's a chatty girl talk song,” she said. “To be perfectly honest, it's about being more manly than most of the men I date. It seems the well of manly men who get their hands dirty, can change your tire, and carry your amplifier is running dry.”
BRANDY ZDAN - THE WORST THING (OFFICIAL VIDEO) youtu.be
Ms. Zdan is very involved in social media. She gives her fans updates via her Facebook page or her personal website. I asked whether or not Ms. Zdan felt social media allowed her to have a closer relationship with her fans and have an ear to what the fans like.
“Absolutely!” she said. “In this modern day music industry, the connection with fans is the most important thing. I funded my album from these fans who care so greatly for the music, it's the least I can do to stay connected with them. As I do with my favorite artists, I like to see their process and get a glimpse into their world.”
Speaking of favorite artists, Ms. Zdan's musical influences run the gamut of musical types and genres. “My Canadian heroes will always be Daniel Lanois, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Leonard Cohen, but I have a love for guitarists such as Blake Mills and Bill Frisell. Right now I'm on a pop/rock kick that has definitely influenced my writing.”
Ms. Zdan's wish-list of venues she has yet to play is an ode to her hometown area. “I would love to one day play Massey Hall in Toronto,” she said, “as well as The Burt in my hometown [Winnipeg, Canada], but yes, the list is long with the usual suspect venues in the major US cities.”
What can the fans who attend her concerts expect? “Rich guitar tones, to the point rock/pop songs, and high energy.” As an artist Ms. Zdan can stand her ground. She has the ability to sway an artist to feel heartbreak one minute and then feel pumped up the next.
“I will say that I am an artist first,” she said, “but I am an artist who likes to entertain and I don't think there should be any shame in that. If you are going to be a performing artist there needs to be showmanship. I think that's why I've gravitated towards rock and pop lately and less from folk and Americana. I wanna turn the lights down low, put on a show and sweat, dammit.”
If you've watched any of her videos showing concert footage or showing Ms. Zdan sitting on a chair with just her vocals and her guitar you get the feeling that you are missing out on the full extent of her talent by not being there in person. I, for one, can't wait to see Ms. Zdan in person because I know that I will be blown away.
And if Ms. Zdan wasn't in the music business...”If there was something else to pursue then I'd be doing it right now. I tell people, if there is something else you wanna do, can do, then go do it, cause music/art is a hard, wild rollercoaster ride not for the faint of heart. As a fan, I'm glad I'm on the ride.”