LGBTQ+ choir joined by Olly Alexander for electrifying performance
The first-ever professional trans choir, Trans Voices, was joined by actor and singer Olly Alexander in an exhilarating live show.
Trans Voices, which was formed in 2022, got together with Alexander to create the Absolut Choir group for a performance in East London on Tuesday (22 November).
The super-group, which also featured activists such as Kenny Ethan Jones, Nyome Nicholas-Williams, and Max Churchill, sang Years & Years’ “Shine” to an audience of LGBTQ+ activists, fans, and celebrity guests, including Nick Grimshaw, Angel Silvera, and Josh Harrison.
“We are here because we are real human beings with some real opinions who have a lot to say for our community,” Trans Voices co-founder ILĀ said during the event.
Alexander chimed in, saying: “We can really make progress by engaging with grass-root communities, building connections, and making spaces together. That is really how we build a better tomorrow.”
Speaking to PinkNews, Trans Voices co-founders Coda Nicolaeff and ILĀ said: “Performing with Olly and the Absolut Choir live was one of the most memorable moments of our respective careers. There was so much love in the room.
The history of Trans Voices
Battling against gender conformity is, for Coda and ILĀ, one of the main reasons they created Trans Voices. An arbitrary ruleset of gender identity and vocal range has created a barrier within choir performances that can be difficult to overcome, they explain.
After briefly working with electro-pop star Imogen Heap, ILĀ explained that they were tasked with creating a choir, which eventually become London Contemporary Voices.
“We ended up working with well over 200 artists – over 20 Grammy winners including Lewis Capaldi, U2, all sorts,” they said.
After auditioning at just 18 years old and having just moved to the UK, Coda joined the choir and the two worked closely together.
“Just last year [to] the year before, we were both going through it with our gender identity and we did a show at Union Chapel that included Reece Lyons.”
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Lyons is a trans artist and activist who has worked with a number of trans non-profit organisations to help spread awareness of societal issues through her poetry and other works.
According to ILĀ, Lyons received some “transphobic abuse” during the interval of the show by an audience member who was eventually removed.
The altercation was something of a pivotal moment for the two, who realised that they needed to “do more” in order to help fight back against the stigma within the musical industry – especially in choir music.
“We needed to do more to address the dominance of the gender binary in choir singing and music spaces,” they continued. “So this is what we decided to do, we made Trans Voices.
“We worked with Reece Lyons in that first project where we went back to Union Chapel, with their support, to reclaim that space.”
They admitted that, in the back of their minds, there’s always that fear of transphobic remarks, especially to ILĀ as a trans person of colour, but that the bond of Trans Voices is always strong.
Reclaiming choir music
The realisation that gender identity didn’t need to be a consideration in a choir group was huge for Coda, in part due to her being able to acknowledge her strengths, but also because it revealed why choir groups are truly special.
“When I first went into [London Contemporary Voices] I was trying to use a higher voice,” Coda explained. “I would never be like an alto, let alone a soprano, given where I sit because I have a pretty baritone, bassy voice.
“I told myself I was not going to be the deepest voice, I’m going to sing tenor. But I tried singing it for a year and it was so painful, so I was like ‘alright, I’m just going to go bass, it’s fine’, and from that point onwards, that’s where things started really happening for me.”
Coda added: “What’s really interesting about collective singing – there is an opportunity for you to vocalise wherever you are and get lost in the sound and kind of feel like you are part of something bigger.”
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