March 31, 2023 - 12:24pm

Honoring Trans Day of Visibility Through Music

Honoring Trans Day of Visibility Through Music

March 31 is the International Trans Day of Visibility, a day to acknowledge and honor trans people and raise awareness of anti-trans discrimination. We often think of liturgical music as ancient, or at least not deviating from the canon. However, like poetry forms, there is creativity within composing contemporary music to accompany today's church services. In honor of the International Transgender Day of Visibility, we are highlighting stories of trans liturgical music composers who create a space for themselves in this seemingly traditional aspect of worship.

The choral music of Michael Bussewitz-Quarm engages singers and audiences with the leading social and environmental issues of our time. Michael is passionate about effecting change through choral music on topics ranging from the health of the world’s coral reefs to the epidemic of gun violence in the United States to the global refugee crisis. Michael is an active advocate for the transgender community. It is her fervent wish to spread knowledge and understanding of the transgender community through guest speaking and by simply being present in the lives of the talented musicians and artists surrounding her. Ms. Bussewitz-Quarm will be making her debut at Carnegie Hall as a composer in the spring of 2023 with the performance of "Where We Find Ourselves" under the direction of Dr. Rodney Wynkoop

Winner of The American Prize in Choral Composition in 2021, Ms. Bussewitz-Quarm’s works are performed by leading professional and educational choral ensembles across North America. Recent collaborations include the west coast premiere of The Unarmed Child by Eugene Concert Choir and Orchestra, I’ll Fly Away at the International Society of Contemporary Music’s New Music Days in Vancouver, BC, and Nigra Sum, performed by The Duke University Chorale on their California tour. Michael’s works have been rebroadcast on Public Radio East, KMUZ, and WCPE, with performances by Singers of New and Ancient Music, musica intima, the Gregg Smith Singers, the Duke University Chorale, the Esoterics, among other exceptional choral ensembles. Michael is published by Peermusic Classical.

Current projects include Peacebomb, inspired by Laotian families who make jewelry from metal taken from unexploded ordnance, Where We Find Ourselves, a pandemic-proof choral project inspired by the portraits of Hugh Mangum, and The Death and Life of Aida Hernandez: A Border Story, based on the book of the same name that tells the story of an undocumented teen’s harrowing experiences with the U.S.’s militarized immigration system. Among her liturgical pieces are Adoravit and For the Beauty of the Earth.

Ms. Bussewitz-Quarm attended Ithaca College (BM ’94), for piano performance and music education, and received her MM from the Aaron Copland School of Music, Queen’s College in New York.

The liturgical musical career of Dr. Kris Rizzotto began when they volunteered to supplement the absence of instruments that the church they attended, allowing her to transition from concert piano to the organ. This jump started the lifelong journey of liturgical music and study. Rizzotto received a doctorate from the University of Oklahoma, a Master of Music from East Carolina University, and a Bachelor’s degree from the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro.

Following a tour of lead organist roles throughout Brazil and North Carolina, Rizzotto expanded their studies to include conducting, harpsichord, and composition. In Oklahoma they developed their expertise by restoring instruments in the American Organ Institute Organ Shop, solidifying their knowledge of the instruments inside and out.

From 2016 to 2020, Rizzotto was Organist & Choirmaster for Good Shepherd Catholic Church, where she wrote responsorial psalms for almost the entire three-year cycle and Rizzotto was named a member of The Diapason‘s 20 Under 30 Class of 2017, which recognizes young leaders in the fields of organ, harpsichord, carillon, and church music.

In 2020, Rizzotto became a self-published composer with a focus in Gebrauchsmusik, music composed both for worship and concert performances. Over the years Rizzotto has performed at grand organs and sacred spaces throughout the United States and all over the world.

Rizzotto’s YouTube channel features over 350 organ, piano, and choral recordings, which have been watched over 2 million times.

Mari Esabel Valverde, a native of Texas, is a self-described “choir nerd,” who became a composer partially because of the vocal music she learned in her formative years. She has since built a career not only as a composer but as a singer, educator, and translator. A lover of languages, she is proficient in Spanish, French, and Brazilian Portuguese. Valverde’s choral music focuses on themes of gender identity, immigration, and the natural world. Much of the music she is commissioned to write is political, and the idea of radical vulnerability is woven throughout her compositions.

Another important aspect of Valverde’s career is voice training for transgender singers and advocacy for the trans community. So much of music, choral music in particular, has deeply ingrained gender roles, and the way voices and music are discussed upholds ideas of binary gender. As a result, trans and non-binary people don’t always see themselves reflected in the music they perform. Valverde seeks to combat this through her compositions of songs like “When the Dust Settles,” written in honor of the life of Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, a veteran of the Stonewall Riots. She seeks to emphasize the brilliance of Black and Brown transgender and non-binary artists of our current time, as “they have so much to teach the world in a space and a time that is trying to erase all of us from existence.”

Valverde has been commissioned by the American Choral Directors Association, Boston Choral Ensemble, Cantus, the Gay and Lesbian Association of Choruses, Los Angeles Master Chorale, One Voice Mixed Chorus, Portland’s Resonance Ensemble, San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus, Seattle Men’s and Women’s Choruses, and the Texas Music Educators Association. She holds degrees from St. Olaf College, the European American Musical Alliance in Paris, France, and San Francisco Conservatory of Music. She is a member of the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers and the American Choral Directors Association.

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