It was standing room only at the West Hollywood Library in Los Angeles Sunday night, where the Trans Chorus of Los Angeles (TCLA) — a 30-member group of transgender individuals — took to the stage to commemorate the International Transgender Day of Remembrance.
The highlight of the performance was “Names” by Rochester, N.Y.-based composer Mark Allen DeWitt — a powerful song originally written for the AIDS Memorial Quilt Initiative and performed in canon by TCLA. The song included the names of transgender individuals who were killed in the U.S. this year.
Or, to be more accurate, the names of those whose deaths were reported, because the actual numbers are no doubt much greater, points out TCLA’s founder and artistic director Lindsey Deaton. “But that is our narrative, and given the political climate right now, we are glad that the transgender community has a voice — a visible, powerful, gentle, and yes, at times, angry voice — that is the chorus,” Deaton tells Yahoo Beauty.
Deaton, who trained at Julliard and Carnegie Mellon, moved to L.A. after she lost her job as a choral director in Cincinnati, following her transition. TCLA, whose first concert was sponsored by the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles, began as a “come one, come all kind of community chorus,” she says, but it has grown so much in the past year — in fact, TCLA is the largest trans chorus in the world — that members are now only accepted through audition.
“We are a global voice now with global accountability,” Deaton says, “and as we strive for excellence, I want to assure that we’re giving our best.”
TCLA has performed in a wide number of venues and in front of many diverse audiences. Next April, the chorus will present their version of David Bowie’s fifth studio album, “Ziggy Stardust,” as an unstaged opera.
But despite its growing success, TCLA’s mission remains unchanged: to provide a safe space for trans and gender expansive people to discover and develop their voices in a community that aims to affirm, build trust and hope, and gives voice to people who live in fear.
And there is no more powerful tool for that than music. “We see many people crying after we perform, as it really touches their hearts in ways only music can,” Ann Thomas, one of the first members of the chorus who also performed with the transgender choir featured in the TV show “Glee,” tells Yahoo Beauty.
One of the Deaton’s biggest tasks is inspiring confidence in her singers. Many trans women are disappointed with their voices, she says, having expected that transition would bring with it a different sound. “You present as female, but your voice betrays you and fighting the reality that what comes out of your mouth is a full octave lower than what it should be causes a lot of mental pain,” Deaton says.
Thomas, who is the founder of Transgender Talent, an agency specializing in transgender artists, hadn’t sung in a choir for decades. “But Lindsey’s abilities as a Julliard-trained artistic director have helped me tremendously,” Thomas says, “and she has given me incredible confidence to sing bass and accept my voice for the way it sounds naturally.”