In the spring of 2015, CHARIS women’s chorus was in search of a new artistic director. In May of the same year, Dr. Jeremiah Selvey, an experienced conductor, found his way into the position. Almost a year later, Dr. Selvey is pushing the chorus to achieve great things.


CHARIS began in 1993 as a women’s, lesbian chorus, and has been an outstanding member of the LGBTQIA+ community ever since. The group celebrates diversity in performance, members and audience to further their mission, “to perform music that celebrates and encourages women and the LGBTQ community.”

Jeremiah
Although Dr. Selvey has only been with the group a short time, he has big plans for their future.


“I would like to see the organization continue to grow artistically as we’re doing now,” says Selvey, “but I would also like to see it be more engaged and connected with the greater community.”


Among Selvey's goals are to make CHARIS a leader in the community, both within the LGBTQIA+ community and the community of people advocating for women, particularly in St. Louis.


“I just think what CHARIS is doing artistically and for the sake of advocacy and change is so powerful, I would like for their influence to be broader,” he explains.


Dr. Selvey is more than capable of pushing toward these goals with his research in conducting being presented internationally. His findings contend the notion that the audience’s judgment of a musical performance is based solely on what they hear.


“My research showed that actually, in that case, what people saw influenced what they heard more than what they heard did,” offers Selvey.


From there, he went to the National Association for Music Education (NAFME) and held a clinic, the basis of which is rooted in his research. His goal in this clinic was to, “help people who are in front of students every day to unlock the creativity in that classroom via their conducting,” something Selvey tries to do in his own conducting as well.


“We said, if conducting has an effect on how people perceive our ensemble, then we have to be as expressive as possible in our conducting,” he says. “But we don’t want to be just expressive in a generic way, we want to have things that connect to the sounds that our ensemble are already making, we want there to be congruency, we want there to be agreement in what people see and hear.”


In addition to his research and work with CHARIS, Selvey also works at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale (SIUC), Blackburn College, and is the co-founder of a non-profit, titled Chorosynthesis. The latter is yet another application of his research.


“I, and my co-founding partner, found that choral music is quickly becoming not as important as it once was in both an education setting and also in the public sphere,” Selvey explains. “Choral music needs to connect more to humanity.”


“Our values are basically collaboration, innovation, sustainability and excellence and we want all of those to constantly be at the fore for everything that we’re doing and thinking about,” he continues.


CharisAs far as conducting, Selvey finds the pursuit of music multidimensional - and that the multidimensionality of music is most readily accessed in the role of a conductor.


“It’s really exciting," offeres Selvey. "In some way I feel like I’m hosting an event and I get to create community around something that I love. And then, when it comes time for the performance, we collectively—meaning the performers and myself—are doing the same thing for the audience that I did for the performers originally when I introduced the work to them... I feel like it’s a privilege and a service.”


Still, being the artistic director of a chorus has its challenges. Not everything goes as perfectly as imagined, so adjustments are necessary.


“It may not be my original vision, but everybody else is a human being too, and so adjusting my vision to account for everyone else seems like the human thing to do," he says. "That’s always the challenge, how much of my vision do I give up?”


Selvey is also active with GALA—a movement that supports LGBTQIA+ choruses. His connection to GALA has given him multiple opportunities, which include leading him to CHARIS and giving him the experience and platform to do more than just conducting.


But was while working in Seattle and San Francisco that Selvey made new strides in coaching voices.


“One of the things that I found was that there were a couple of transgender voices in [the chorus] and they were struggling, whether it was because of a new hormone treatment or just getting used to singing in a different octave and the feeling of that,” Selvey recalls.


“I was able to kind of come up with some principles and guidelines to help conductors and voice teachers who have not been exposed to people who have changed their gender from their original biology,” he continues. “I’m an advocate for everyone to continue to sing. Just because you change something about yourself doesn’t mean you don’t want to sing. Everybody wants to sing.”

CharisChorus
Indeed, everybody wants to sing, everyone wants to be a part of a community, and CHARIS helps to create that community.


“We welcome anyone who self-identifies as a woman," says Selvey. "We welcome anyone who is basically willing to match pitch. You don’t have to be a grandiose singer. If you’re a shower singer and you want to get out of the shower to do a little bit of singing, then come on over.”


To catch his amazing work in progress you can attend the chorus’ “Behind the Scenes” concert at the Missouri History Museum on April 29-30, 2016. According to Selvey, the concert is a different approach in creating a community.


“We’re basically saying, look there are a lot of things that happen before we ever perform and that leads up to the performance, he concludes. "We want you to be part of the inside joke; bringing the audience into the chorus family as part of the process."


For more information on Dr. Selvey, CHARIS Chorus, and the upcoming concert, visit the choir’s website at http://www.charischorus.org.

 

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