The Minds Behind The Fest: Em Joy of MUSE

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MUSE is an inclusive feminist choir based out of Cincinnati Ohio that fights (and sings) for peace. This ensemble not only performs beautiful music at concerts, but is present at many social justice rallies. If you have ever been to a gathering for Black Lives Matter, Womxn’s Rights, Immigrants Rights, (basically any issue that involves justice) and heard powerful protest songs, chances are members of MUSE were some of the voices behind it. I had the privilege of singing a concert with them a few years ago, and remember being immediately welcomed into their community. The people who make up MUSE are some of the most open minded and kind musicians that I’ve ever met, and it is truly inspiring to witness such a group perform, both on stage, and at peaceful protests. We are very excited to have MUSE be a part of Ladyfest Cincinnati 2017. Here is part of a conversation I had with Em Joy, one of the leading members of the ensemble.

Tell me a bit about MUSE, and its history. How long has the group been around, and how did it start?

In 1984, Catherine Roma, a new doctoral student at the University of Cincinnati-College Conservatory of Music held the first MUSE auditions. Recently relocated from Philadelphia where she founded the Anna Crusis Women’s Choir in 1975, Roma hoped to establish another women’s choir in Cincinnati while she completed her graduate studies in choral conducting.  Dr. Roma’s beliefs in feminism, social justice, and Quaker models of leadership fundamentally shaped the mission and direction of MUSE for years to come.
From these auditions, twenty-some women emerged who shared a vision of a choral community where differences would be celebrated and where women of many colors, ages, cultures, and lifestyles would come together in harmony.  Within six weeks of the first rehearsal, MUSE made her debut on International Women’s Day and performed three songs at the Cement Mixers Union Hall in the Walnut Hills area of Cincinnati. From the beginning, MUSE chose repertoire that reflected the lives of women, commissioned choral works by women composers and crafted choral arrangements from contemporary women’s movement singer-songwriters. The choir also sang many songs from the folk, peace and social justice traditions, and searched for the silenced voices of women in the world of classical music.
MUSE is now entering her 35th season of singing for peace and social justice with a choir of 60+ singers, and continues to be a community of people who are dedicated to diversity, inclusion, and anti-oppression work.  In addition to large-scale concerts, we regularly perform at local rallies and vigils, and can also be found singing for peace at National and International choral festivals.

What can people expect to learn from MUSE if they attend your segment of LadyFest Cincinnati?

MUSE will have a couple of appearances at LadyFest this year, the first being a community sing-a-long at Hoffner park on Saturday.  We will be performing a mix of protest standards and the songs we use to empower each other, and encourage people to join us in song.  The second appearance will be our workshop on protest music.  During the workshop, we will discuss the role of music in social justice movements and people will learn to sing and/or write lyrics for some of these songs.

What role do you think protest-songs can play in rallies? What do these songs represent/mean to you personally?

Music, especially group-singing, has the power to move people emotionally and build community.  Research has even shown that when people sing together their heartbeats and breathing synchronize and the oxytocin that is released builds a sense of belonging and a shared purpose.  This is exactly why protest songs are so vital to rallies and movements.  If we can sing together, no matter how imperfect the notes, we can join hearts and minds to work beyond the event against oppression and towards the empowerment of all people.  For me, singing is a way to engage with an issue that is non-threatening, and that makes people relax, turn off their assumptions and judgements, and lets our common humanity shine through.

Who has inspired you, either as a singing activist, or as a person in general? 

I originally joined MUSE when I turned 18, and spent eight very formative years with the choir before leaving to play roller derby and follow my wanderlust.  Dr. Roma and the women of MUSE really took me in, taught me about activism, sociocratic leading, and building upon the work of those who have come before us.  More than any one person in my life, my MUSE sisters, aunties, mothers and grandmothers raised me to be the socially conscious person that am I am today, and in so many different ways empowered me to raise my voice for peace and justice.

How would someone go about joining MUSE? 

People can join MUSE as a Singing Member, as a 5th Section Member (dedicated volunteer), or as an occasional volunteer.  Auditions for singing members are held once a year, but Volunteers are welcome to join us at any time.  We are holding auditions for new singing members on Saturday, November 11th, and encourage adults of any age, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, political interest, ability, economic and educational background to join us.  Visit www.musechoir.org/auditions or email Membership@musechoir.org for more information.

Lastly, where can we hear MUSE online? 

You can listen to tracks from the 5 CDs that MUSE has recorded on our website: www.musechoir.org/listen  You can also find some of our music and performances on YouTube, or through our FaceBook page: www.facebook.com/musechoir
CATCH MUSE AT LF ’17 ON 10/14 AT 7:30 AT HOFFNER PARK!
-KATE WAKEFIELD
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