National Women’s History Month Festival Spotlight: MUSE Cincinnati Women’s Choir
In 1984, MUSE Cincinnati Women’s Choir began as a place where differences were not only to be celebrated, but more importantly, where women of many colors, ages, sexual orientations, and cultures would come together in safety and harmony. Some of those characteristics are represented visually, but many of those differences have to be discovered through connection and community revolving around MUSE speaking out against social inequalities. That includes being a part of the diverse communities in and surrounding MUSE throughout the Greater Cincinnati area.
Over these last 35 years, MUSE has learned from and partnered with grassroots organizations such as Crazy Ladies Bookstore and Lesbian Archives, Over the Rhine Community Housing/Anna Louise Inn, Peaslee Center, Planned Parenthood, Women Writing for a Change, GLSEN, Women’s Political Caucus, UC Women’s Center, NKU Women’s Center, Women’s City Club, and the Urban Appalachian Council. Some of these partnerships have lasted for years in a continued effort to fulfill the MUSE mission.
Strong examples of these partnerships can be seen in the continued work MUSE does with Women Helping Women and YWCA. These two specific relationships have allowed MUSE to be involved in planning the very first “She Screams Without Sound” vigil in 1988 and singing annually at this event for 29 consecutive years. Through the partnership with Women Helping Women, MUSE has also sung at the Take Back the Night event since 2004.
In 1993, MUSE began a journey of Anti-Racist work that started with a partnership outing to sing in area prisons. Like many partnerships, MUSE learned lessons from this particular work for internal growth and external activism. Topics became discussions, workshops, and learning opportunities for members from different cultures and backgrounds. These experiences have been the foundation for traditions like the New Spirituals Project and Sister Friends. The New Spirituals Project was a tradition for MUSE for many years and will be returning this fall for all to enjoy and learn from once more.
Another long-term partnership, which has both educated and enriched MUSE, is the Off the Streets program. Since 2012, a small group of MUSE women has been singing at and listening to the stories of women at the program’s graduation ceremonies as these women learn to trust other women and leave behind their lives of sex trafficking and exploitation. Their stories have inspired the writing of new verses for songs such as “Never Turning Back,” a piece MUSE has sung at countless protests, vigils, and performances. MUSE has had the honor to perform for global dignitaries like Desmond Tutu and delivered a gold medal-winning performance at the 2012 World Choir Games. MUSE has also sung locally at Music Hall and Memorial Hall, along with other world class venues from Montreal to Miami and London to LA. MUSE has even demonstrated and taught American protest music in the Dominican Republic.
Through the years, many MUSE members have led workshops on social justice topics such as anti-racism work, LGBTQIA+ issues, and women’s music around the community and the world. Additionally, MUSE has contributed over 176 musical commissions and arrangements that highlight women’s voices and add much needed repertoire to the women’s music movement. MUSE has produced five albums, and the choir’s commissioned works are performed globally thanks to their very own published music series. This group’s devotion to social justice through musical activism means not only embracing a wide range of musical genres, but also doing so in a culturally authentic way by workshopping with guest artists including Bernice Johnson Reagon, Ysaye Barnwell, Mollie Stone, and Emily Miller. Dedication to these issues is the driving force behind the ongoing musical activism in which MUSE engages. The two parts of MUSE, musical excellence and social justice, cannot exist on their own because their purposes and importance are intertwined in the mission and values of the entire organization.
Over the course of 35 years, many things can change. Included in those changes is the place MUSE calls home. The current home of MUSE is Community Matters in Lower Price Hill. During the National Women’s History Month Festival, on Saturday, March 10, the entire area surrounding Community Matters will be transformed into The Artistry of Women Street Fair. MUSE will be the headlining musical performance for the day with two sampler concerts at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. The full day event is free to the public; however, each MUSE sampler concert is a ticketed event. Ticket can be purchased in advance here. Another change has been in MUSE leadership, and this festival will be the first time for the public to see MUSE perform a concert under the direction of their new music director, Jillian Harrison-Jones.
This organization has devoted years to inspiring social change for the most marginalized groups, especially women, through their music. Using their voices at concerts, protests, vigils, celebrations, and so much more, MUSE has celebrated, honored, and uplifted women of all backgrounds and continues to do so as they keep on moving forward. On May 19, 2018 at Memorial Hall, MUSE will hold their 35th Anniversary Spring Concert. As this year’s recipient organization of the National Women’s History Month Festival fundraising, participating in any of the activities throughout the month of March, listed in the previous Women of Cincy article, “National Women's History Month Festival Events,” is a way to support the celebration of women while also supporting MUSE, Cincinnati’s Women’s Choir.