A New Harmony: Equity, Access, and Belonging

By  GALA Expert 

 October 18, 2023 


GALA choruses have a unique opportunity to explore issues of equity, access and belonging because our choruses offer more than just a place to sing: they are also communities of belonging.


GALA choruses have a unique opportunity to explore issues of equity, access and belonging because our choruses offer more than just a place to sing: they are also communities of belonging. The New Harmony workbooks explore these conversations. Early drafts focused on a model called DEI: Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. But we realized we could create a new way to frame this conversation without using the word “diversity”, which is overused today, or “inclusion” which innately infers that some people are in and others are out.

It is the belief of GALA Choruses that these topics are valuable for every member chorus. We hope that these conversations will inspire and launch your chorus on a journey toward equity, access and belonging.

The cover of the New Harmony Volume 1 Workbook, which includes the title of the workbook with the additional text

View A New Harmony Workbook Vol I – PDF

  • Mobility and Ability
  • Race and Ethnic Identity
  • Gender Identity
  • Sexual Orientation
  • Socio-Economic Status
  • Community Engagement
The cover of the New Harmony Volume 2 Workbook, which includes the title of the workbook with the additional text

View A New Harmony Workbook Vol II – PDF

  • Intergenerational Dynamics
  • Digital Accessibility
  • Mental Health and Neurodiversity
  • Conversations on Faith and Religion
  • Exploring Exceptionalism

OR request printable workbooks. Accessible versions for a screen reader coming soon along with a Spanish edition of Volume I.

New Harmony Task Force

The New Harmony Task Force exists to help GALA member choruses better support various communities and types of people who would like to participate in choirs. To this end, the New Harmony Task Force designs GALA workshops and webinars; advises GALA committees on topics of equity, access and belonging; and offers resources for member choruses.

GALA Choruses produced the New Harmony Workbook to help choruses chart a course of DIY (do-it-yourself) engagement on issues related to equity, access and belonging. The task force will develop subsequent addendums to the New Harmony workbook as new issues arise.

Task force members are available to facilitate chorus conversations navigating this work. Here’s how we can help member choruses:

  1. Provide facilitated education related to New Harmony topics;
  2. Facilitate chorus discussions on topics and in exploring the New Harmony workbook;
  3. Provide feedback around relevant New Harmony scenarios that may arise in a chorus;
  4. Facilitate chorus conversations for choirs experiencing a breakdown in communication regarding issues of equity, access and belonging.

Not sure where to start? GALA Choruses members may request free assistance.

New Harmony Facilitators

Need help digging into GALA’s New Harmony workbook and training resources? GALA’s New Harmony facilitators can assist with where to start, modifying scenarios and discussions to best connect to your chorus, finding or training facilitators for group discussion, etc.

headshot of Reid Vanderburgh, white man with short, silver hair and beard
Reid Vanderburgh is a transman and retired therapist. In 1986, he was a founding member of the Portland Lesbian Choir and sang with that group for eleven years. In 1990, he helped found Bridges Vocal Ensemble, a subgroup shared by the Portland Lesbian Choir and Portland Gay Men’s Chorus. Reid transitioned from alto to bass while a member of Bridges. Though supportive of his transition, the PLC was sad to see him leave in 1997, as he began taking hormones. In 2001, upon returning to Portland after graduate school, Reid joined Confluence: Willamette Valley LGBT Chorus and sang bass with that group for seven years. In 2008, he joined the Portland Gay Men’s Chorus and continues to sing baritone with PGMC. He is a baritone section rep, and a member of PGMC’s DEI committee. Reid is also a member of the New Harmony Task Force for GALA Choruses. In 2016, he was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award for Distinguished Service by GALA Choruses. In addition to his work with GALA, Reid is a member of St. John the Baptist Episcopal Church and sings in the church choir when not under quarantine. He has taught many Continuing Education classes on topics ranging from Religion and Trans Identity to History of the LGBTQQIAAPNb Acronym.
headshot of Maria-Elena Grant, smiling black woman with long, dark hair
Maria-Elena Grant, born in the UK, moved with her family to the Bronx, New York in the late 1970s. Early in her career during the 1980s, Maria-Elena co-founded Blues, a social networking group for lesbians, the first of its kind in the borough.  Moving to Brooklyn in 1993 with her partner, filmmaker Cyrille Phipps, Maria-Elena joined the POC Steering Committee, a group of LGBT organizations of color working to achieve better visibility for themselves within the community. In addition, Maria-Elena was a founding mother of The Audre Lorde Project and an early member of The Unity Fellowship Church, Brooklyn. Maria-Elena has been recognized for her service to the LGBT community by receiving numerous awards including a citation from City Council Member C. Virginia Fields and a service excellence award in 2008 from GALA Choruses. In addition, Big Apple Performing Arts has acknowledged her more than 25 years of activism. Maria-Elena’s most satisfying achievement continues to be her work in Lavender Light Gospel Choir, of which she has been a member for 32 years and served as chorus manager for the last 30. During her tenure, Lavender Light has reached national and international acclaim, singing for notables such as President Bill Clinton during his last term in office and developing programs like The Gospel of HIV Prevention, which uses a musical setting to deliver information about HIV/AIDS and safe-sex practices. Maria-Elena is the president of the GALA Board of Directors and was recently featured in Go Magazine’s “100 Women We Love 2023.”
headshot of Sam Bullington, white man with short hair and beard smiles
Sam Bullington is a public speaker and workshop facilitator, college professor and spiritual counselor, and founder and director of Phoenix, Colorado’s Trans Community Choir—the longest existing trans choir in history! Sam is nonbinary trans with a Ph.D in global gender and sexuality studies. Sam regularly gives talks and leads workshops on unlearning racism, decolonizing the classroom, self-care for activists, healthy masculinities, reimagining our vision for social change, trans leadership, reigniting passion, and the future of gender and sexuality. Sam sang with the Santa Cruz Gay and Lesbian Chorus in its first season (1994) and was co-chair of TransVoices, the trans choir that was generated from the Trans Voices Festival sponsored by One Voice Mixed Chorus in 2004. Sam went on to sing with One Voice, driving 8 hours each way to attend rehearsal each week for an entire year after being hired at the University of Missouri. Sam went to his first GALA Festival in 2012 with Harmony Chorale in Denver (where he was on the board) and it was the lack of trans visibility at the 2012 Festival that prompted Sam to start his own trans choir in 2015. Sam loves gospel music and, in additional to GALA choruses, has sung with 3 gospel choirs, including a decade with the One World Inspirational Choir at the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival. Sam is also very involved with the Dances of Universal Peace and is on their Liberation Committee, the DUP North America equivalent to the GALA New Harmony Task Force. Sam has done research in South Africa since 1997, including with Gender Dynamix—the first trans organization on the African continent, and hopes to start a trans choir in South Africa as well! Sam received the Women’s Studies Social Justice Award from the University of Minnesota, the Catalyst Award (Honoring those who speak up and out and often) from the University of Missouri, and the Kevin B Winge Award for Community Leadership from the Philanthrofund Foundation. Sam is in the midst of completing 3 books: Gender Diversity in Music Education: A Primer with Sarah Bartolome (Routledge), Learning from Polyamory: A Spiritual Seeker’s Guide to Love (Beacon Press), and Transgender Wisdom: What I’ve Learned about Gender and Life from Living in the Grey Areas. Sam was a founding member of GALA’s New Harmony Task Force and Sam’s passion is creating a world in which we all can thrive.

New Harmony Toolset

Fine single page sharable (or printable) versions of handouts connected to each New Harmony chapter, and additional resources for further conversation. Click the buttons below to explore these resources:

Assessing Choral Harmony

Read this to begin with your New Harmony Process.

Conversations on Faith and Religion

Conversations on Faith and Religion Discussion Handout.

Community Engagement

Transformative Community Engagement Discussion Handout

This resource includes a planning grid for choruses designed by Jane Ramseyer Miller.

Presented by Jane Ramseyer Miller, GALA Choruses Artistic Director

Digital Accessibility

To be used in with the Digital Accessibility section of New Harmony Workbook Volume II.

The following guidelines should be implemented in any content platform you use: email, Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, Google Docs, HTML, etc. This list can be used as a quick reference whenever you are creating new content.

Exploring Exceptionalism

An introduction to Exceptionalism in its many forms

This handout invites you to consider three ways in which Exceptionalism might impact your life and work.

This handout offers 5 scenarios for choruses to consider how Exceptionalism might impact their work.

Friday, March 12 – During his first national address, President Biden stated that he would tell Americans the truth, he then immediately proceeded to spout the myth of American exceptionalism which is rooted in the lie of white supremacy.

How do we go about decolonizing ourselves and our practices without erasing ourselves entirely? Jules Orcullo discusses combatting erasure as an East Asian theatre maker through radical self-determination.

Jeffrey Sachs sits down with Rob Johnson to discuss his new book, A New Foreign Policy: Beyond American Exceptionalism (Columbia University Press, 2018).

Gender Identity

This handout offers six scenarios to consider how folks with various gender identities might experience singing with a GALA Chorus.

I have sung in one GALA chorus or another for thirty years. I have attended every GALA festival since 1989: I participated as an alto in a lesbian chorus and as an alto in a mixed chorus, then post-transition as a bass in a mixed chorus and as a baritone in a men’s chorus. Each festival I’ve attended has brought with it an experience of marginalization.

Helping a historically cisgender LGBTQ chorus to become welcoming for trans singers takes work, patience, and deep listening. Jane Ramseyer Miller shares her journey as the Artistic Director of One Voice Mixed Chorus in Minnesota.

Phoenix, Colorado’s Trans Community Choir found ourselves at the center of controversy when parental complaint around our scheduled performance of our original play, Raven’s True Self, at a local elementary school was taken up by the CBS Denver News. The wholesome play, about a transgender raven in a community of animals and the importance of friendship, unconditional love, and being seen for who you are on the inside, was deemed as “inappropriate for children.” Concerned parents, who were invited to attend the performance, released a statement saying that “We are saddened that this highly controversial and divisive topic would be presented to such young children.” The story was also taken up by LGBTQ Nation.

Reid Vanderburgh lead this vitally important workshop during the 2013 Annual Leadership Symposium in Atlanta.

Intergenerational Dynamics

Our choruses span generations, and sometimes our different generational experiences can cause division and misunderstanding. Read on to find exercises designed to help foster community across age and experience.

A New Harmony Approach to Intergenerational Dynamics

An activity to spark intergenerational dialogue in your chorus

These five scenarios can help your chorus consider its intergenerational dynamics.

Mental Health and Neurodiversity

These five scenarios offer opportunities for your chorus to consider how it relates to mental health and neurodiversity.

These suggestions can assist your chorus in creating spaces that are welcoming and supportive of neurodivergent individuals. Many of these suggestions are also relevant for individuals living with mental illness.

Group norms, stated or unstated, can be powerful, and when an individual acts outside of those norms, the group may experience conflict.

Mobility and Ability

This list is intended to help those involved in facilities management for their choruses determine the accessibility of a venue for rehearsal or performance.

A list of considerations for your chorus to think about Mobility Accessibility

Race and Ethnic Identity

A list of scenarios to help your chorus consider how it works towards anti-racism

The concept of “Asia”, particularly as a cultural signifier, has always been problematic. It assumes a high degree of commonality across what is the world’s largest continent, and has been used to homogenize and “other” what is a hugely diverse swathe of people. When Proud Voices Asia, the Asian LGBT choir network was set up, one of its greatest challenges therefore lay in trying to find coherence in this variety, not just in general terms like language or social structure, but more specifically in concepts like “queer”, “choir” and “activism”, while celebrating the multiple contexts in which they exist.

Dr. Robin DiAngelo is the author of “What Does it Mean to Be White? Developing White Racial Literacy” and has been an anti-racist educator, and has heard justifications of racism by white men and women in her workshops for over two decades. This justification, which she calls “white fragility,” is a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves. These moves include outward display of emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt, and behaviors such as argumentation, silence, and leaving the stress-inducing situation.

Sexual Orientation

A series of scenarios for your chorus to think about various experience of sexual orientations

Socio-Economic Status

This discussion handout offers several scenarios that invite you to consider how different experiences of Socio-Economic Status might impact your chorus.

Additional New Harmony Resources

These sample agreements can be used to create common ground and understanding for conversations and for communities.

New Harmony Task Force members regularly have conversations with individuals, and chorus committees, who are struggling to convince chorus leaders and chorus members to embrace the important work of Equity, Access and Belonging. We’ve collected and crafted a few ideas for you to try.

The New Harmony Workbook provides a guide for choruses to explore deep conversations surrounding various identities or issues, asking: “Are we doing all we can (as individuals and as an organization) to foster equity, access, and a sense of belonging in our chorus and community?”

Many in GALA choruses see the times shifting around them. My own chorus now has a few cisgender women singing first tenor, post-transition transmen in three different sections, 6-8 straight cisgender men at any given time. At various times, we have had transwomen members, singing in various sections.