Inclusivity in the arts and beyond was the resounding message of the most recent performance from Charlotte’s One Voice Chorus. Presenting the SATB premiere of Andrew Lippa‘s song cycle, Songs of the Phoenix, One Voice Chorus brought important artistic representation to their community. Since 1990, the ensemble has been a bastion of expression for queer people looking to share their stories and their voice and is one of just a few mixed choruses in the Gay and Lesbian Association of Choruses (GALA). Co-commissioned by One Voice Chorus and queer vocal ensembles across the country, Songs of the Phoenix was premiered in its original form in 2021 by the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus. By bringing Lippa’s work to the Providence United Methodist Church in south Charlotte, One Voice Chorus was able to showcase a kaleidoscope of cultures and experiences.

Songs of the Phoenix is a unique musical work in the sense that it’s more of a compilation than a composition. To create the song cycle, Andrew Lippa worked as a curator to draw on the interdisciplinary skills of 13 collaborators across the country. Contributions include original lyrics from acclaimed singer Ingrid Michaelson, the poetry of Alexandra Elle set to music by Stephen Schwartz, an excerpt from a Sondheim musical, a series of narrated interludes written by Josh Wilder, and an original song by Lippa himself. Connected as friends, students, and mentors, this network of torch-bearers in a way symbolically represents the work’s strength through difference. Many of the creators expressed their desire to create a work that seamlessly strung together stories from all walks of life. Although I didn’t find the performance to be exactly seamless, I found another facet to focus on. I found an appreciation for the potpourri performance by One Voice Chorus which revealed that the individual components of the work do not have to blend together perfectly for each of them to retain their beauty and value when presented together. Through the form of the composition itself, One Voice Chorus was able to reinforce the message of their programming. To represent such a vast array of voices, a work by a single composer likely wouldn’t even approach the level of diversity the group was trying to display.

Soloists throughout the ten-movement work stood out by expressing their personal relationships with the lyrics of each movement. With her robust vocals, Kym Randall brought all the right passion and strife to the R&B-inspired “Song of Tomorrow.” A powerful declaration, “My flag might just be fabric to my enemies but to me it’s a victory,” set up the unwavering resilience for “Flag Song.” Jonathan Kluttz and Kailin Wightman-Ausman brought personality and palpable optimism to their duet in the ninth movement, “Bloom.” Each solo moment was supported by the confident and adaptive musicianship of the full chorus and instrumental pit, led by artistic director Cory Davis.

One Voice Chorus took their performance one step further by concluding the event with a panel dedicated to discussing the goals of the ensemble’s activism. In addition to their hopes for the concert, the well-diversified panel spoke about the social and cultural factors that affect the group’s creative process such as delineating between cultural appropriation and appreciation, matters of inclusivity within queer ensembles, and how “de-professionalization” can expand the accessibility of musical spaces. The common thread throughout the panel appealed to the individual contributions that everyone can make. Members of the panel encouraged the audience to take the messages from Songs of the Phoenix with us into our daily lives and create inclusive spaces that are welcoming and safe for all.

One Voice Chorus undoubtedly deserves praise for their mission, but I was so thoroughly pleased by the ecstatic audience response to the show. In a church adorned with pride flags from all members of the LGBTQ+ community, the BLM flag, and the Ukrainian national flag, the ensemble certainly found a venue and an audience that supports their musical activism. One Voice Chorus has certainly carved out an environment for honest and inclusive artistic expression, and the ensemble should be immensely proud of the legacy they have cultivated.