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Everyone's 'Welcome!' at Muse women's choir spring concert -- including their first male conductor

Immigration is the central theme at May 20-21 show
Everyone's 'Welcome!' at Muse women's choir spring concert -- including their first male conductor
Posted at 11:00 AM, May 17, 2017

CINCINNATI -- Welcome. Bienvenue. Bienvenido.

Whoever you are, wherever you come from, whatever your native language, Muse, Cincinnati's women's choir, wants to make you feel accepted.

The group's 34th annual spring concert, "Welcome!" will be 7 p.m. May 20 and 2 p.m. May 21 at Mount Auburn Presbyterian Church. Through song, Muse will ask its audience to consider immigration through the past, modern hospitality and patriotism.

Muse women's choir.

The concert comes as Muse searches for a new music director. Bradley Kauffman, director of the Mennonite Worship and Song committee, will conduct "Welcome!" as Muse's interim director. Kauffman is the first man to conduct the all-female choir.

"Our theme for this concert is about welcoming the other," said Amy Arnold, president of Muse's board of directors. "And so, you know, we thought maybe it's time. Maybe it's time to have a man among us."

It was only after he was chosen as interim director that Kauffman discovered he was a singular part of Muse's history.

"It was a humbling moment," Kauffman said. "But it never felt strange to be the only man in the room. I credit them for their warm and generous hospitality. … They come with so much creativity. They care so deeply about what they sing. They want to infuse every moment with meaning."

Kauffman conducted a concert about immigration while teaching in Kansas and provided some input to Muse's Musical Excellence Committee as they selected the 19 songs for "Welcome!" Kauffman said one of those songs, "Room at the Table" by Carrie Newcomer, summarizes the message Muse is sending with the concert.

"We reject the narrative that we need to operate out of fear of people around us who might not be from here," Kauffman said. "We reject that the idea of immigration is somehow threatening."

Arnold agreed and said the song also sums up the choir in general.

"That's really what Muse is about," Arnold said. "There's room at the table for anyone, for all of us."

Since its founding, Muse has been an inclusive, feminist choral community advocating for peace and social justice. It also is an intensely collaborative group, a trait that has informed its search for leadership.

Founding director Catherine Roma retired after the 2012-13 season, and her replacement, artistic director Rhonda Juliano, left Muse after three seasons. Now, Muse is looking for a music director. The title change -- music vs. artistic director -- is intentional.

"We put it up to a vote," Arnold said. "An artistic director, all creative decisions lie with them. … We're looking for someone to lead us musically, but the final decisions live with the committees."

Every Muse member serves on a committee, and the committees guide music selection, social-justice work, membership and operations. The committees are the heart of Muse, Arnold said.

After Roma's retirement from Muse, the choir dropped to about 50 women. Some members retired along with Roma, others couldn't imagine the choir without her, and still others left for unrelated reasons, Arnold said.

But now, Muse is back up to a full roster of more than 60 women -- including three founding members: Angie Denov, Diana Porter and Rhonda Whitten. The choir is settled in a new home at Community Matters in Price Hill and looking to expand its community partnerships and collaborations, Arnold said.

Hiring the music director is the next step for Muse, which has an annual budget of $110,000. The hope is to have the music director on board by the end of 2017.

In the meantime, guest directors like Kauffman will help Muse's committees keep everything running.

Tickets for "Welcome!" are available at www.musechoir.org.