New Music For Trans & Nonbinary Voices: Interview with Aiden K. Feltkamp

Aiden K. Feltkamp
“Anthology of New Music: Trans & Nonbinary Voices” holds the distinction of being the first-ever volume of vocal and piano music written for and/or by transgender and nonbinary people.

Anthology of New Music: Trans & Nonbinary Voices holds the distinction of being the first-ever volume of vocal and piano music written for and/or by transgender and nonbinary people.  Aiden K. Feltkamp, a Turn the Spotlight fellow and graduate of Bard College Conservatory’s Graduate Vocal Arts Program, curates the collection. It was their idea to arrange a repertoire of vocal and piano music that, rather than focusing on a particular instrument or voice type, centered on identity.

Aiden recently discussed the curation of NewMusicShelf’s Anthology of New Music: Trans & Nonbinary Voices and more via an exclusive interview.

Meagan Meehan (MM): When did you first discover your love for music?

Aiden K. Feltkamp (AKF):  My earliest memory of music is attending a symphony concert when I was 4 years old. One of my relatives was sick, so they took me in their place. I was captivated by the music. When I got home, I kept asking to listen to classical music.  I remember listening to a lot of Tchaikovsky at that point.   I wanted to play my own cello. Eventually my parents got me a quarter size cello and I started to learn how to play. I’ve loved music ever since.

Aiden K. FeltkampMM: How did you break into the industry?

AKF: I began performing with small professional companies as an opera singer in my last year of college. Many of my early opportunities came through my work with Nico and Carol Castel, who I met during a summer program in my sophomore year of college. I started writing opera libretti in 2016 and self-produced the first few workshops/shows. I’m not sure how to define “breaking into the industry” because opera is a long road and there are many milestones to celebrate.

MM: Why was it important for you to create an anthology of vocal and piano music for trans and nonbinary musicians?

AKF: As a trans nonbinary singer, it is so difficult to find repertoire that I personally connect with. I wanted to find the music written by and for my community. And as I received more emails and messages from voice teachers and singers asking for this repertoire as well, I knew that it was something that others wanted, too.  There are very few trans and nonbinary composers having their work produced. With the creation of the anthology, presenters will have somewhere to look to find trans and nonbinary creators to program and commission.

Aiden K. FeltkampMM: How did you select the composers for this collection?

AKF: We had an open call for scores. Within those submissions, there was music that I knew and music that was totally new to me. I read through them all, playing through and singing through them myself and also listening to recordings that were provided by the composers. Along with my Turn the Spotlight mentor, Kathleen Kelly, I chose the final pieces. It came down to choosing specific songs rather than certain composers, because there are some composers that I truly love but they didn’t have a piece that fit well into the anthology.

MM: What was the most difficult part about curating the submissions down to the final selections chosen?

AKF: I had an embarrassment of riches. It really came down to being deliberate about the criteria for eligibility, and then creating a cohesive work. I wanted the anthology to show a wide swath of style, theme, and experience. It became about balancing cohesion and diversity.

MM: Which are the most impactful songs?

Aiden K. FeltkampAKF: I could speak at length about each of the songs in this anthology. But, for me, personally, I was most impacted by “Captain of My Soul” by Yoshi Weinberg and “Breathe” from Good Country by Keith Allegretti and Cecelia Raker. “Captain of My Soul” resonates with me because it’s stylistically similar to the German lieder and English art songs I’ve studied and performed in undergrad and grad school. Having a traditional art song written by a nonbinary composer is so special to me. “Breathe” holds significance to me because the role of Charlie (the character that sings this aria) was written for and premiered by tenor Holden Madagame. He’s the first trans opera singer that I met and heard sing who had physically transitioned from a mezzo soprano. Hearing that possibility, the beauty of the trans voice, changed me. It gave me the courage I needed to transition. So having this music written for a trans character and written for a trans singer is really special.

MM: What was the best part of curating this collection and might there be more volumes in the future?

Aiden K. FeltkampAKF: The best part was discovering all this new music written by and for my community. I felt so much joy in learning all this new music and having the privilege of creating something new with it all. As for more volumes,  I hope so! It would be fantastic to have more volumes and it would be great to hear other curatorial voices in that process. I know there are other trans and nonbinary curators out there who would do a wonderful job of putting together an anthology like this one.

MM: What is coming up next for you?

AKF: I’m lucky to have a few exciting projects on the horizon! My Holocaust remembrance opera, Eva and the Angel of Death, with composer Thomas Yee is premiering in Austin, Texas on April 23. In June, I have two operas premiering in Massachusetts: first, an opera about Emily Dickinson (premiering in her house!) with composer Dana Kaufman, and second, The Plague Bearer opera with Stefanie Lubowski and Strange Trace Opera. And I know my monodrama about the Nazi-defying lesbian poet with composer Rosśa Crean, The Priestess of Morphine, will have more performances this year.

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NewMusicShelf’s Anthology of New Music: Trans & Nonbinary Voices is available for purchase here: