Artemis Singers performs at their outdoor concert in June 2022. Credit: Provided/Artemis Singers

CHICAGO — Members of Chicago’s oldest lesbian chorus, the Artemis Singers, are recruiting new members to join their close-knit community dedicated to uplifting women’s creative endeavors. 

The volunteer-run chorus is hosting an informational online meeting Thursday where people can learn more about joining the choir. 

Any women who are excited about singing in a lesbian feminist chorus are welcome to join. As an organization, the group doesn’t define “woman,” and members of Artemis Singers have a “diversity of viewpoints around gender identity, sexuality and feminism,” according to a statement from the group.

There aren’t formal auditions; new members just have to do a pitch-matching exercise to show they can carry a tune.

After a few weeks of attending weekly Thursday meetings at the Irish American Heritage Center, 4626 N. Knox Ave., new members are assigned a role within the chorus. 

“Being in a chorus was something I’d always wanted to do, but I was really nervous,” said Kristen Kenefick, who joined the chorus in 2021. “No matter what your experience level is, I’ve found people to be so encouraging and supportive. We’ll teach you how to sing as part of a group, you’ll learn along the way and have so much fun.”  

The chorus was founded in 1980. Its mission is to “raise up the artistic works of women” by only singing songs written or composed by women. In each performance, the group ensures at least 25 percent of the selected songs were created by BIPOC artists, and sometimes commissions local artists to create pieces for them. 

The group’s name, Artemis Singers, is a reference to the Greek goddess and the quote, “When Artemis picks up her lyre, she sings no man’s song,” said Midge Stocker, who joined the group in 1990. 

“We focus on improving ourselves musically, but we’re also very conscious of the society we live in,” Stocker said. “We tend to sing songs that have a social justice component, and we try to celebrate the good things about the world and make the bad things better.” 

Members of the group get to participate in every aspect of the creation of their two annual productions as well as a variety of smaller performances. There are opportunities for members to write music, compose arrangements and play instruments to accompany the singers, among other things. 

“I’ve just been blown away by the creativity of the women in this group,” Kenefick said. “It’s not just about singing. You can get involved in all of the elements that go into a creative process. It’s deeply moving and really special to sing a song that someone standing next to you has composed.” 

Most creative decisions are determined by group vote, and members take turns directing songs instead of working with a professional conductor.

This “empowering process” allows for a collaborative creative environment where everyone’s talents and perspectives are reflected in performances, said Katy Clusen, who’s been in Artemis Singers for about 30 years. 

“Most choruses have a director who makes most of the decisions about a concert’s theme and music, and then everyone else is saddled with whatever she comes up with,” Clusen said. “We get to collectively bring music to a selection and vote, so you really get a broader representation of songs because we all have our own tastes and styles.” 

Artemis Singers performs at Sister Singers Network Choral Festival, “We Rock the World,” held June 28 – July 2, 2023, in Cleveland. Credit: Provided/Sister Singers Network

Creating art together has helped the chorus members build strong relationships with each other and find strength within a “deeply connected community,” Clusen said.

Outside of singing, the group loves attending outdoor concerts together and grabbing late-night pizza after practices. 

“Standing in front of this group of women and directing still blows me away sometimes,” Stocker said. “It always transports me somewhere else because there’s this certain energy that’s just amazing.”  

“I can still hear the voices of women who are no longer with us and it’s just such an honor and gift to be a part of this,” Clusen said. “The chorus has definitely formed the person I am today and it continues to inform who I am.” 

Whenever members get sick or experience other hardships, their fellow singers step in to help, whether by bringing them food or taking them to doctors’ appointments.

Chorus members have joined each other for the births of their children and later celebrated those kids going off to college, said Elise Dunham, who joined the chorus four years ago. 

“I recently had a baby, and folks from the chorus were there to help us with basically everything we needed in the first few weeks of our baby’s life,” Dunham said. 

Through singing together, the intergenerational group has forged a strong bond that goes beyond chorus practices and performances, Stocker said. 

“When one of our early members died, a group of us were there with her and we sang together,” Stocker said. “We’re there when our babies are born and we’re there when people pass on, and everything in between.” 

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