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Redefining ‘non-audition’ chorus: CHARIS celebrates women and LGBTQ community in St. Louis

Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio
Sharon Spurlock and Jeremiah Selvey of CHARIS.

The term ‘non-audition’ as it applies to choral endeavors may conjure up images of off-key singing and uncoordinated dance moves. That’s certainly not the case with CHARIS— The St. Louis Women’s Chorus, said the group's president, Sharon Spurlock.

In fact, the term ‘non-audition’ applies two-fold with the chorus. First, anyone who wants to join the chorus can, regardless of choral experience. A bevy of rehearsal training materials and music educators in the group will bring singers with a natural love for singing up to speed. Second, those who join CHARIS need not put on any airs or false pretense.

Credit Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio
Sharon Spurlock

“CHARIS’ mission is to perform music that celebrates women and the LGBT community,” Spurlock said. “When we were founded in 1993, it was a much-different situation for the lesbian community. We had singers who didn’t want their name in the program. Some people came and weren’t comfortable being on stage, being identified as a lesbian. Our chorus has always been diverse. We were formed by a straight woman and two lesbians so we’ve been very blessed to have a lot of diversity with sexual orientation, religion, economics and abilities … it is nice for us to have that diversity.”

That was certainly the case for Jeremiah Selvey, D.M.A., who recently joined CHARIS as artistic director. He also serves as the associate director of choral activities at Southern Illinois University – Carbondale.

Selvey grew up as a missionary kid and went to Bible school — ping-ponging from Tennessee to Spain during his childhood. While he has left some of that upbringing behind, he says he finds the spirit of CHARIS similar to the churches he spent time in as a child.

Jeremiah Selvey
Credit Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio
Jeremiah Selvey

“It is very similar to a lot of churches where they have a community of people who come together and reason for singing and a cause to sing for, and you make everyone feel a part of what is going on,” Selvey said. “For me, as an artist, it is not only about the excellence with which an artist performs but also the authenticity and human-ness with which the artist performs.”

Spurlock said that the 30 members of the singing group make it a purpose to make sure that people feel comfortable coming through the door. They’ve even changed their bylaws to make sure that transgender people feel welcome coming to sing.

This weekend, the group will perform an original concert called “Behind the Scenes,” in which the singers lay out the vulnerability of what it takes to prepare and rehearse for such a concert.

“We go back 14 weeks to when we started planning for this performance and ask ‘why?’” said Spurlock.

The chorus will present vignettes that communicate the interplay between sopranos, altos and various choral politics. One such admission? “Sopranos don’t bring good snacks to rehearsal,” said Spurlock.

“In some ways it is a very vulnerable experience for a chorus to do this,” Selvey said. “Normally, we want to be on stage and be prim and proper and show people the finished product. This is a moment for us to let down our hair, so to speak, and just be who we are.”

Related Event

What: CHARIS Presents "Behind the Scenes"
When: April 29 and 30 at 8:00 p.m.
Where: Missouri History Museum Auditorium, 5700 Lindell, St. Louis, MO 63112
More information.

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary Edwards, Alex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region. 

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Kelly Moffitt joined St. Louis Public Radio in 2015 as an online producer for St. Louis Public Radio's talk shows St. Louis on the Air.
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