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ISU graduate publishes first collection of new music for trans and nonbinary voices

Dennis Tobenski
ISU alum Dennis Tobenski is a composer and vocalist who runs the boutique music publishing company in New York City, called NewMusicShelf.

There are musical compositions for vocal ranges and instruments, but what about compositions for an identity? Most opera and musical theater compositions assume gendered and binary identities—until now.

Illinois State University graduate Dennis Tobenski is a vocalist, composer, and owner of music publishing company NewMusicShelf. Tobenski recently helped to create and then publish the first anthology of music for trans and nonbinary voices, called "Anthology of New Music: Trans & Nonbinary Voices."

Tobenski said the idea for the publishing company's new-music anthologies came after seeing an online post from a voice teacher. The voice teacher wanted their students exposed to more new music but was having trouble finding such compositions, because so many new-music composers are self-published.

"That was my light bulb moment … and I had this idea for these anthologies that I publish,” said Tobenski.

The anthologies are filled with new pieces by new composers, and are classic anthologies with art song pieces and geared towards particular voice types.

But NewMusicShelf's anthology "Trans & Nonbinary Voices" is not geared towards voice type. It's much more broad and geared towards an identity.

"Especially if you're dealing with a trans parent who might be going through hormone therapy, their voice is going to change, and it may take a substantial amount of time for their voice to settle to its new normal. So you can't select based on range," Tobenski said.

With help from curator Aiden Feltkamp, they developed criteria for selecting pieces for the trans or nonbinary anthology. The composer needed to be a trans or nonbinary person, the lyricist or librettist needed to be trans or nonbinary, or the piece had to written for or premiered by a trans or nonbinary performer.

“I love that this brings music to trans or nonbinary singers that, they can open up this book and see themselves reflected in it,” said Tobenski.

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Ariele Jones is WGLT's assistant program director and host of Morning Edition, Highway 309, and Center Stage.
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