Thomas Hilder

Choral Activism, LGBTQ+ Rights, Queering Identity in 21st Century Europe

This lecture attends to choral activism and LGBTQ+ rights in Europe. Drawing on models in a post-Stonewall US context, LGBTQ+ choirs have appeared since 1982 in urban centres throughout Europe, employing a range of repertoire, adopting innovative performance practices, and enacting public interventions. These choirs can affirm positive LGBTQ+ identities, create safer spaces, build local LGBTQ+ communities, offer sites of healing and sharing about different LGBTQ+ experiences, and increase visibility in the aid of LGBTQ+ rights (Balén 2017; De Quadros 2019; MacLachlan 2020). While LGBTQ+ rights may have in the last decade become in the popular imagination and in EU public discourse "a powerful symbol of Europe" (Ayoub and Paternotte 2014, 3), new nationalist formations, increased violence toward LGBTQ+ people, and divisions within an apparent LGBTQ+ community, render queer Europeans at a critical juncture just as the project of Europe itself begins to crumble. As an activist within, and researcher of a European LGBTQ+ choral music scene, I share through this paper reflections on LGBTQ+ rights and the significance of identity politics. Drawing on several years of ethnographic research in the UK and Italy, I ask: How have LGBTQ+ choirs shaped and been shaped by the struggle for LGBTQ+ rights locally, nationally and transnationally? What stories do these choirs tell us about the powers and limits of the politics of identity, visibility and representation for bringing about wider social transformation? How might LGBTQ+ choirs offer models of care, community and advocacy in a continent in crisis? Discussing an array of issues and cases – the HIV/AIDS pandemic, the Various Voices festival, the Pink Singers – and the potentials of applied methods, I invite us to listen to LGBTQ+ choral singing as a form of activism that both works within and pushes beyond the confines of European 21st century neoliberal democracy.


Thomas R. Hilder is a writer, teacher, researcher, musician, activist, and associate professor in ethnomusicology at NTNU. His experiments in scholarship, pedagogy, and outreach explore musical performance, community, activism, well-being, virtuality, and the body, shaped by feminist, queer, and postcolonial perspectives. He is author of "Sami Musical Performance and the Politics of Indigeneity in Northern Europe" (2015) and co-editor of "Music, Indigeneity, Digital Media" (2017). In 2016 he co-founded the international LGBTQ+ Music Study Group and currently acts as chair. At the Department of Music at NTNU he runs the EDI group RILM. And he is chair of Trondheim’s queer choir Kor Hen.