The sonic-social relationships of people singing together, chanting, or engaged in group vocality are underrepresented in voice, sound, and music studies. Work on the voice tends to focus on individual voices, despite the human commonplace of group singing, choric chanting, and joint speech. This article brings into conversation practice-based, ethnographic, and theoretical perspectives on chorality to mark a noteworthy constellation of interdisciplinary work on voice; decolonial, antiracist, and LGBTQ+ activism; crowds and masses; intimate publics; and democratic politics. Writing in 2021 at a moment when voices joined in chants and anthems of protest assume tragic urgency, and when chanting and singing together risk physical and social violence and the transmission of COVID-19, the authors fix their attention on sonic-social relationships in chorality in order to set down how the precarity of this moment can translate into new thinking about joint voicing. In the case studies at the heart of this article, the authors offer four frames for approaching sonic-social relationships in chorality—activist choirs, collegiate a cappella, call-response singing, and virtual choirs. They advocate for a both-and approach to the sonic-social relationship in chorality: Sound qualities matter, often urgently, as does chorality’s social power to include, capture, and exclude. Ultimately, the article stresses that chorality is ethically neutral—a key methodological consideration in encountering chorality. What emerges from chorality’s sonic-social relationships, then, is the presence or absence of care—care for the effects of chorality’s uplift or harm, carelessness with chorality’s difference-leveling potentials, and chorality as an upwelling of care.

The “powerful plural–singular”2 of choral voice is a phenomenon of sonic-social inclusion and capture, community and refusal, listening and being heard. To live through the power of choral voice is to experience chorality—lending one’s voice to or blending into a crowd, choir, or congregation; having one’s voice extracted or mixed into a singular mass of plural voices. Chorality is pleasure and violence, identification and repulsion. One finds oneself in the purity and abstraction of top-down chorality, or is harmed by it. One feels alive with the possibilities of organic, messy, bottom-up chorality, or is disappointed with it. Whatever the case, chorality is a space of limited, privileged access that entails abandoning or being deprived of certain degrees of individual autonomy. At different scales, incarcerated, disabled, disenfranchised, queer, non-singing people, and people without high-speed internet access, to name a few, are often denied access to chorality through forms of sonic-social and technological exclusion. In other words, voicing or singing together is exceptional in carceral systems and spaces where assembly and community are limited—limits that extend to the aesthetics and ideologies of voice that define assemblies and communities. And even as the massing of voices deprives individuals of some degree of felt autonomy, there are those outside that chorality who are marginalized and silenced.

Here, we revisit what is at stake when voices conglomerate and merge. We bring into conversation practice-based, ethnographic, and theoretical perspectives on chorality from within and beyond the context of singing to mark a noteworthy constellation of interdisciplinary work on voice; decolonial, antiracist, and LGBTQ+ activism; crowds and masses; intimate publics; and democratic politics. Writing in 2021 at a moment when voices joined in chants and anthems of protest assume tragic urgency, and when chanting and singing together risk physical and social violence and the transmission of COVID-19, we fix our attention on sonic-social relationships in chorality in order to set down how the precarity of this moment can translate into new thinking about joint voicing. Along the way, we model the value of collaborative writing and listening—chorality—in coming to better understand chorality, commingling our voices, perspectives, and experiences as a way of knowing chorality. We write as a faculty-student collaborative at Amherst College, a liberal arts college in Massachusetts, where we are engaged in different forms of group singing, teaching and researching in voice and sound studies, community-engaged ethnography, and exploring voice and sound in a liberal arts curriculum.3 We come from two different generations and have lived and learned in China, South Africa, the UK, Estonia, and the East Coast, West Coast, and South of the United States.

The sonic-social relationships of people singing together, chanting, or engaged in group vocality are underrepresented in the interdiscipline of voice studies. Work on the voice tends to focus on individual voices, despite the human commonplace of group singing, choric chanting, and joint speech.4 This focus on individuals is invaluable for producing knowledge of how voice is raced, gendered, accented, genred, colonized, and made human; how it mediates language and expresses paralinguistically; and how it channels affect, politics, and connection with other-than-human beings. Voice as a “phonosonic nexus”5 is the realizing of sonic-social relationships; others’ listening and uptake are what make the voice, and individuals voice themselves into relationships through embodied “inner choreographies”6 that render socially significant sound. This, as Steven Connor suggests in his theorizing of chorality, is the ambient chorality of voice, the feedback loop of voicing and listening “such that every individual vocality has a connection to a phantasmal chorality.”7 Perhaps there are no individual voices, as many scholars of voice suggest, only implicit chorality.8

Here, we begin an engagement with joined voices not as the “phantasmal chorality” that shapes individual utterances, but as the particular sonic-social relationships among people voicing together—their audible “choral dialect.”9 We argue for the fuller inclusion of people singing together, chanting, or engaged in group vocality in voice, music, and sound studies not only to expand and diversify those fields but also to center in those fields the work of inclusion, antiracism, and activism underway in vocal communities across the globe.10 In the case studies at the heart of this article, we offer four frames for approaching sonic-social relationships in chorality, each of which demonstrates the situated, particular ways in which vocal sound and community belonging (or unbelonging and exclusion) intersect. We advocate for a both-and approach to the sonic-social relationship in chorality, since the sonic cannot be dissociated from the social, and vice versa. Sound qualities matter, often urgently, in chorality, and sonic ideals are social facts. At the same time, chorality’s social relationships might be expressed in after-the-fact, haphazard-sounding ways. Our meditations on activist organizing, collegiate a cappella, call-response singing, and COVID-era virtual choirs model a method of encountering chorality as vocal navigations of held identities and sonic ideals; as shifting emphases on social processes and sound products. Chorality, even as it is inscribed in repertoires, transmitted through oral/aural or improvised practices, and reified in sustaining institutions and traditions, is always-already emergent and liquid; the outcome of synchronous, overlapping communication and collaboration through listening and voicing that extends beyond the human to other species.11

Chorality, we stress, is ethically neutral in its embodied, affective, entangled iterations, and this is an important methodological consideration in encountering chorality. Chorality is the felt intimacy of blend and belonging, the practice of listening to and being heard, attunement to an atmosphere or acoustic space, participation as aesthetic or political aspiration, and the empowerment and security of having a vocal script and a place to voice oneself, to breathe. It is also the felt alienation of disintegration and unbelonging, the refusal to listen and respond, the willful disturbance of an atmosphere or space, participation as social or political violence, and the precarity and risk of inhaling or voicing a script not of one’s own. Much work on chorality dwells on its integrative, inclusive, efficacious aspects,12 as if the “anticipatory assimilation”13 of a voice into a community is “so powerfully unifying”14 because it is simply a matter of voicing and recognition. We are more hesitant about chorality’s ethical potentials. Our both-and approach upholds chorality as collective and collected.15 By collective, we mean voicing something in common as an otherwise heterogenous multitude; a mergence of bodies and voices around a common purpose, sentiment, or belief. And by collected, we mean voices curated, shaped, excluded, or silenced relative to a sonic ideal or ideology; a conglomerate of bodies and voices brought within or kept without. Whether one is part of chorality’s grasp or positioned outside its sonic-social world, chorality, in its institutional and spontaneous forms, lasts as long as its common cause or common sound.

While we celebrate chorality’s affirming, transcendent, harmonizing potentials that predominate in most accounts of joint vocality, we also acknowledge that chorality is a space of social and epistemological violence. Chorality, again, is ethically neutral. Bodies collected in chorality can be subject to dehumanizing violence, as Laura Wittman describes in reference to commemorations of unknown soldiers after World War I. “‘Chorality,’” Wittman writes, “was intensely physical, as soldiers held the dying and the dead, ‘confusing their limbs together in the mud of the trenches.”16 While chorality’s collected bodies may, in some spaces, create an ideal community or an otherwise world (the mythology of the Baltic Singing Revolutions, for instance), the confusion of violated, injured bodies points to the horrors residing in “the tension between choral and constructed unanimity.”17 The attempt to create organic chorality rather than constructed unanimity, in Wittman’s telling, returns us to the violence of the trenches where “the attempt to reassert the value of organic life in its heterogeneity” risks transforming it into “homogenous matter to be shaped by totalitarian ideology.”18 Such tensions between organic, choral upwellings of voice and the potential violence of entrained, univocal performance are familiar in images and sounds of crowded masses singing or chanting in praise of a leader, a regime, or an ethnoracial identity. They are familiar in stories of trans and queer folk being excluded from vocal communities where their voices and bodies do not conform to gender stereotypes. They are familiar in stories of racialized bodies and accented voices being stylistically essentialized, parodied, and excluded in spaces where whiteness and language hegemonies are allowed to dominate. And they are familiar in stories of people like Jan Chamberlin, a onetime member of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir who did not join the choir in singing at Donald Trump’s 2017 inauguration and resigned because of the choral alliance that performance created.19

Being included within chorality’s moment often feels good, even if chorality is ethically neutral.20 The sonic-social dynamics of inclusion—inclusion rather than capture—create “the experience of belonging to a community not of unity but of difference,”21 and difference is foundational to noncaptive chorality. Chorality’s sound is engendered by variations in timbre, tuning, timing, and articulation, different ways of voicing one’s place in a social world, and discrepant styles of participation and aesthetic resistance.22 Without chorality’s feedback loops of sonic-social difference, we are left with sonic renderings of social isolation or totalitarian control—the last native speaker of a language, the inhumane unisonance of total choreography. But inclusion is inclusion into something—an institution, sound, or body with its attendant ideologies. Chorality is rehearsed and auditioned, and it operates through consensus and dissensus around a community’s sonic-social ideals. What of more radical forms of choral inclusion?

In writing on the radically inclusive practices of improvising choirs, Chris Tonelli points to how allowing “participants to introduce any sound of their choosing” and abandoning the assumption “that potential participants should identify as singers”23 realizes a chorality whose “ethico-aesthetic motivations”24 suspend commonplace ideas about voice and belonging. Tonelli’s radically inclusive improvising choirs engender sonic-social spaces that decenter notions of ability and vocal etiquette (to gloss on Christine Sun Kim’s articulation of “sound etiquette”) inscribed in choral institutions and repertoires. By incorporating an expansive range of vocal and oral techniques, improvising choirs unsettle the grounds of choral inclusion, resisting the ideologies of ability, gender, race, and vocal respectability that enact social violence through certain choral repertoires and sonic ideals. The radically inclusive model of improvising choirs is a provocative critical foil for isolating and hearing the limits of inclusion in other choralities.

In broad historical perspective, the institutionalization and formation of singing communities as “choirs” and “choruses” have been extensions of Christian missionization and practices of colonial domination.25 Choirs and choruses have been instruments for capturing and colonizing communal voices, with participation becoming a space for surveillance, civilizing, and subjectification. As Dylan Robinson describes with respect to Indigenous communities in present-day Canada, “Missionaries thus recognized that new ways of focusing attention were needed. Hymn singing became one of these, with hymns translated into Indigenous languages, where the homophonic ideal of voices moving together was a corrective to the unruly voices of Indigenous people.”26 The homophonic ideal of disciplined voices moving together as sonic evidence of civilized concord rests on an ontology of communal singing wherein individual voices are “parts” in a structure: formed objects rather than subjects within sonic-social relationships. To think beyond the ontologies and histories that “choir” and “chorus” entail, we turn to Dieter Christensen’s use of the term “vocal multisonance” as a way of approaching group singing apart from a Sachsian continuum of vocal homophony, heterophony, and polyphony.27 “Vocal multisonance” includes all sorts of sonic-social difference in its purview, not just the vocal “parts” that can be represented in notation. By attending to “all forms of social interaction among singers”28 rather than the “structure of the phenomenon,”29 the process of multisonance offers a frame for encountering communal singing and joint vocality beyond “choir,” “chorus,” and their attendant legacies.

The sonic-social relationships of chorality, we contend, extend beyond “choir” and “chorus” to include forms of communal voicing otherwise described and experienced, practiced beyond colonial frames, and resisting or refusing the racialized timbres and vocal styles of “choir” and “chorus.”30 Chorality, in other words, extends beyond the sound and space of a “cathedral choir sound” or “the bel canto ideal,”31 national choral traditions rooted in the intonations of languages,32 or the globalized reach of gospel vocal practices. In the spirit of Christensen’s multisonance, writing in terms of chorality—even when “choir” and “chorus” are the terms in use—can be a decolonizing practice that resonates with the work of decolonizing vocalists and communities. Chorality also moves voice, music, and sound studies beyond the “Platonic strand”33 in thinking about communal singing and joint vocality—the idea that singing and chanting together are inherently harmonizing, life-affirming, politically effective practices rooted in Enlightenment individualism and a secular public sphere. Chorality, as we outline above and document below, is also the organization of dissensus, multitudes, and discord: Collective voice may not sound “good,” and collected voices may not belong (or want to belong) to a common world of friendship, alliance, and social support.

Jayme Timpson Winell is the granddaughter of Ann Burlak Timpson, a labor and civil rights activist known as the “Red Flame” for her relentless work organizing textile workers across the United States from the 1930s onward. Living in Western Massachusetts and dedicated to activist causes, Timpson Winell speaks fondly of her grandmother and the interlacing of music and activism that connects both generations. Group singing was commonplace in the early labor unions headed by the elder Timpson, as documented in this description of a labor demonstration in 1928:

Parade Through Salem Streets. The strikers at a meeting today voted to accept the company’s concessions and return to work. Eight hundred workers, led by Ann Burlak of the National Textile Workers Union, formed a triumphal parade, marching in a body to Derby Square, where they were addressed by June Croll, also of the National Textile Union. June Croll spoke on the Recovery Act and what it means to the workers. A rousing vote of thanks was given [to] Ann Burlak for her guidance and active leadership in the strike. The parade then passed through the streets of Salem, with the strikers shouting slogans, waving banners and handkerchiefs, and singing loudly.34

The strikers found a shared language of chorality in materials like The Little Red Songbook. The book, collated, printed, and distributed by the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) in 1909, contains popular labor movement songs that were tools for unionizing. In artifacts like The Little Red Songbook, a shared sonic vocabulary aided the development of class consciousness;35 a community of laborers was meant to become a melodic community as well. This community was created through songs like “Solidarity Forever,” excerpted here:

When the union’s inspiration through the worker’s blood shall run
There can be no power greater anywhere beneath the sun
Yet what force on Earth is weaker than the feeble strength of one
For the union makes us strong

As a music educator, Timpson Winell uses singing in her teaching and performance spaces, adapting repertoire from her grandmother’s era to suit modern calls for social change. Rooted in early 20th-century labor movements, activists like Timpson Winell update the choral vocabulary of songs such as “Solidarity Forever” by altering lyrics to reflect contemporary demands for social justice she voices at protests. At the end of Timpson Winell’s email correspondences is the following adaptation of “Solidarity Forever,” connecting generations while tracing historical shifts in activist politics:

When the movement’s inspiration through the people’s blood shall run
There can be no power greater anywhere beneath the sun
Yet what force on Earth is weaker than the feeble strength of one
For the movement makes us stronger

Bringing activist repertoire into a current moment through linguistic adaptation, as above, limits the spaces of choral access and inclusion. While an individual may feel better represented in Timpson Winell’s updated version, which moves beyond centering worker/union dynamics, this sense of belonging is limited should that person be unable to contribute vocally. Timpson Winell navigates these discomforts in her performance and teaching spaces. Regarding her approach to the sonic-social relationships in chorality, she emphasized the importance of minimizing the barrier of self-aware singing, stressing that “there’s no wrong note as long as you are singing.” This manifests as Timpson Winell’s tending to invite audiences to “participate” rather than “sing” at her shows, which engenders an enthusiastic vocal joining-in instead of a forced chorality of sonically shy singers. Or perhaps in a crowd of a thousand protesters, we hear mergence that dissipates the self-conscious worry of sonic contribution done “badly.” Achieving a historically determined sonic benchmark is not the priority in moments that subjugate sonic concerns to principles of access, inclusion, and participation.

To convey her focus on social process over sonic product, Timpson Winell shared with me The Peace Poets’ nonexhaustive list of nonsonic outputs created in moments of solidarity and social action. The Peace Poets self-describe as a “family born of Hip Hop, heart, and hope in New York City” with the aim of educating and inspiring through diverse artistic disciplines, often in direct response to social and political crises as they occur globally. According to The Peace Poets’ list, group singing reminds participants of why they are together and centers community focus in the face of dissensus and conflict; energizes, de-escalates, and facilitates group bonding; synchronizes breathing and heartbeats; offers solace when words fail; and spreads messages quickly and practically. Timpson Winell values the potential of the social to subjugate the sonic in moments when the sonic is peripheral in creating shared space and vocal mass.

This brings me to an important distinction. Singing in spontaneous settings calling for social justice is different from singing in a social justice choir. The performative act of voicing and naming social justice concerns animates a particular political and affective force; rehearsing for the purpose of choral performance animates another. At the sonic-social intersections of chorality, sites of protest and activism amplify the performative force of participatory voicing across differences of agenda and intent, while choral rehearsal and performance center on qualities of voice as a way of belonging. These forms of activist chorality are not opposed. Rather, they harness voicing-as-group-action and voicing-as-group-sound in different ways.

There is security in not being able to pick out the individual who voices what an assembled crowd may think or whose voice represents motivations that diverge from the crowd—the liminal voice that affirms motivations and identities even as it diverges, merging into a chorality that is more than the sum of a given set of motivations and identities. This particular sense of security in group singing can be located beyond the frame of a standing, rehearsing choir that cares for its sonic output and identity. The workers led by the “Red Flame,” Ann Burlak Timpson, knew the lyrics and melody of “Solidarity Forever,” but rehearsing it could betray the security that upwells in moments of activism. To rehearse a revolution out loud risks betraying its radical revolutionary possibilities. In the case of social justice choirs, curated sound—the fruits of rehearsal and institutionalized identities—promises pathways for belonging (and exclusion) through other forms of action. On the one hand, belonging to a choir can, in itself, be an act social justice; on the other hand, choral performance is a signaling of social justice concerns that can lead to action beyond the moment of performance. These manifestations of activist inclusion and activist sound situate chorality in its particular activist moments. For Timpson Winell’s brand of activism, those sonic-social relationships are distilled in her belief that “there’s no wrong note as long as you are singing.”

In pursuit of what they perceive as collective sonic virtuosity, many leaders of collegiate a cappella groups afford less social space to voices they deem unsatisfactory. Conventionally organized collegiate a cappella groups perpetuate stereotypical preferences for “clear,” “virile” male voices and “innocent,” “docile” female voices, a selection practice rooted in histories of the elite colleges where collegiate a cappella culture is centered and histories of chorality’s colonization and social violence.36 Far from paragons of egalitarianism, many conventional collegiate a cappella groups’ narrowly conceived sonic preferences marginalize or exclude racial, gender, sexual, and bodily difference. Yet despite collegiate a cappella’s sonic judgments and social exclusions, the practice itself is ethically neutral. By weighing my experience in collegiate a cappella against some of its more progressive manifestations, I draw attention to a cappella chorality that seeks to expand sonic worthiness and promote social inclusion.

My collegiate a cappella group, the Zumbyes, takes immense pride in its past.37 As members of the latest iteration of the 70-year-old group, my fellow Zumbyes and I engage our group’s history by pedestaling traditions and maintaining close relationships with alumni. We often speak of former members who possessed remarkable voices and delivered electrifying performances, which begs the question: How does one go down in Zumbyes’ history, remembered and emulated for decades? The answer is straightforward: To be celebrated as a Zumbye this way, one must receive a solo.

Having a solo affords a cappella members special opportunities to perform their identities. As Joshua Duchan documents, many soloists use a kind of “language of gesture”38 to identify themselves as a song’s protagonist, a practice with roots in rock ’n ’roll that prioritizes a lead singer’s role. In addition to offering themselves as embodiments of a song’s persona, soloists channel their identities through a song, creating a transitory reciprocity between the soloist’s performance of a song and a song’s performance of the soloist. The effects of this connection between soloist and song can be enduring: Even when I spend weeks practicing my own part for a certain song, sometimes I know the soloist’s part better due to their memorable rendition.

Although social identities are performed in soloing and solo selection, the Zumbyes’ considerations during the selection process primarily concern the best sonic fit for a song, likely because we find sonic merit to be something easily measured. Each voice within the group has its place within the group’s vocal field—we commonly express our appreciation of the “clarity” or “sweetness” or “ruggedness” of certain voices, which surely only accounts for a fraction of the admiration, jealousy, or disapproval that is thought but not openly expressed. Thus, as most of the songs in our repertoire tend toward performances of either bravado or tenderness, we usually have a good idea of which kind of performer will sound best on any given song heading into the selection process. Yet we also consider the importance of social factors at times; like Duchan, we wonder whether we are “more concerned with the quality of the musical product than with sharing the spotlight among the singers.”39 As a bass singer who is not all that dexterous with his melodic delivery, the only time I was ever taken seriously for a part was due to that very consideration.

In the Zumbyes, our group tradition dictates that soloist selection can only be the result of a unanimous vote—a majority would not be enough. As in the democratic voice vote model, all participants do not necessarily have an equal stake in the final decision under this system; one’s power waxes and wanes relative to their capacity to express themselves and desire to see their nominated singer receive the solo.40 Technically, anyone from the group can ensure that their preferred soloist is selected by simply never backing down, but asymmetries in the group’s implicit social hierarchy discourage or prohibit certain members from pressing their opinions past a certain point. These members, perceived to inhabit a less prominent space within the group, continually renegotiate their opinions during the selection process, mulling over whether they deem it worthwhile to push back on the majority opinion and risk being seen as intractable for the sole purpose of electing the soloist they see fit. Many nights end with the less powerful party capitulating to those with more power, usually leading to the candidate perceived as the best sonic choice receiving the solo.

Ultimately, after waiting most of the night during the one time I was considered, I did not receive a solo. Like many others in the group, I thought sonic quality was paramount to all other factors, and every minute I waited for my eventual rejection seemed to reinforce the shortcomings of my ancillary bass voice. I wished my voice was clearer, louder, more agile and confident; my insecurities with my voice led me to believe my identity lacked those same qualities. Believing that these deep-seated flaws were the reason I could not get a solo, I put less time into learning the part for future auditions, resigned to the fact that the more talented voices would sing the part more effectively.41

Fortunately, receiving a solo is not the only way for a Zumbye to exert influence in the group. As is conventional in collegiate a cappella, a few Zumbyes hold organizational roles, the most influential being that of music director. While the role of music director can be given to seniors with the most experience in the group, it is more often given to a sophomore or junior in the thick of collegiate musical study. The driving force in rehearsals, the music director chooses how to budget the group’s time and provides feedback for all members. Often they serve as the mouthpiece for non-seniors, negotiating with longer-term members to run the group in an agreeable way (although, unsurprisingly, things don’t always go so swimmingly).

One moment that often leads to in-group power renegotiation is the moment right before the performance of a song.42 In order to start a song in tune, the group needs a starting pitch, usually the root of the tonic chord played through a pitch pipe or other device. When the music director blows the note on the pipe, performers mentally and physically prepare themselves to sing their starting notes, audiating their pitch and priming their diaphragm to make sure they can deliver flawlessly from the get-go. Any sort of interruption between sounding the starting pitch and commencing the song could have a significant impact on the group’s ability to sing well. Yet the opportunity available in this moment proves too tempting for some, who exploit the stillness and focus to give a few words of urgent advice, hoping not only that their wisdom will improve the quality of the performance but also that other group members will remember that a successful performance was the result of their wise words. This kind of last-moment interjection is an unproblematic part of the group’s musicking process, and a heightened sense of attention to the group’s actions during a performance can indeed improve the quality of their performance.43 But this kind of interruption can also have significant social consequences.

Allowing a member who interjects to situate themself as a musical authority, this momentary rupture serves either as an affirmation or a disruption of the group’s implicit social hierarchy. Depending on whether or not the interjector holds power within the group, their assertion can challenge collectively internalized power dynamics, creating tensions that clarify where power is located in the group. Still, disruption often has adverse effects on members’ abilities to express themselves. The advice offered in an urgent moment is almost always of a musical nature, which makes sense because care for musical merit is viewed as the only acceptable reason to interrupt a performance. Thus, the member who interrupts the group is fighting for a voice on the same continuum of sonic merit that excludes other members’ voices. This creates in-group competition, intensifying the need to assert one’s musical foothold and leading to less forgiving social dynamics. The narrow-mindedness with which sonic merit is perceived in solo selection and its invocation in the fleeting moment before performances cultivates self-doubt among the members it excludes or marginalizes, muting their abilities to express themselves and stake social footholds within the group.

The predecessors of collegiate a cappella were not always sonically exclusionary. Over the course of the 20th century, popular singer-centered performance took a number of forms, all of which bear connections to African American rhythm and blues. Rock ’n’ roll placed special emphasis on melody, rendering the lead singer the most crucial representative member of the band. Equal part division and rich harmony were preserved in doo-wop, a genre of rhythm and blues, and barbershop quartets sought to flatten group hierarchies through homogeneity in arrangement and performance.44 At a superficial level, modern collegiate a cappella would appear to have continued the barbershop tradition of egalitarian organization. Its most well-known media representations use the novelty of its apparent lack of sonic and social stratification to extol and satirize the practice in equal parts. This, combined with new collaborative possibilities afforded by digital technologies, has catalyzed tremendous growth in a cappella participation over the last three decades.45 Yet, as I describe above, the idea of egalitarianism within a cappella groups is often subordinate to a commitment to exclusionary sonic ideals.

The rigidity of group identity within collegiate a cappella groups forces all members of conventionally built groups to acquiesce to what Karen Tongson refers to as “images of chardonnay, shag-rug suburbia, and the whiteness presumed to inhabit it,”46 an assertion firmly in line with histories of elite colleges, and chorality more broadly. Alternatively, Chris Tonelli’s exploration of improvising choirs’ organizing principles offers a model of radically inclusive group vocality working against racial and elitist hegemonies.47 Some may argue that as vocal spaces like free jazz become more inclusive and equitable, the quality of their sonic output suffers, which for many practitioners of collegiate a cappella would be grounds for quitting a group. In the collegiate a cappella context, the free-jazz model is a distant point on a horizon of sonic inclusivity.

In other collegiate a cappella spaces, however, groups are exploring new ways of conceptualizing their practice to dismantle the hegemonic images Tongson names. These groups eschew conventional sonic values to center common social identities, including places of origin, expressions of gender, or religion. Nicole Muffitt explores one such group called Penn Masala.48 She tells the story of the 1996 founding of the group, which sought to blend, reinvent, and perform the South Asian identities of its members while incorporating influences from Western and South Asian popular musics. Another group that defies conventional modes of collegiate a cappella are the Doox of Yale, formerly known as the all-male Duke’s Men A Cappella Group, who, like the Zumbyes, decided to depart from a gender-exclusive model and transition into a more inclusive all-gender model. Groups that openly reject conventional vocal selectivity are becoming increasingly common in collegiate a cappella, merging with the “new normal”49 of other manifestations of socially inclusive chorality.

Call-response singing, to use Samuel A. Floyd Jr.’s formulation that strikes the “and” in “call-and-response” to articulate a “master trope” in African American expressive culture,50 performs the social-sonic relationship in chorality through its nonlinear temporalities and acts of vocal-verbal recognition, repetition, and revision. Floyd’s call-response temporalities extend from calls oriented around received and expected responses, to responses that become calls in affirming and transforming what has been received, to calls and responses among iterations and performances of a tune or text, to calls and responses among performers and listeners who interject and are implicated in performance. This is the layered, antiphonal temporality of call-response, an “inexorable and unending chain of antecedent and consequent responses and calls”51 that at once responds to a social context while shaping that same context.52 To connect the temporal and social feedback loops in call-response practices to our considerations of chorality, I turn to regilaul, an iconic traditional singing practice in Estonia.

In 2016, Estonian traditional singer Celia Roose recorded the regilaul “Joodikulõ” (“To a Drunkard”),53 a reimagination of a text collected in Tõstamaa, a parish in southwestern Estonia, sung to a melody from Liis Peltser, a renowned regilaul singer born in 1856 in Hargla parish in southern Estonia.54 The text, documenting a moment in 19th-century Estonian oral/aural agrarian culture, speaks to the miseries of young women being married off to alcoholic men who drink away the young couple’s riches, and those of their extended families as well. It begins with a cheerless take on some women’s unfreedom:

Jummal hoitku olõmasta,
sedä lasta sündümästä,
kiä saa mehele joodikulõ!
God, don’t let it be,
the birth of a girl,
who marries a drunkard!

Later on in the song, the drunkard’s squandering of family wealth is further elaborated:

lispäiv jõi tä hää hobõsõ,
tõsõpäiv jõi saaniteki,
kolmapäiv jõi hää kübärä,
neläpäiv jõi näiu kinda,
riide jõi tä reisirihma,
puulpäiv serbäs suurõsärgi,
pühäpäiv jõi püksi jalast.
Monday he drank a good horse,
Tuesday drank a sleigh blanket,
Wednesday drank a good hat,
Thursday drank a girl’s glove,
Friday he drank the reins,
Saturday drank a fine shirt,
Sunday drank the pants off his legs.

In communal forms of Estonian regilaul performance, a lead singer (eeslaulja or eesütleja) calls through a circular melodic formula to a group (koor) of responding singers, who echo her verse through a completion or repetition of the melodic formula. As the lead singer in “Joodikulõ,” Roose offers up a normative eight-syllable regilaul verse over the first half of Peltser’s melody, after which the koor, made up of friends and album collaborators in the studio, responds with the same verse over the second half of Peltser’s melody (see Figure 1).

Figure 1.

Transcription of Roose’s first verse with koor response.

Figure 1.

Transcription of Roose’s first verse with koor response.

Close modal

The koor’s response to each iteration of a verse is a voicing that returns Peltser’s melody to its tonal center, calling back to Roose to continue on with her next verse as a response to their call.55 Verbally, the koor returns Roose’s words to her, perhaps empathizing with the woman’s plight, perhaps rebuking the drunkard or the family that enabled the marriage, perhaps wanting to hear more, or not wanting to hear more. The koor is ambivalence organized through Roose’s call and the tonal-temporal circularity of call-response regilaul. Sonically, Roose’s calls end on the second degree of a melodic pentachord, and the koor’s responses bring the melody back to the tonal center. The alliterative refrain “õta-ridi-raita-ridi-raita-ridi-rallallaa,” inserted after each verse except the first, spans both halves of Peltser’s melody with wordplay that cuts across the verses enumerating the ravages of alcoholism. While these dancing syllables might seem ironically whimsical given what the verses relate, it is important to note that the corpus of regilaul texts far exceeds the number of melodic formulae used in the tradition. Matching melodic affect to text is not what is at stake here; a regilaul melody delivers words through voice rather than expressing them, intermixing joy, suffering, labor, history, myth, knowledge, and nature in a single melodic concept across times, places, and singers.

Bruce Barnhart frames this kind of antiphonal call-response temporality in terms of the narrative strategies of prolepsis and parabasis. Prolepsis is representing something in the future as already figured in the present—narrating an event that will happen later, promising the return of a musical gesture, motive, or sound. The proleptic call entailing a response is “a performative and political action”56 that distills an aspect of chorality’s sonic-social relationship. Parabasis is an interruption or digression—the chorus stepping forward to address the audience in Greek drama, a sudden shift in rhetorical register. The response to a call is parabasis “as narrative digression” and “as phatic trope,”57 shaking up narration through the circularity of repetition and the sonic-social force of responding. In call-response practices, the response is proleptically conditioned in the call (verbally and, sometimes, tonally, in the case of Peltser’s melody) while also being a parabasis that disturbs the social moment of its iteration. “The present is not proleptically subordinated to the future,” writes Barnhart, “instead the future is built out of the parabatic interruption of existing continuities.”58 Call-response, in other words, can also be response-call, opening further into the choral intertwining of individual and collective or collected voices.

In responding to Roose by echoing her verse, and transforming it through their echoing, the koor responds to her hail, vocally and verbally performing their careful listening and their intimate recognition of being hailed. The archaic regional dialect of “Joodikulõ” and the throaty-timbred, speech-aligned vocal delivery of Roose and the koor circumscribe the linguistic and vocal world of regilaul practice. Recognition and response signal that these Estonians, but not all Estonians, are in a particular sonic-social relationship through regilaul. The koor’s responses, performed within genre conventions of regilaul that include anticipatory elisions (leegajus) on the final syllable of Roose’s verses, confirm the sonic-social force of her calls. A response in this kind of call-response singing is an example of what Chris Cummins calls a pragmatic “adjacency pair.”59 Roose’s call collects the koor, and their response acknowledges the effects of chorality. Indeed, even if the koor were not to respond, their refusal would operate within the chorality of an adjacency pair. As Cummins notes, “their failure to utter anything at all can still be interpreted as pragmatically meaningful.”60 Although not the case here, chorality can capture as well as include, even to the point where the refusal to respond to a call nevertheless affirms the power of that call.

A conventional take on call-response singing in Estonian regilaul and beyond, then, might be as follows: A lead singer prefigures a future response through her call, and her voice and verse are scaled to the sonic-social moment to follow. This recapitulates the assertion, commonplace in voice studies, that voice is always-already social—individual utterances are shaped around their anticipated uptake; one listens to oneself as other in the act of voicing; one positions oneself in the koor even as one calls out a verse. This is the temporal and sonic-social interweaving in chorality that call-response practices amplify.

But what of play, refusal, and dissensus in call-response chorality? When a koor changes words in an improvised verse to better fit the poetic form of regilaul or, in the case of “Joodikulõ,” when their response might recast a verse through both empathy and condemnation or, also in “Joodikulõ,” when the tonal-temporal movement of the response is what makes another call possible, what becomes of the supposed authority of the call? Call-response becomes response-call in a chain of choral hailing, listening, repetition, and revision. And as with chorality at large, the anticipation of a response inherent in the form of call-response practices is a difference-leveling, capturing force in chorality’s sonic-social relationships. Barnhart pinpoints that force in the sonic-social-temporal relationships of Floyd’s “call-response”:

When call and response becomes the parabasis of call-response, the present announces itself as entangled in the future and the past as well as in the pushes and pulls of the social. If each element of an aesthetic form is both response and call, the fictions of prolepsis, progress, and stasis betray their suppression of dissonance.61

Opening out to call-response chorality more broadly in spaces of protest, worship, and mass performance, Barnhart’s observation brings us to chorality’s ethical neutrality. Call-response offers an inclusive script for voicing and belonging in moments of precarity, praise, and celebration. Call-response also captures people and voices through the force of its call, hailing them as subjects and obliging them to respond, regardless of their agreement, commitment, and belonging; refusing to respond can, nevertheless, confirm the illiberal pragmatic force of a call. But, as Barnhart reminds us, the immediate and more distant futures a call hopes to realize—the appropriate response and respondents it tries to prefigure—are open to revision. The dissensus, play, ambivalence, sonorities, gestures, and performative transformations of responding voices loop back on call-response chorality, becoming a call in itself that betrays the “fictions of prolepsis.” Crucially, change is baked into call-response chorality. Sonic-social relationships are remade and revised in moments of performance, and otherwise worlds can be imagined and contested through the force of a call or a response. Call-response as a space for chorality’s inclusive and capturing potential? Yes, but also response-call.

The coronavirus pandemic has indelibly transformed what it means to sing together. On multiple continents, group singings became super-spreader events with extremely high rates of transmission.62 Over the course of 2020, the language of singing together took on radically new meanings. Singing as the “contamination” making choral collaboration a “happening” that is “greater than the sum of its parts” became contagion.63 The breath that animates voice and is one of its media became a medium that circulates infectious droplets and aerosolized particles in spaces whose resonant choral acoustics may indicate a low level of ventilation that increases the risk of COVID transmission.64 Sonic qualities and phonation techniques may matter as well, since style-specific vocal intensities, levels of subglottal pressure and airflow, and the frequency and intensity of aspirated phonemes in different languages and vocal practices may correspond to transmission risk. And if singers used to think about controlling the nasal and sinus resonance of their metaphorical singing mask, in the COVID era they think about using actual singing masks as PPE in socially distanced chorality.

With the risks of contagion and transmission so high, virtual choirs and online singing became spaces where singing together was safe in 2020. And not only safe, but also offering affordances for new participatory, compositional, and improvisational practices; platforms for inclusion and remote collaboration; and challenges to how the sonic-social relationship in chorality is experienced. Virtual choirs (the term for asynchronous participation coined by Eric Whitacre), online choirs (线上合唱 in Chinese), “zinging” (singing while muted on Zoom), “jamzinging” (singing using the networked performance software Jamulus), and “stringing” (singing through a string of Facebook Live feeds)65 intensify the sonic-social relationship in chorality as asynchronously recorded voices are mixed into a hyperreal sonic product and synchronously participating, inaudible-to-each-other voices sustain pre-COVID and newfound social connections. Socially distant chorality, including “car choirs” where participants sing from their cars into a mixer and hear others’ voices over an FM transmitter with imperceptible latency,66 leans either into the hyperreal acoustics and sounds available to an audiovisual editor or into the remote, mediated promise of singing together without the familiar feedback of others’ voices. COVID-era singing together, then, is when the sonic-social relationship of chorality is strained to otherwise extraordinary extremes.

Like many international students in 2020, I began undergraduate studies remotely in Xiamen, China—12,494 kilometers and 12 time zones away from the Amherst College campus in Massachusetts. Often, after classes finished at 3 a.m., I opened PDF scores of choral repertoire, put in earbuds, and clicked open a demo MP4 of the piece I was to rehearse virtually. I sang soprano along with the demo, half of my computer screen displaying the score, the other half displaying my conductor’s video. My phone was perched beside my computer, recording the video and audio of my singing. I heard only the demo and my voice, as if I was recording a solo track. Later, I recorded the alto and tenor parts the same way. More than once, neighbors chastised me for singing at 3 a.m., alone in my 13th-floor apartment.

And that is how I was included in a virtual choral community—physically distanced and singing asynchronously, half a world away. Noah Horn, my conductor at the time, edited and mixed individual singers’ recordings together with Logic Pro, adding reverb, correcting pitches, and smoothing out consonants. When our work went live on the concert day, I encountered the audiovisual product of virtual chorality for the first time, singers’ heads arrayed like Zoom windows, voices engineered and blended into a hyperreal chorus effect. Through Horn’s editorial hand and ear, I shared virtual space and asynchronous connection with people I had never been physically co-present with, not unlike the rest of my digital life.

In product-oriented virtual choir singing (and process-oriented online choirs, zinging, jamzinging, and stringing), what a singer contributes—their vocal participation—is similar to “normal” singing together. What a singer receives, however, is drastically different. In “normal” chorality, the synchronous experience of singing and listening—Sten Ternström’s feedback-to-reference or signal-to-noise ratio67—is embodied sociality, raising levels of oxytocin, a hormone that facilitates social bonding.68 The production of a virtual choir, on the other hand, is more like an assembly line. When I participated in Amherst College’s virtual choir, I remember submitting my recording as if it were a class assignment, without any sense of the sonic-social whole. I did not interact with my recording again until the finished product was published online.

This is more than a story of delayed gratification. Despite its promise of increasing access and inclusion, product-oriented virtual chorality translates the top-down and bottom-up interactions of singing together69 into the virtual sonic-social space of audiovisual editing software. The feedback loops of a conductor’s instruction and singers’ self-adjustment become unidirectional flows of submitting recordings and audiovisual editing. Rather than delaying the sonic-social gratification of affective entrainment and oxytocin release,70 virtual chorality transforms vocal participation into distributed listening. When I consume a virtual choir product that, I trust, includes my voice, I am immediately in the position of an audience member, not a singer. The in-group intimacy of “normal” chorality, perhaps intensified through the presence of an out-group audience, becomes more ambivalent as singers no longer perform their inclusion and belonging but are presented with a consumable product as evidence of their inclusion and belonging.

It is important to state that the affordances of virtual chorality make it its own phenomenon rather than a diminished version of “normal” chorality. Virtual chorality’s “new authors”71 perform the curatorial, inclusive audiovisual editing work that creates new sonic-social relationships between singers and listeners/viewers/consumers. These new authors, who may also be singers, conductors, composers, and improvisers, transform vocal materials into audiovisual products, often leveraging the technical possibilities of virtual chorality to create sounds that are unattainable for unedited, synchronous group singing. Virtual choir production is like a mathematical transformation in which audiovisual editing works like a mathematical function that transforms an input (singers’ recordings) into an output (the virtual choir product). In “normal” chorality, output equals input; in virtual chorality, output is the result of a function. This function is a power assumed by virtual chorality’s new authors, centering those new authors in virtual chorality’s sonic-social relationships and, in my experience, positioning singers as material inputs. Audiovisual editors’ function is sonic curation, manipulating or “correcting” pitches, onsets, timbres, and vowels, mixing certain voices higher, and directly muting specific tracks. In “normal” chorality, where input equals output, inclusion and exclusion are direct aspects of chorality’s sonic-social relationships—“muting” someone is an unambiguous act of sonic curation or social violence. In virtual chorality, where output is the result of a function, inclusion and exclusion operate across a knowledge gap, since an audiovisual editor may “correct” or mute a voice while the singer is visually present in a virtual choir. Depending on the degree of transparency in an audiovisual editor’s practices and the values manifest in a virtual choir product, virtual chorality’s sonic-social relationships are fundamentally shaped by knowledge gaps about inclusion and exclusion.

This is how virtual chorality amplifies questions about the sonic-social relationships in chorality. “Perfect” sonic products are attainable, but at what social and artistic costs? How much “perfection” is too much for a church or activist choir rooted in community rather than curated sound? How might transparent audiovisual editing practices contribute to an ethos of inclusivity, belonging, and distributed agency—a conglomeration or merging of voices as a community intends? How might the radical inclusivity afforded by editable virtual choir inputs shape the transparency of editing practices, with the knowledge gap becoming a potential good? When “normal” chorality can resume (a process that will trace unequal access to COVID vaccines and different attitudes toward the risks of COVID-era singing together), what is retained from virtual chorality, not least its emphasis on the visual and practices of sonic curation, will testify to how singing communities have responded to the sonic-social relationships they experience in virtual chorality.

In consolidating takeaways from our case studies of communal voicing, we find generative potential for comparing and extending our both-and approach to chorality’s sonic-social relationships in an unexpected space: the practice of voice voting (supporting or rejecting a proposal through vocal utterance informally in community or in a formal space of democratic practice). The trope of voice in descriptions of democratic political agency and representation is commonplace. Individual citizens and participants “have” a voice at the ballot box, at sites of demonstration and protest, and through their elected representatives.72 But what of chorality—the voice vote—in the performance of democratic participation, protest, and resistance? “The ayes have it!” But how? What sonic judgments about the quantity or mass of voices allow for the determination of a majority and, therefore, the power it claims? What vocal qualities (impassioned timbres, strident volumes, and the like) are summoned and leveraged to create a majoritarian sound effect? What cover does a voice vote give to those who hope to avoid accountability for positions inscribed in perpetuity in recorded votes; who hope their siding will last precisely as long as the sonic envelope of their choral utterance? What security does a voice vote give to conscientious risk-takers who find assurance in the transient sonic envelope of their choral utterance, or to the timid participant who, before raising their voice, waits a split second to listen for others’ voices? What are the implications of peeking at others and picking out their voices, making audiovisual recordings of voice votes, and masking one’s face and voice while voting? What happens when voice votes are impractical, disallowed, or overwritten by ballots or recorded votes? What connects the dynamics of a voice vote to the demonstrative utterances of crowds and assemblies?

The reach of these questions points to the reasons we draw extended attention to chorality here. Voice voting employs qualities of sound and techniques of listening central to chorality in performing (and imposing) a social practice foundational to the liberal imagination. Voice-vote chorality creates spaces of security and inclusion, offering scripts for meaningful belonging and dissent. At the same time, it creates spaces of risk and precarity, offering scripts for exclusion and masking social violence. And mediation matters, since recording voice votes and making them asynchronous radically reshapes their sonic-social relationships. As a form of chorality, voice voting, too, is ethically neutral, putting positive and negative freedoms—freedom to voice and freedom from voice—limits, and values into play. What emerges from chorality’s sonic-social relationships, then, is the presence or absence of care—care for the effects of chorality’s uplift or harm, carelessness with chorality’s difference-leveling potentials, and chorality as an upwelling of care.


This article was written as part of the Amherst College Research Tutorials in the Humanities program. We thank the Office of the Provost and Dean of the Faculty at Amherst College for its support. We are grateful for invaluable feedback on early drafts from André de Quadros and the three anonymous reviewers for Resonance and transformative conversations with Arianne Abela, Emilie Amrein, Felicia Barber, Jenny Citarelli, Joshua Duchan, Hannah Goodwillie, Grey Grant, Noah Horn, Erik Peregrine, Jason Robinson, Sara Smith, Ethan Sperry, Brent Talbot, Brandon Waddles, and Jayme Timpson Winell.


Steven Connor, “Choralities,” Twentieth-Century Music 13, no. 1 (2016): 3.


The initials in parentheses after case-study section headings indicate lead authorship and the “I” in that section.


In the excellent Oxford Handbook of Voice Studies, for instance, communal singing or group vocality scarcely registers, with Chang’s (2019) chapter on Korean Christian converts the only place where communal singing is discussed and “choir” or “chorus” absent from the index.


Nicholas Harkness, Songs of Seoul: An Ethnography of Voice and Voicing in Christian South Korea (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2013), 11.


Nina Sun Eidsheim, Sensing Sound: Singing and Listening as Vibrational Practice (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2015), 139.


Connor, “Choralities,” 3.


Charles L. Briggs, “Personal Sentiments and Polyphonic Voices in Warao Women’s Ritual Wailing: Music and Poetics in a Critical and Collective Discourse,” American Anthropologist 95, no. 4 (1993): 929–57; Mladen Dolar, A Voice and Nothing More (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2006).


Sten Ternström, “Perceptual Evaluations of Voice Scatter in Unison Choir Sounds,” Journal of Voice 7, no. 2 (1993): 129–35.


The breadth and urgency of this work are comprehensively documented on the Choral Commons project website ( See also Caroline Bithell, A Different Voice, a Different Song: Reclaiming Community through the Natural Voice and World Song (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014); André de Quadros, Focus: Choral Music in Global Perspective (New York: Routledge, 2019); Ana Hofman, “Disobedient: Activist Choirs, Radical Amateurism, and the Politics of the Past after Yugoslavia,” Ethnomusicology 64, no. 1 (2020): 89–109; Heather Mary MacLachlan, Singing Out: Gala Choruses and Social Change (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2020); Katherine Meizel, Multivocality: Singing on the Borders of Identity (New York: Oxford University Press, 2020); and Aleysia K. Whitmore, “Depoliticizing the Political: Cultural Policy and Musical Diversity in a Provençal Children’s Choir,” International Journal of Cultural Policy (2020), DOI 10.1080/10286632.2020.1822347.


V. M. Janik, P. Simard, L. S. Sayigh, D. Mann, and A. Frankel, “Chorussing in Delphinids,” Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 130, no. 4 (2011): 2322; John Durham Peters, The Marvelous Clouds: Toward a Philosophy of Elemental Media (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015).


Karen Ahlquist, ed., Chorus and Community (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2006); Gage Averill, Four Parts, No Waiting: A Social History of American Barbershop Harmony (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010); Andrea F. Bohlman, Musical Solidarities: Political Action and Music in Late Twentieth-Century Poland (New York: Oxford University Press, 2020), 234–80; Philip V. Bohlman, Focus: Music, Nationalism, and the Making of the New Europe, 2nd ed. (New York: Routledge, 2011); Ruth H. Finnegan, The Hidden Musicians: Music-Making in an English Town (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2007), 236–54; Kiri Miller, Traveling Home: Sacred Harp Singing and American Pluralism (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2008); Ryan Minor, Choral Fantasies Music, Festivity, and Nationhood in Nineteenth-Century Germany (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012).


Connor, “Choralities,” 8.


Connor, “Choralities,” 6.


Jeffers Engelhardt, “Congregation and Chorality: Fluidity and Distinction in the Voicing of Religious Community,” in Studying Congregational Music: Key Issues, Methods, and Theoretical Perspectives, Andrew Mall, Jeffers Engelhardt, and Monique M. Ingalls, eds. (New York: Routledge, 2021), 140–55.


Laura Wittman, The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Modern Mourning, and the Reinvention of the Mystical Body (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2011), 31.


Wittman, The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, 55.


Wittman, The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, 53–54.


See Chamberlin’s interview with the Salt Lake Tribune at


Matthew Rahaim, “Theories of Participation,” in Theory for Ethnomusicology: Histories, Conversations, Insights, 2nd ed., Harris M. Berger and Ruth M. Stone, eds. (New York: Routledge, 2019), 228.


Barry Shank, The Political Force of Musical Beauty (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2014), 57–58.


Charles Keil, “Participatory Discrepancies and the Power of Music,” Cultural Anthropology 2, no. 3 (1987): 275–83.


Chris Tonelli, Voices Found: Free Jazz and Singing (New York: Routledge, 2020), 152.


Tonelli, Voices Found, 141.


Anna Maria Busse Berger, The Search for Medieval Music in Africa and Germany, 1891–1961: Scholars, Singers, Missionaries (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2020); de Quadros, Focus, 14–16; Sarah Justina Eyerly, Moravian Soundscapes: A Sonic History of the Moravian Missions in Early Pennsylvania (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2020); Grant Olwage, “The Class and Colour of Tone: An Essay on the Social History of Vocal Timbre,” Ethnomusicology Forum 13, no. 2 (2004): 203–26 and “Singing in the Victorian World: Tonic Sol-Fa and Discourses of Religion, Science and Empire in the Cape Colony,” Muziki 7, no. 2 (2010): 193–215.


Dylan Robinson, Hungry Listening: Resonant Theory for Indigenous Sound Studies (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2020), 55.


Dieter Christensen, “Vocal Polyphony and Multisonance in South-Eastern Arabia,” Proceedings of the First International Symposium on Traditional Polyphony (Tbilisi: International Research Center for Traditional Polyphony of the Tbilisi State Conservatoire, 2003), 231–32. See Kofi Agawu, The African Imagination in Music (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016), 267–304, on “multipart,” “harmony,” and “simultaneous doing” as terms that do similar work.


Christensen, “Vocal Polyphony,” 232.


Christensen, “Vocal Polyphony,” 231.


For an overview, see Rudolf de Beer and Wilson Shitandi, “Choral Music in Africa: History, Content, and Performance Practice,” in The Cambridge Companion to Choral Music, André de Quadros, ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 185–200; André de Quadros, “New Voices in Ancient Lands: Choral Music in South and Southeast Asia,” in The Cambridge Companion to Choral Music, 159–68; Anis Fariji, “Shouting the Qur’an: Exuberance and Playfulness in the Taḥzzabt—Collective Recitation—in Morocco,” Ethnomusicology Forum 29, no. 2 (2020): 166–86; Karen Grylls, “Voices of the Pacific: The (Ch)oral Traditions of Oceania,” in The Cambridge Companion to Choral Music, 177–84; María Guinand, “A Hundred Years of Choral Music in Latin America 1908–2008,” in The Cambridge Companion to Choral Music, 130–48; Aida Huseynova, “From Chanting the Quran to Singing Oratorio: Choral Music in West and Central Asia,” in The Cambridge Companion to Choral Music, 169–76; and Jing Ling-Tam and Gene J. Cho, “Choral Music in East Asia: China, Japan, and Korea,” in The Cambridge Companion to Choral Music, 149–158.


Ahlquist, Chorus and Community, 9.


See the “Tallinn” sample library recorded by the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir for Orchestral Tools software, for instance. Orchestral Tools describes this emplaced choral sound on the product website: “Drawn from quieter vocal textures and long tones, the Tallinn choir can produce dark, moody passages as well as serene, calming moments. Evolving sustains crafted from subtly changing notes let you create seamlessly extended single-note lines and chords. Recorded syllables based on the Estonian language add a local, Baltic flavor unlike any other vocal library. And atonal murmurs and whispers add mystery and suspense to any production.”


Martin Stokes, “Introduction: Ethnicity, Identity and Music,” in Ethnicity, Identity, and Music: The Musical Construction of Place, Martin Stokes, ed. (Oxford: Berg, 1994), 10.


Jayme Timpson Winell transcribed documentation of her grandmother’s work from materials held in the Sophia Smith Collection at Smith College. I am grateful to Timpson Winell for sharing these with me.


Kenneth C. Wolensky, “‘We’re Singin’ for the Union’: The ILGWU Chorus in Pennsylvania Coal Country, 1947–2000,” in Chorus and Community, Karen Ahlquist, ed. (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2006), 223.


Karen Tongson, “Choral Vocality and Pop Fantasies of Collaboration,” Journal of Popular Music Studies 23, no. 2 (2011): 229–34; Joshua S. Duchan, Powerful Voices: The Musical and Social World of Collegiate a Cappella (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2012); Wittman, The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier; Jacob Berglin, “‘It’s Much More Collaborative’: Democratic Action in Contemporary Collegiate A Cappella,” Bulletin of the Council for Research in Music Education 205 (2015): 51–69.


Formed in 1950, the Zumbyes identified as an all-male group for nearly 70 years. The Zumbyes accepted their first female member, Emma Ratshin, after she auditioned in 2018 despite the group’s gender-exclusive history. Since Emma’s acceptance, the Zumbyes have welcomed two more women and officially adopted an all-gender model. I joined the group in 2019.


Duchan, Powerful Voices, 112–13.


Duchan, Powerful Voices, 99.


Randall Everett Allsup, “Music Education and Human Flourishing: A Meditation on Democratic Origins,” British Journal of Music Education 29, no. 2 (2012): 171–79; Berglin, “‘It’s Much More Collaborative,’” 54.


To equate my identity within the group solely with the depth of my voice would be incomplete. I am a cisgender, white male set up for success in the field of collegiate a cappella and able to bypass social barriers that may exclude many of my peers. In the Zumbyes, whiteness and masculinity continue to dominate group culture. Until its members actively work against perpetuating cultures of whiteness, masculinity, and heteronormativity, among other forms of exclusion, the culture of the Zumbyes will continue to alienate some of its members. As such, more pernicious biases than vocal preference, held by myself and others with similar social roles, do undeniable harm.


Duchan, Powerful Voices, 98–99.


Rahaim, “Theories of Participation,” 225; Christopher Small, Musicking: The Meanings of Performing and Listening (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1998).


Duchan, Powerful Voices; Averill, Four Parts, No Waiting.


Berglin, “‘It’s Much More Collaborative.’”


Tongson, “Choral Vocality,” 232.


Tonelli, Voices Found.


Nicole Christine Muffitt, Performing Desi: Music and Identity Performance in South Asian A Cappella (master’s thesis, Kent State University, 2019).


de Quadros, Focus.


Samuel A. Floyd, “Ring Shout! Literary Studies, Historical Studies, and Black Music Inquiry,” Black Music Research Journal 22 (2002): 61.


Bruce Barnhart, “Carolina Shout: James P. Johnson and the Performance of Temporality,” Callaloo 33, no. 3 (2010): 846.


Bruce Barnhart, “Prolepsis and Parabasis: Jazz and the Novel,” Novel: A Forum on Fiction 42, no. 2 (2009): 221; Barbara E. Bowen, “Untroubled Voice: Call-and-Response in Cane,” Black American Literature Forum 16, no. 1 (1982): 12–18.


Celia Roose, Regijoon, 2016, compact disc (self-published).


The recording of Peltser’s melody, made in 1936 by Estonian folklorists Herbert Tampere and August Pulst, is housed in the Estonian Folkore Archives of the Estonian Literary Museum (ERA, Pl. 24 B1).


Floyd, “Ring Shout!,” 61.


Barnhart, “Prolepsis and Parabasis,” 217.


Barnhart, “Prolepsis and Parabasis,” 220.


Barnhart, “Prolepsis and Parabasis,” 220.


Chris Cummins, Pragmatics (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2019), 201.


Cummins, Pragmatics, 201.


Barnhart, “Prolepsis and Parabasis,” 221.


Matthew R. Naunheim, Jonathan Bock, Philip A. Doucette, Matthew Hoch, Ian Howell, Michael M. Johns, Aaron M. Johnson, et al., “Safer Singing During the SARS-CoV-2 Pandemic: What We Know and What We Don’t,” Journal of Voice (2020),


Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing, The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2015), 27.


J. Martin Daughtry, “Call and Response (or the Lack Thereof): Atmospheric Voices and Distributed Selves,” Sensate: A Journal for Experiments in Critical Media Practice (2021),; Harris Solomon, “Living on Borrowed Breath: Respiratory Distress, Social Breathing, and the Vital Movement of Ventilators,” Medical Anthropology Quarterly 35 (2021): 102–19.


Esther M. Morgan-Ellis, “‘Like Pieces in a Puzzle’: Online Sacred Harp Singing During the COVID-19 Pandemic,” Frontiers in Psychology 12 (2021), 1–16,


Latency is not antithetical to networked performance, however. As Jason Robinson documents (“The Networked Body: Physicality, Embodiment, and Latency in Multisite Performance,” in Negotiated Moments: Improvisation, Sound, Subjectivity, Gillian Siddall and Ellen Waterman, eds. [Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2020)], 91–112), latency in telematic music making is central to its expressive affordances.


Sten Ternström, “Hearing Myself with Others: Sound Levels in Choral Performance Measured with Separation of One’s Own Voice from the Rest of the Choir,” Journal of Voice 8, no. 4 (1994): 293.


Morgan-Ellis, “‘Like Pieces in a Puzzle,’” 3.


Guy Hayward, Singing as One: Community in Synchrony (PhD diss., University of Cambridge, 2014), 107.


Hayward, Singing as One, 81.


Cole Bendall, “Defining the Virtual Choir,” Choral Journal 61, no. 5 (2020), 72.


Laura Kunreuther, “Sounds of Democracy: Performance, Protest, and Political Subjectivity,” Cultural Anthropology 33, no. 1 (2018): 1–31; Jenny R. Lawy, “Theorizing Voice: Performativity, Politics, and Listening,” Anthropological Theory 17, no. 2 (2017): 192–215; Clement Macintyre, “Discordant Voices: How Choir Music Helped to Shape our Parliaments,” Australian Quarterly 87, no. 2 (2016): 3–40.