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Students of Song: Miami’s newest choir for social justice

Miami University’s peer-run social justice choir, Students of Song, launched in spring 2022 and is building momentum toward a showcase in spring 2023. 

Founding president Diana Kwak, a sophomore choral and general music education major, explained the choir’s purpose.

“Students of Song emerged as a way for music students to engage with repertoire that we don’t really get in our canonized curriculum,” Kwak said. “There’s also a very fine line between performing a song to celebrate it and performing a song to appropriate it.” 

Through lesson modules and open-dialogue seminars, the choir explores the historical context behind their music more deeply than standard choirs. 

Last semester, the group studied the “Justice Choir Songbook” and centered work around events in Ukraine. This semester, the group will emphasize topics like gun violence and reproductive rights.

“We spend approximately half of the time discussing the meaning of a song and half of the time learning it,” Kwak said.

Kwak sings in the choir and also teaches it — a resume opportunity for her career pursuits. She applies skills from her classes to promote music’s influence in society and activism.

“One of the composers of our songbook was at a protest and realized that people could have used a song there,” she said. “Music has purposes in our everyday life, so why don’t we use it to take part in social conversation?”

The choir focuses on collaboration and reflection without political charge. Any prospective singer can participate in Students of Song and help select its music.

Jacob Horley, a sophomore biological physics and pre-optometry co-major, joined the choir despite having no musical experience past middle school.

“I think it's for anyone who’s even slightly musically inclined or enjoys hearing about social issues,” Horley said. “There’s never that outside, academic pressure where you have to perform for an adult.” 

Aside from reexamining his singing voice, Students of Song pushed Horley to interact with and better understand social justice.

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“I got super into it because I was able to share my own knowledge I had been learning through my Critical Race Theory class,” Horley said. “Students of Song shows you how to be receptive to other opinions without feeling attacked. There was never a negative moment. It was all constantly moving forward.”

Students of Song is looking to register on The Hub, which is possible with support from faculty advisor and music professor Jeremy Jones.

“I contributed early on in the process, simply by encouraging Diana Kwak to create such a group,” Jones said. “Students are able to work together to build agency in this unique ensemble designed to allow students to discuss important topics in our society and make connections through choral music.”

Alongside social justice, Kwak’s goal is to make choir more accessible to non-music majors. Anyone interested can visit the Students of Song GroupMe.

“Everything that you think you know about music and your ability to do music is probably different from what you think and from what anyone has ever told you,” Kwak said.