Camerata choir takes stance on gender through All State Performance


When the students of Camerata, a mixed choir, were handed a TTBB arrangement – an arrangement exclusively performed by men – of Andrea Ramsey’s “That Which Remains”, the women of the choir had mixed initial reactions. Senior Yasmine Lloyd, a soprano 1 who sings tenor 2 on “That Which Remains”, was excited to be given the chance to sing in a different voice part. Senior Ryland Potts, on the other hand, was initially confused, but eventually both Lloyd and Potts have fallen in love with the experience of singing with the men in their voice parts. 

Camerata has been chosen as the featured choir at the Arkansas All State convention for the third time in the choir’s existence. The piece was chosen by director Clint Pianalto for the All State program because of its text and his connection to the composer, but the TTBB version was specifically chosen because of its sound and the message on gender that Pianalto hopes it will send to the audience. He thought that the SATB version, which would traditionally be chosen for a group of men and women, didn’t sell the message as well as the TTBB arrangement. 

“The reason behind this is that the song comes in two versions in two keys, and I didn’t like the way it sounded in the SATB arrangement, but I loved the TTBB arrangement,” Pianalto said. “I just liked the close knit harmonies and I liked that sound, and moving it up gave it better accessibility for the ladies.”

Choir President, Senior Jackson Cawthon, agrees that the TTBB arrangement adds another level to the way the music and lyrics work together. 

“Listening to both, you can really feel the melody of the music that Andrea Ramsay writes in the TTBB version embody the words more than the SATB version,” Cawthon said. “It’s just the style that it’s written in. It feels different in every way.”

Cawthon appreciates the lyrics because of their meaning to the choir. The lyrics, featuring a Helen Keller quote, include themes of love and life: “What we once enjoyed and deeply loved we can never lose, For all that we love deeply becomes a part of us.” Keller’s words inspire the singers and have turned the song into one of their favorites. 

“There’s a lot of people saying women can only sing soprano and alto and men can only sing tenor bass in the choir world,” Cawthon said. “There are gender norms in choir that people are looking to break as of late, and Andrea Ramsey is one of those people.” 

According to Cawthon, Pianalto and Ramsey are close friends, and when Pianalto pitched the idea to her, she loved it. Cawthon recalls that Ramsey feels the idea of not doing something a certain way just because it’s the way it’s been done in the past, is exactly what she wants to convey in her music. Pianalto agrees that there is a different way to look at the relationship between choir and gender, and that his singers are capable of singing in ways they aren’t accustomed to. 

“We don’t always think about moving the women down to do that kind of thing, but they’re able to,” Pianalto said. “It also pushed us to think differently about how we listen and hear, and how we think about each other’s voice parts. I think anytime we can put ourselves in someone else’s shoes a little bit, so to speak, we gain a greater understanding and appreciation for those people.”

For Pianalto, gaining a different perspective doesn’t just stop at exploring other voice parts. As a high school choir director and a former middle school choir director, Pianalto has also had the opportunity to work with students of different backgrounds and identities that he had never come across before. 

“Growing up my view of the world was not as broad as it should have been,” Pianalto said. “When I became a teacher, I would watch kids start to struggle with identity, and you can see it from an early age. You can see kids that really struggled with who they were going to be as adults, and I think that it was always my job to make them feel like they were okay.”

Pianalto feels that he has a responsibility as a teacher to look out for these students who are exploring their identities. 

“Being a white heterosexual male, how do I show empathy for what’s going on in the world?” Pianalto said. “Everybody tells me that I’m privileged, and that gender matters and kids’ pronouns matter, so it’s like how do I try to participate in the process, but not come off as I’m trying to push? So this is my attempt at saying we can look at gender in a lot of different ways.”

Pianalto understands that for teenagers, changing their entire look or identity is a big deal and can be challenging. 

 “When a kid changes their whole gender identity, it’s hard enough being a kid, and they’re making it harder,” Pianalto said. “I appreciate kids that choose the hard way over the easy way, so I’m impressed by that, even if I don’t understand it.”

Additionally, Pianalto chose this song because of his friendship with Ramsey. He intentionally chose each song in the All State program to represent different aspects of his and the other teachers’ lives. The ambitious program, according to Pianalto, is made up of songs that have caused Pianalto and other directors to horripilate (get goosebumps), and songs that have an overarching theme of love succeeding the pandemic. 

“Every song has a response to COVID,” Pianalto said. “We’ve had to fight through switching rooms, putting on masks, and not being able to do what we do, so all the songs were picked with that in mind.” 

Pianalto recognizes that this is the hardest program he’s ever expected one of his choirs to perform. 

“One reason we’re doing this is to prepare for the next level,” Pianalto said. “The next thing is to sing at a SWACDA (Southwest American Choral Directors Association) or to sing at a National ACDA (American Choral Directors Association). This is the first time I’ve ever taught one choir a seven song program, and honestly, we’ve never pushed high school kids this hard.” 

Pianalto hopes to use this opportunity to show off his choir and the extra work they’ve been doing. Cawthon appreciates Pianalto’s recent efforts, and admits that the added pressure in rehearsals is benefiting the choir as a whole.  

“He really tries to push us to get where he wants us to be, not just where we think we can be,” Cawthon said. “He knows we’re better than we think we are, and he’s trying to show us that.”