PERPETUAL CHANGE — Organist Desiree Hines

| Sep 28, 2009
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This month, we’d like to take the opportunity to introduce someone who will be new to most of this column’s readers, but who is definitely not new to the music world. Desiree Hines of Philadelphia, PA is a classically trained musician, whose instrument of choice is pipe organ.

Desiree Hines

She is also heavily involved in Philadelphia’s Traverse Arts project, which is a festival and is described as “…a showcase of multidisciplinary works created or presented by GLBT artists and their straight allies.”
Discrimination is something that perhaps most of us in the trans community have either had to face or have experienced in an indirect way. Being an African-American transsexual, Desiree has had more than her share. She experienced an even harsher reality as she pursued her degree in the highly structured, conservative world of classical music.

Her story is one of determination, perseverance, and just plain courage, not to mention raw talent. TG Forum has chosen to present her story in two parts, mostly in Desiree’s own words.

TGForum: As a classical musician, what sort of musical background do you have? Are you from a musical family?

Desiree Hines: I started playing the violin at the age of 9. At 15, I discovered the organ while watching world famous organist Diane Bish on her television program, The Joy Of Music. I was captivated and it was the voice of God speaking to me through the pipes. I have stuck with it since.

TGF: What did you listen to growing up? I’m interested in what you’re influences are…

DH: I loved listening to classical music and popular music as a child. I still listen to both. To me, a good musician is a good musician, no matter what their genre or instrument of competence is. My primary influences as an organist have been Diane Bish…Virgil Fox, Carlo Curlee, Joyce Jones, Ted Alan Worth, and a few others who really take or took organ playing to a level that makes the music for instrument appeal to mass listeners…rather than just professional organists.

TGF: What lead you into studying and working with pip organ specifically?

DH: I started reading and listening more attentively when I was 14. I started playing actively, teaching myself mostly, at the age of 16.

TGF: How often do you get to play? I’m curious about this, since a pipe organ isn’t something an individual usually has…

DH: I get to play an organ as often as possible, as I have access to a couple of very gracious churches. Usually a few times a week.

And you’d be surprised who has organs in their houses! With technology, electronic organs have been around for over 60 years. Quite a few organists and organ enthusiasts have vintage electronics or even “virtual organs” in their homes. It’s exciting to see who had organs in their homes: Pierre DuPont…Madame C.J. Walker in her home in Manhattan…George Eastman (Eastman Kodak)…was very instrumental in forming the Eastman School of Music. Of those living and dead, David Hyde Pierce, famous for his role as Niles Craine in Fraser, is an accomplished organist. He actually turned down a full scholarship to major in organ at Eastman.

Perhaps because the organ is the instrument with the most negative stigma attached to it, people has lost interest in organs and their music. Thus, the enthusiasm among the general public…that was there in the mid-20th century is idle. It’s rebirthing, but still low. People don’t realize how fascinating of a past pipe organs have.

TGF: You’ve mentioned discrimination during your attempts to get your degree in organ performance. Do you care to elaborate on this any?

DH: I attended a number of schools when trying to obtain my degree in Organ and Church Music. Mississippi College, while I was at home in Mississippi. I left there to going to Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, WA. At Mississippi College, it was then Music Department Chair Richard Joiner who mentioned he had heard reports of my dressing as a woman off campus, and asked if everything was OK, mentioning the campus counseling center.

Pacific Lutheran is where I incurred the most discrimination. This will be long, because it happened in so many different times.

The organ prof at PLU was James Dale Holloway. He took me under his wing from a distance. In May 2001, he was shot…when a random gunman walked on the campus. I was devastated at his loss.

I started to come out at PLU first with the assistance of Beth Kraig, History prof and then advisor for the campus LGBT group. The first thing was to figure out my housing. The director of housing…got me housed in a female wing, using female bathrooms. This was halted by PLU Vice President of Student Life, Dr. Laura Majovski after she insisted on calling university attorneys to see if housing me on a female wing while still anatomically male was permissible. Because of this, I would have had to live on a male wing and use male bathrooms, or I could live in the university’s South Hall, which was apartment style living. I opted to live in South Hall…very expensive.

Within weeks of the semester starting, I had absolutely no money, no food, and no job. The college offered emergency loans to students in distress, so I took a $700 loan.

During January, 2002, the housing director tried again to get me in a female dorm. Still, his attempts to have the school treat me fairly were halted by Dr. Majvoski.

There was a meeting in late January…I was informed that because I had not had SRS that I could not live in female accommodations on campus. I was also told that I was not allowed to use female restrooms in the music department building, I must use the one unisex bathroom.

In order to get a music degree, a music major must participate in an ensemble. They can participate in band, choirs, or the orchestra. This is so a music degree graduate will be capable of good ensemble performance. For me, that was choir. At the beginning of school, I had auditioned for the choirs and the choral directors, Richard Nance and Kathryn Lehman, had placed me in the University Women’s Choir.

At the January meeting, I was told…that the reason I could not be in the Women’s Choral was because I had not yet undergone SRS. I would have to sing in Chapel Choir or one of the mixed choirs.

My voice is naturally very feminine. When living as male, I sang in the alto section of all choirs I was ever in.

So I was very happy to be placed in the Women’s Chorus. However, I was told that this was not permissible because I still had male genitals. Regardless of my having a naturally high voice, it was not possible. Regardless of my degree requiring my being in choir, this was not permissible.

I was devastated and it was time to go. That’s when I applied to Chicago College of the Performing Arts. I was accepted, though…never able to accept the scholarship because I could not get my transcripts from PLU. I owed them $700 from the loan…because I was forced to live in housing that was more expensive than my financial aid package could afford, and I had to live in that housing because of my not having had SRS.

Next month, Desiree continues her story and describes how all this has altered her path, but not her spirit and true calling. For further information on Desiree Hines and/or the Traverse Arts Project: or

Tona Brown, featured here in July, ’09, sent this brief news item we’d like to share.


Violinist and Vocalist Ms. Tona Brown is now offering Violin and Voice
lessons to talented individuals in Deep Creek Chesapeake!
Study with an internationally recognized artist.
Study with an experienced teacher and performer for maximum results!
Ms. Brown has 5 years of teaching experience and 15 years of performance experience .
Students who have studied with Ms. Brown are competing in local and national competitions, recording demos and albums in studios, and performing in major ensembles throughout Hampton Roads.
Ms. Brown takes students as young as 8 years old to adults.
All Voice Types and Styles Welcome!!

For more information call 757-270-5160

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Pam Degroff

About the Author ()

Pamela DeGroff been writing for TGForum since the start of 1999. Her humor column, The Pamela Principle, ran until 2005. She started the Perpetual Change music column in May of 1999, and in 2008, Angela Gardner came up with the idea for the Transvocalizers column and put Pam to work on that. Pamela was a regular contributor to Transgender Community News until that magazine's demise. While part of a support group in Nashville called The Tennessee Vals she began writing for their newsletter, and also wrote for several local GLBT alternative newspapers in Tennessee. Pamela is currently a staff reporter for a small town daily paper in Indiana, and is also a working musician.

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