Perpetual Change — Diana Stone

| Jul 4, 2011
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Diana Stone

Over the years of writing this column, I’ve been introduced to some amazing musicians within our community.  No one genre’ has any dominance,  nor does any specific geographic area.  Talented trans musicians are practically everywhere, even in some parts of the world where just coming out as trans can be life threatening.

England, however, is not one of those dangerous places.  While not wanting to contradict the statement just made about no one area having more talent than any other — outside of the U.S. — I’ve found more trans musicians who are consistently working in the U.K. than any where else.

Diana Stone is a multi-instrumentalist, who describes herself as a “performing composer and musician.”  Stylistically, her chops range from classical to jazz to roots music.  Diana plays with the band Elephant Shelf, a roots rock-blues-jazz band, and with Delta Ladies, which is a mix of acoustic roots music and electronica.  Her solo performances are something she calls Glass Cage, and  most of that work is not performed live. Perpetual Change is proud to feature her this month.

TGForum: Exactly what part of England are you from?

Diana Stone: I was born and grew up in London, and have always lived there.

TGF: Any formal musical training or background?

DS: Both my mother and father enjoyed listening to music, but they did not play.  We had a lot of classical and jazz records and the radio was always on.  My father had tried to learn the violin but had found it was a bit too much bother.  I started playing at the age of 16 and the first instrument I played was guitar, followed by keyboard.  We did not have room for a piano, although my grandmother gave me hers, we could not get it into the apartment.

I struggled along with what was basically a child’s toy organ.  I had always liked the violin, and when I was about 18 years old I bought a violin and struggled with it but gave up trying to play if after about six months.  I have always been dyslexic and at the time, though I tried to pick up the rudiments of musical notation, it didn’t sink in.  I had graduated to electric guitar by the time I was 20 or so and had started trying to write songs.  I was still a big violin fan and bought myself a slightly better violin and tried learning again.  This time it began to sink in a bit.  It’s only been in the last few years that I learned to read music and have gotten a more formal understanding of how it works.

TGF: Just how many instruments do you play?

DS: I play violin, piano, and various other keyboards; also guitar, bass, and mandolin.  I have also played tin whistle and harmonica, cello and viola and Celtic harp.  I seem to get on quite well with string instruments and can usually make a sort of musical noise with them.

TGF: Since you play and compose in a variety of genres, what do you consider to be your strongest influence?   And what do you listen to for your own enjoyment?

DS: I have been heavily influenced by classical music and was a big fan of progressive rock, and also jazz and folk music, all of which have become part of the music I write.  Recently, I have again been listening to classical music and a lot of jazz (mostly from the 1930s to the 1960s).  I have started playing a lot of solo piano, mostly for my own amusement, so lots of Cole Porter, Gershwin, Ellington, and lots of standards and show tunes.

TGF: Are both Elephant Shelf and Delta Ladies currently active?

Delta Ladies, Vicky Martin (L) and Diana Stone.

DS: Elephant Shelf and the Delta Ladies work all year round, averaging around 100 gigs a year between both acts.  We do a standard two set show, which is meant to be 90 minutes but often goes over the two hour mark.

Elephant Shelf if primarily blues based, with occasional jazz and folk influences, though we have a couple of rocky numbers.  The Delta Ladies is a duo/trio, sometimes a four piece, and plays roots, blues, and some country and jazz standards.  We play small venues including occasional theater venues and this year we will be at several U.K. festivals. We play mainstream venues, not ones which are known as GLBT on the whole,  although we did the Elephant Shelf album launch at the Vauxhall Tavern.

Since 2005, I have played about 800 gigs.  After being a solo artist, I met another transgendered musician who had just come out and was invited to join Elephant Shelf.  Initially I did not think I would fit in as the  musical genre was very far from anything I had done before.  I also expected that I would only play the occasional gig.  The reality of it turned out to be quite different, however.

TGF: What about Glass Cage?

DS: Glass Cage, which is the name for my solo work, is rarely seen live.  It would be very difficult to produce live the kind of textures and arrangements on my recordings, though I might do a solo piano show sometime.  Some songs from my solo catalog are performed by Elephant Shelf and the Delta Ladies.  I primarily compose for myself, as my ideas musically range very far and wide.  If I think a song may be suitable, then I will suggest for one band or the other.

TGF: Future recording plans?

DS: I am writing and developing and recording material all the time.  There is work in progress for a new Glass Cage album which will be a solo studio production and is likely to feature piano primarily.  It’s likely to be available as a download first, though it would be nice to make it available as a CD.  The second Elephant Shelf album will be starting to record soon as well.

TGF: What kind of acceptance do you receive from audiences in the U.K.?  What is the overall acceptance/attitude towards trans people?

DS: We don’t see many trans people on our gig circuit.  Occasionally, TG people we know will turn up at gigs, but most will not attend the kind of venues we play.  Our audiences are primarily blues, roots, and rock music fans.  Often as well, they are middle aged.  You will get couples and family members, too.  We stopped playing GLBT venues as on the whole we were not well received.  They seem to prefer cheesy disco rather than live music, and they don’t seem too keen on paying for bands.

We play everything from biker bars to pubs to jazz clubs, which are out of what I call the TG Ghetto.

I have not had any personal problems.  Maybe two or three insults since I joined the band in a seven year period, and usually from drunks.  I personally only know two or three TG musicians that work in the U.K., and they, like me, also work the straight circuit (for want of a better description.) Gender seems not to be an issue in the U.K. or France, and a few other places in Europe , in my personal experience, though I think a lot is determined by your behavior.  Occasionally people will ask rather personal questions, but mostly they are just interested in the music.

TGF: What advice would you offer to any musician, trans or not, who is just starting out?

DS: The only advice I would give to any musician starting out is to learn as much as you can of the theory of music.  The more you know, the more choices you have.  Being able to read musical notation and understand it even at a very basic level will save you a lot of time.  Other than fulfillment or success, it’s mostly about the amount of effort you put into it.  Play live in front of an audience as often as you can, too.

TGF: In closing, anything you’d like to say to the transgender community as a whole?

DS: This is a personal view and might be considered controversial, but I don’t actually believe in the concept of a transgendered community too much.  There is a transgender spectrum, but often people at different points in it have very little in common and that can actually be quite divisive if people are political or activists.  We have found that in the U.K., we have been pretty much ignored by many in the TG community, because we don’t have too much interaction with them.  Primarily, I think of myself as a musician and composer that happens to be transgender and not the other way around.  I think a sense of belonging is needed when people are still in the closet, but once you’re out of it and living your life, gender is not something that you consciously think or need to think about much any more.

Diana’s Glass Cage material is available as downloads at, and  at  There is also a sampler CD available at The Elephant Shelf CD is available through the band’s web site, Diana Stone can be contacted at, or Also, check out


Beyoncé 4

The new project from Beyoncé is something I really didn’t expect.  First off, though, let me get this out of the way — whether or not you’re a fan of her music, most of us have at one time or another seen a photo of Beyoncé and said “….daaaaammmmnnnn… wish I looked like that.”

Okay, so much for self-indulgence. Musically, 4 does a great job of showcasing her vocal chops more than it tries to score with dance floor filler material.

The lead-off tune, 1+1, is an unusual way to start an album.  It’s not brash and in-your-face, but rather more old school gospel in feel.  There are no studio gimmickery on the vocals, and over all it’s kind of laid back.  I also didn’t expect to hear the killer guitar solo on the end of the tune.

I Miss You follows in the laid-back mode, while tunes such as Best Thing I Never Had and I Was There are fully orchestrated and provide a strong foundation for Beyoncé’s vocals.

Perhaps the most musical moment on the project is Rather Die Young, which contains the best use of dynamics on the project.  Best dance tunes are Count Down and Love On Top, with the latter of these two having a definite old school R&B feel, especially in the song’s chord structure.

The album’s closing tune, Run The World (Girls), could end up being a feminist anthem.  It’s also an almost text book example of the use of percussion.  By itself,  this could work for any creative drag queen out there who wants to include something new and different in her show.  A remix EP with four versions of this tune is also available.

Beyoncé is listed as executive producer and you’ll have to read the credits for each individual track to get information on all the other producers  and musicians used.  Oh, and the copy of the album that I received also came with small sample of the fragrance Heat which I guess is Beyoné”s new side project.  Including small samples of  Heat with the CD is a good marketing ploy.  I haven’t tried it yet, since my wife is allergic to most perfume.  Anybody out there care to let me know how good it is?  Listen to the tracks at and

Tona Brown

Classical musician Tona Brown, who was first featured in this column back in July, 2009, has an interview in Urbanite Magazine.

Yolanda and Robert Urban

Mapes as Yolanda

Roger Anthony Yolanda Mapes and Robert Urban will be celebrating 10 years of musical collaboration on July 26, from 7-10 p.m., at The Duplex, 61 Christopher Street at 7th Ave. (in the Village.) Reservations are needed.  Phone 212-255-5438.  In a press release,  Mapes said:

” YEAR ANNIVERSARY SHOW! Robert and I have been playing and singing together for 10 years and are ready to celebrate our musical collaboration. Two award winning singer songwriters celebrating their original music and history of collaboration together for one night only at The Duplex.”

Yolanda and Robert have played together all over NYC, including historic Rock venue CBGB’s. Yolanda and Robert made history by being the first males to host a monthly, ongoing, musical event called Meow Men, at the infamous lesbian bar Meow Mix. They have received awards individually as singer/songwriters and with their collaborative efforts on Yolanda’s most recent CD House of Joy. Yolanda wrote the songs and sang the lead vocals as Robert recorded, produced, arranged, sang back-up vocals, and played most of the instruments. Both Yolanda and Robert have received the Out Musician of the Year award as well as Pride In The Arts awards and both are standing inductees in the GLBT Hall of Fame.

Come experience the mixture of Profane and Divine that rocks the house.

For more info on Yolanda and Robert Urban visit:, and

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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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