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"Voices From Outside the Box"


Program Series: No. 3
Dr. Catherine Roma

Friday, March 5 at 10AM 


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Catherine Roma, born and raised in Philadelphia, attended Germantown Friends School. Her K-12 Quaker education is the foundation that informs her activism. Roma attended the University of Wisconsin—Madison where she received her undergraduate and masters degree. She later returned to Philadelphia to head the middle & upper school music department at Abington Friends School.

Back in Philadelphia, Roma founded Anna Crusis Women’s Choir, the first women’s choir in the women’s choral movement. Previously little substantive music had been written for women’s voices to capture the dynamic range of mature women’s voices, even less was written by women composers that set texts by women poets and writers.  Anna Crusis continues today and is now in her 46th year.

Roma left Philadelphia in 1983 to attend The College-Conservatory of Music, University of Cincinnati. Once in Cincinnati, she founded MUSE, Cincinnati’s Women’s Choir, one of the most diverse choral organizations in the city. Roma is known for commissioning substantive choral works for women’s voices, over 100 in number. Soon Roma co-founded and co-directed the Martin Luther King Chorale that performed every Martin Luther King Day (1991-2013) and also was in demand to perform for Race Relations Day, Emancipation Proclamation Day, and more events throughout the city. The choir grew to 750 voices for the ground breaking and grand opening of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in 2002 and 2004. 

Serving as Minister of Music at Cincinnati’s St. John’s Unitarian Universalist Church proved providential. MUSE rehearsed there weekly (for 30 years), and through the St John’s Music Series, the church became known for being a welcoming space for diverse music groups and was the incubator space for vibrant musical collaborations with the excellent church choir Roma conducted for 29 years. 

It was Roma’s association with Wilmington College that introduced her to the idea of teaching in a prison setting. When the Dean of Correctional Education asked her to start a choir at Warren Correctional Institution, Roma leapt at the chance. She founded UMOJA Men’s Chorus there in 1993. The chorus ultimately recorded three CDs and won two gold metals at the World Choir Games held in Cincinnati in 2012.

It was the experience of teaching in prisons that was to leave an indelible mark on her. In retirement Roma continues forty-five years of conducting women’s choruses leading HOPE Thru Harmony at Dayton Correctional, an inside/outside choir. Roma also conducts UBUNTU Men’s Chorus at London Correctional, and most recently her choir at Marion Correctional KUJI Men’s Chorus, performed The Hamilton Project and won accolades from 700+ outside guests who attended the performances in November 2019. 

Roma’s three prison choirs participated in Heartbeat Opera’s performance of Fidelio, joining three other choirs (in Iowa, Kansas and Minnesota) to sing a memorable performance of “The Prisoner’s Chorus.”

Also in retirement Roma founded the World House Choir in Yellow Springs, a 100-voice peace and justice choir that draws singers from Cincinnati, Dayton, Columbus, Middletown, Xenia, Springfield, and Cedarville.
Roma believes choral singing, the power of the human voice raised in song, brings diverse people together; it is a balm to heal and to transform our world and ourselves. Music is a human need and singing together educates, motivates, inspires, and changes the air we breathe.  Of the nine choirs Roma has founded in four cities over 45 years, seven of nine are thriving. Think globally, sing locally.   

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