Associates Share Messages of Love and Inclusion Through Musical Talents

Published: June 26, 2024
Social Impact
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When a life-long love of music intersects with a true passion to promote belonging, inclusivity and love the result can be beautiful.

Two Mutual of Omaha associates — Vicki Rushlau, Corporate Operations, and Shaelle Velyrre, I/S — have found this through their involvement with the River City Mixed Chorus.

photos of vicki rushlau and friends

The River City Mixed Chorus, Omaha's only LGBTQ+ chorus and one of the oldest choirs of its kind in the nation, prides itself on “creating exceptional musical experiences to support diversity, inspire change and empower communities.”

The chorus consists of about 160 people from the local LGBTQ+ community, including many allies. Rushlau and Velyrre have found somewhat of a second home with the choir.

“Music has very much been a part of my life since I was young,” said Velyrre.

“My mother was a big fan of musicals and music in general, so we had a massive collection of records, cassettes and CDs that I had access to. I would always choose something to play on repeat until I had it memorized and could sing along, and my mother encouraged it. She sang in numerous different venues on both personal and professional levels. I like to think that music is in my blood.”

“Mutual of Omaha advertised the Pride concert last year and I attended. My mother previously sang with the chorus and encouraged me to audition. At this point, the rest is just history,” she said.

“As a mixed LGBTQ+ chorus, the representation of all voices, gender identities, and sexualities in the creation of music just helps humanize all of us. The inclusion is the most special part of the chorus for me personally. I have made a few new friends and have an increased sense of community and belonging, which is something that I was completely missing when I first came out. I still have hard days, and there never fails to be one person who notices and asks if I'm ok.”

Rushlau’s experience is similar.

“I guess I just always loved music. The stereo was often on in our house growing up and when my dad bought a record player, we spent hours picking out records and listening. And then Grandma bought a piano for the house and learning how to play became a passion,” she said.

“I grew up singing in the church choir. Then when I was introduced to theater, stage and chorus in sixth grade, I guess that I never looked back after that. I love singing, I love performing and I just love the opportunity to share joy with others who listen to the music. It provides so much happiness for me.”

“This chorus is special to me because, this chorus is family” Rushlau said.

“I’m lucky, I at least have family and friends that have supported me, but that statement is not true for everyone. It didn’t take long to realize just how welcoming and loving the chorus is for all involved. We share our lives with each other, attend weddings and events together and share important pieces of our lives with each other. There is true love and friendship between members that extends way beyond the rehearsal and performance space.”

Velyrre is a singing member in the Tenor I section. Rushlau is also an active singing member in the Alto II section. As singing members, they attend rehearsals, which are once a week for about two and a half hours, with an extra 12 hours each concert session for a retreat that is part rehearsal and part social interaction for members.

The week before a performance brings 16 hours of technical rehearsal (four hours a day for four days).

“I love tech week,” Rushlau said. “We bring all the important details to life. We have a great artistic staff who are always there to help and support us as we work through learning all our music. There are so many people and so much activity behind the scenes that support us and make us what we are.”

Most seasons consist of two concerts, a holiday concert in December and a Pride concert in June, but additional performances are occasionally added throughout the year.

Past performances have included singing the national anthem at the Omaha Storm Chasers games during Pride Month, as well as performances for church services and schools — and a special concert this year celebrating the chorus’s 40th anniversary.

Additionally, this year, there will be a GALA Chorus Convention from July 10 -14, and River City Mixed Chorus will be performing in concerts at the convention, which Velyrre said she will be attending.

Rushlau also previously served as chorus president for four years.

“I loved being able to fill that position,” she said. “It gave me so much insight to the chorus and our mission and let me see how we’ve evolved through the years. I received so much knowledge of times gone by and how members had to fight to keep this chorus going. Being in that position really cemented my love and appreciation of the chorus.”

With this month being Pride Month, it’s a special time for members of the LGTBQ+ community and their allies. Rushlau and Velyrre said the choir has been a venue of support and visibility in their celebration of Pride.

“For me, Pride is all about being able to be who I am and show to the world that it's normal. I spent almost 25 years in the closet, hating myself and feeling that there was something wrong with me. I think a big part of staying closeted and not accepting myself was because there weren't many visible trans people when I was growing up,” Velyrre said.

“River City Mixed Chorus has numerous trans and non-binary members, which gives us visibility and helps show those who attend our concerts that it’s okay to be trans.”

“Pride is a time to really stand up and be who we are and do it loud and proud! It’s a time for like minds to come together to help fulfill the mission of inclusivity and do it with passion and fun,” Rushlau said. “The chorus takes part in the Pride parade every year, and we always have a booth at the event. We use the opportunity to share our message with everyone and do some recruiting for new member auditions.”

“Being part of RCMC has truly been inspiring and life altering for me,” Rushlau shared.

“I admit I didn’t know much about the LGBTQ community early on and being part of the chorus gave me the opportunity to learn and grow and meet so many wonderful individuals. It’s given me the opportunity to spend time with others like me, showing me what it’s like to live life as yourself and doing it out loud and proud! I’m not sure that I would have learned all I did without being a part of RCMC.”

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