“I graduated from the University of Waterloo with a Psychology degree and had more music credits than psych,” Conrad Grebel University College alum Jane Ramseyer Miller remarked. “That should have been a clue.” For much of her career, Jane worked as the Artistic Director for One Voice Mixed Chorus, a choir that provides a space for those in the LGBTQ+ community to find belonging while doing what they love: making music! Jane’s personal success ran alongside One Voice’s own, as the organization grew from one staff member – Jane herself – and a mere 40 singers to housing a staff of four with a cap of 125 singers. 

Jane’s story centers on a tug-of-war between passion and practicality, a universal qualm that many young adults struggle with today. Jane’s story serves as a reminder to seize each day with purposeful intention and to live with courage. 

Growing up in a Mennonite community, music had always been a part of Jane’s life. She grew up singing in four-part harmonies – a staple in Mennonite music – at home and in the car traveling with her family. It was Jane’s Mennonite connection that brought her to the 1979 Mennonite Youth Convention at the University of Waterloo, where she left with a brochure for Grebel in her luggage. Jane explained that she “was drawn to the idea of attending a huge university but having a small residential community as home.” With a sense of familiarity awaiting her at Grebel, Jane decided to pursue an undergraduate degree at Waterloo and study something “practical.” Jane determined this to be a degree in Psychology. 

However, while Jane began spending more time at Grebel, it was her interest in music that continued to grow. Jane took several courses in music theory, conducting, and voice-study at Grebel, and sang in both the Concert Choir and in the Chapel Choir. By the time she graduated, Jane came to a startling realization: she had accumulated more Music credits than Psychology ones! Through immersing herself in a community that encouraged students to pursue their creative interests, Jane concluded that she would be doing herself a disservice to ignore her calling in the music industry. She had to stay true to herself: “Music is part of my DNA.” 

Before coming to Grebel, Jane believed that "it wasn’t practical to be a musician unless I was a teacher.” Grebel helped Jane expand her field of view and introduced her to many musical career options. “Grebel gave me a place to write and perform creative work. All those things have contributed to my work as a musician.” During her time at Grebel, Jane was able to not only explore her love of music, but also her interests in doing social justice work: “Grebel gave me language and tools to strengthen both my music and social justice passions.” So, when asked to conduct One Voice Mixed Chorus, Jane was eager and ready to accept the role of artistic director. After conducting several choirs for 10 years, she returned to school to complete her master's degree in Choral Conducting.  

The inclusion and representation of marginalized people was always at the forefront of One Voice, something that strongly resonated with Jane’s own values. “Some of my favorite collaborations have been with a women's prison choir, a youth spoken-group ensemble, a puppet and mask theatre company, a women’s cancer center, and a Minnesota recycling program,” said Jane. “I have been involved in many peace and justice movements over my lifetime, from the peace movement in my 20s, to LGBTQ+ rights, and racial justice.” Jane has received multiple awards from the American Choral Director’s Association for her creative programming, the GALA Choruses Legacy Award for her outstanding conducting, innovative programming, and commitment to reaching out to her community.  

After 27 years of giving many in the LGBTQ and allied community an opportunity to perform music, Jane transitioned from One Voice Mixed Chorus. Jane’s love of music remains an important aspect of her life; she is currently working for GALA Choruses as Artistic Director and is organizing the GALA’s quadrennial choral Festival on July 10-14, 2024, in Minneapolis. The festival, which will consist of 200 concerts, plus workshops, guest artists, and outdoor performances by over 7000 singers, beautifully highlights the evolution of Jane’s musical career. Her drive to bring about social justice has not seen a decline either. “One of the best tools of my work as a choral director” Jane remarked, “has been to commission and champion new works by BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) and queer composers on topics you would never find at a traditional music publisher.” 

During her tenure as Artistic Director, Jane’s dedication to uplift the LGBTQ+ community has received some backlash. During a One Voice performance at a regional festival in 1998, some audience members left the venue once One Voice took the stage because their chorus promoted LGBTQ+ rights and inclusion. However, during this same performance, Jane recalled that many people in the audience wept with a strong emotional connection to the music and message from the stage. When Jane attended subsequent American Choral Directors Association events, she continued to receive praise for such a moving performance. This was a direct result of Jane's courageous commitment to represent the LGBTQ+ and allied community, even in the face of adversity. 

Jane’s decision to make music and social justice work her career after already completing her degree in Psychology sprouted from a concerted commitment to herself and her values. Her numerous achievements garnered over her expansive career, and the community she helped grow at One Voice, display her resiliency and desire to create equal opportunities for marginalized individuals. For current students choosing between “practical” fields of study and ones fueled by personal interest, Jane urges them to “choose meaningful work when possible.”  

By Jiho Mercer

Jane Ramseyer Miller graduated from the University of Waterloo in 1985 with a BA in Psychology. After working in community organizing for several years, Jane’s part-time music work began to grow and soon she was conducting three choirs.  In 1995, Jane began conducting One Voice Mixed Chorus, a 125-voice LGBTQ+ chorus in Minnesota. She received her master's degree in Choral Conducting in 2011. Today, Jane works for GALA Choruses as Artistic Director. In her free time, she is an avid biker and pickleball player. This past summer she walked around Lake Superior as part of Aat Hn Indigenous-led Water (Nibi) Walk.  

Jane's story is part of Grebel's 60 Stories for 60 Years project. Check out our 60 Stories page for more articles in this series. If you would like to nominate a Grebel alumnus to share about their experiences at Grebel, please submit a nomination form.