Many Voices, One Song

Krystiane Cooper (Cheetham) '92

Krystiane Cooper (Cheetham) ’92

Major: music and religion double major

Advanced Degrees: M. Mus., Vocal Performance, Washington University in Saint Louis; MSW, Clinical Social Work, NYU

I entered Mount Holyoke College hopeful to major in psych-bio, and I left a music and religion double-major. Though I am now a clinical social worker focused on providing psychotherapy to children and families, music has been the center of my life. It has been THE helpful, sustaining, and fulfilling constant that allows me to go to work every day and avoid burnout. Music heals.

I worked consistently as a professional choral singer and soloist since I left the College, but found I had another calling. The world of under-served children needed my "voice." Less than ten years after graduation, I worked to obtain my MSW, then working with parolees, traumatized children, homeless families, and students in deeply impoverished areas within the School District of Philadelphia.

All of these needed (and still need) advocates with a strong, LOUD, convincing voice. A voice for those who have none. A voice for those who have little access to power. A voice for those whom others ignore, pity, judge, or revile.

Mount Holyoke not only encouraged me to use my singing voice. Mount Holyoke gave me the confidence, energy, platform, and support to develop a voice for social justice, advocacy, equity, and compassion.

Working with trauma is stressful. It is even more stressful when working within deeply complicated and unbalanced, under-funded systems. At the end of a workday, I often felt completely spent; physically exhausted and emotionally drained. Yet, my day was often just beginning, because usually, I had rehearsals to attend (my "other" gig). I was singing as a professional with the Philadelphia Singers.

Lengthy rehearsals for many evenings in succession could have been additionally exhausting. Yet — this was my spiritual, emotional, and psychic "food" — my sustenance. I often left rehearsal late at night simply energized, awakened, and renewed. I was ready for another day of working "in the trenches." I continue to believe that singing is what allowed me to continue to do the very difficult work of processing and holding children's traumatic stories. I could not have managed without the gift of choral music.

Since the dissolution of Philadelphia Singers in 2015, I have felt the great loss of community singing. I still have a church gig, and recently traveled to sing with choir-in-residence at Bristol Cathedral and Westminster Abbey. I have partnered with other professionals to present duo and solo programs. Music continues to heal me and the children whom I am privileged to serve.

When I returned for my 25th reunion, I noted something: many of the 1992 Mount Holyoke alums were working in the nonprofit sector. Why was this? When I went back and looked at the mission, it made so much sense.

"Mount Holyoke’s mission is to provide an intellectually adventurous education in the liberal arts and sciences through academic programs recognized internationally for their excellence and range; to draw students from all backgrounds into an exceptionally diverse and inclusive learning community with a highly accomplished, committed, and responsive faculty and staff; to continue building on the College’s historic legacy of leadership in the education of women; and to prepare students, through a liberal education integrating curriculum and careers, for lives of thoughtful, effective, and purposeful engagement in the world."

"Lives of thoughtful, effective, and purposeful engagement in the world." Yes. This was it. In Mount Holyoke's MISSION is the VISION of women prepared to engage in the world for social justice, change, equity, and PURPOSE. My Mount Holyoke experience and education, in music, religion, and beyond — prepared me to use and engage my voice in the world both through singing AND through social justice.

How amazing is that?

Donor Spotlight: Krystiane Cheetham Cooper ’92. “Thank you, Mount Holyoke, for giving my voice a place to sing.”