LGBTQ+ Voices: Interview with Donald Callen Freed

Title

LGBTQ+ Voices: Interview with Donald Callen Freed

Subject

Queer Omaha Archives
Sexual minorities -- Nebraska -- Omaha
Interviews
Oral Histories (document genre)

Description

Click here to access the interview, LGBTQ+ Voices: Interview with Donald Callen Freed

Dr. Donald Callen Freed, educator and LGBTQ+ advocate, was interviewed by Luke Wegener on July 31, 2019 in Omaha, Nebraska. Freed shared information about his upbringing in Loomis, Nebraska, experiencing difficulty growing up gay in a small town, his passion for music early in life, exploring his sexuality while attending Nebraska Wesleyan University and the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, his relationship with his partner of nearly 30 years, and his decades of work as a music educator.

Biographical Sketch 

Dr. Donald Callen Freed, born in Holdrege, Nebraska, is a white, gay man, retired educator, musician and LGBTQ+ advocate. Freed grew up on a farm three miles north of Loomis, Nebraska, and attended Loomis Public Schools. In 1970, Freed graduated valedictorian from his senior class and attended Nebraska Wesleyan University (Lincoln, Nebraska) from 1970-1974, where he earned his BM in Applied Voice and Choral Music Education. Freed continued his education at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL), where he earned his MM in Vocal Performance and Pedagogy in 1978.  

From 1983-1987, Freed worked as Director of Choral Activities and Instructor of Voice at Peru Stage College, but decided to pursue his education further after encouragement from a mentor. He began a PhD program at UNL in 1987, where he graduated with his doctorate in Vocal Pedagogy and Choral Music Education in 1991. After completing his education, Freed taught at Hastings College in Hastings, Nebraska, as Instructor of Music (1993-2005). In 2005, Freed moved to Alpine, Texas, where he was Head of the Music Program and a Professor of Voice until he retired in 2018.  

Freed has published numerous articles, scholarly reviews and compositions, and is a recipient of the UNL Distinguished Music Alumni Award and UNL Graduate Student Award. He is a member of the National Association of Teachers of Singing, American Choral Directors Association, College Music Society, River City Mixed Chorus, River’s Edge, University of Nebraska Foundation Burnett Society, and Omaha’s First United Methodist Church.  

As of August 2019, Freed lives in Omaha, Nebraska.  

Interview Summary 

Dr. Donald Callen Freed, educator and LGBTQ+ advocate, was interviewed by Luke Wegener on July 31, 2019 in Omaha, Nebraska. Freed was born in Holdrege, Nebraska in the early 1950’s and grew up as the oldest of three boys on a farm north of Loomis, Nebraska. His father, Donald William Freed (1925-2005), was a US Army Veteran who fought in the Siege of Bastogne and Battle of the Bulge during World War II. Freed’s mother, Mary Louise Callen Freed (1926-2005), was an archeologist and anthropologist. Both of Freed’s parents were “serious intellectuals,” introverts and voracious readers. 

Growing up in a small town as a “sissy and a smarty” was difficult for Freed, and he was socially ostracized and treated poorly by his peers. He wasn’t aware of his sexuality, as he had never heard the term “gay.” Freed survived this difficult time by focusing his energy on reading, schoolwork, and extracurricular activities. At age 14, he began piano and voice lessons and threw himself into his music. 

Freed’s family was active in the United Methodist Church, which was social justice oriented. At age 16 (1968), he attended Nebraska’s United Methodist Conference at First United Methodist Church in Omaha. There he saw activists and civil rights leaders speak, like Senator Ernie Chambers.  

After graduating valedictorian from Loomis Public Schools in 1970, Freed attended Nebraska Wesleyan University (Lincoln, Nebraska) from 1970-1974, where he earned his BM in Applied Voice and Choral Music Education. During this time, Freed had sexual experiences with other men and visited Lincoln’s hottest cruising spot, the Nebraska State Capitol. However, he still felt these sexual experiences were an “aberration” and shameful.  

Freed continued his education at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL), where he earned his MM in Vocal Performance and Pedagogy in 1978. In 1983Freed began teaching at Peru State College, where he was Director of Choral Activities and Instructor of Voice (1983-1987). That same year, Freed moved in with a friend, Larry Ebmeier, and the two unexpectedly fell in love. The couple were together for nearly 30 years (1983-2011). For most of his career, Ebmeier worked as a Pharmacist at Bryan East Medical Center in Lincoln. He was also a writer who published four gay novels in the 1980’s, some under the pseudonym Clayton R. Graham.  

In 1987, Freed decided to pursue his education further after encouragement from a mentor. He began a PhD program at UNL in 1987, where he graduated with his doctorate in Vocal Pedagogy and Choral Music Education in 1991. That same year, at age 39, Freed finally came out to his parents by bringing Ebmeier home to meet them. They accepted and welcomed Ebmeier into the family. 

After completing his education, Freed taught at Hastings College in Hastings, Nebraska, as Instructor of Music (1993-2005). In 2005, Freed and his partner moved together to Alpine, Texas, where he was Head of the Music Program and Professor of Voice. In 2011, Ebmeier tragically died in a biking accident near Marfa, Texas. Freed retired in 2018 and moved back to Nebraska. 

Freed has published numerous articles, scholarly reviews and compositions, and is a recipient of the UNL Distinguished Music Alumni Award and UNL Graduate Student Award. He is a member of the National Association of Teachers of Singing, American Choral Directors Association, College Music Society, River City Mixed Chorus, River’s Edge, University of Nebraska Foundation Burnett Society, and Omaha’s First United Methodist Church.  

As of August 2019, Freed lives in Omaha, Nebraska. 

In this interview, Freed also reads excerpts from books Farm Boys: Lives of Gay Men from the Rural Midwest (1996) by Will Fellows, and How Sex Changed: A History of Transsexuality in the United States (2004) by Joanne Meyerowitz. He also discusses his Great Aunt Irmis Johnson, who interviewed transgender celebrity Christine Jorgensen in the 1950’s. 

Interview Notes 

Trigger warning for discussions of death. 

Date

2019 July 31

Creator

Luke Wegener

Publisher

University of Nebraska at Omaha Libraries

Relation

LGBTQ+ Oral History Collection finding aid available at https://archives.nebraska.edu/repositories/4/resources/604

Interviewer

Luke Wegener

Interviewee

Donald Callen Freed

Duration

2:09:36

Files

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Citation

Luke Wegener, “LGBTQ+ Voices: Interview with Donald Callen Freed,” Queer Omaha Archives | UNO Libraries, accessed April 11, 2021, https://queeromahaarchives.omeka.net/items/show/3314.

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