Today’s Poll

Daily Dose — Allison Girvan Sings her Own Tune

December 13th, 2023

Allison Girvan has led an extensive artistic career.

The college instructor is a singer, interdisciplinary artist, choral director as well as Nelson’s Cultural Ambassador in 2019.

Girvan has been a featured soloist on recordings and in performance with ensembles including musica intima, Elektra Women’s Choir, Vancouver Chamber Choir, CBC Vancouver Orchestra, Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, and a vocalist for studio sessions for radio, television, and feature film.

Since 1993, Girvan has connected with Canadian Celtic Tenor, John McDermott on recordings, international tours, and a PBS special.

Currently, Girvan teaches voice at Selkirk College.

“It’s going great. I love it. My husband has been there for 27 years. I figure I might as well join him for at least a couple of years before he retires. He teaches music,” says Girvan.

Girvan’s family is incredibly musical. One of her children is at Selkirk in third year studying guitar and the other studied performance art in post-secondary.

Girvan has been in Nelson for 27 years and her husband, Don Macdonald, grew up here. The two met when Girvan was in university and the couple came to Nelson for Macdonald’s job at Selkirk.

Girvan says she had a “very rural” upbringing:

“I grew up outside of Prince George in rural BC in Red Rock which is a tiny little place. And then moved to Victoria for university and then Vancouver for work and then Nelson,” says Girvan.

Girvan says she loves the vibrant art scene in Nelson.

“I like that the arts are valued so highly here. I think that’s pretty special for a town of this size to have arts be so central to the identity.”

When she first moved here, Girvan immediately found opportunities in the arts.

“The number of families who wanted their kids singing was remarkable so that’s how the choir started. I had private students and I got them all to sing together. [Corazón] youth choir has been going for the last 25 years.”

Girvan gets a lot of meaning from pushing the boundaries of musical expression.

“Movement has always been a huge part of how I express things artistically along with voice, and story, or the idea of a narrative throughout, has been important through decades of work.”

Allison Girvan was part of the Lalin Concert. — Photo courtesy Sabine Burns

Identity and belonging are themes that she constantly explores.

“I grew up feeling like I lived in the shadowlands. I don’t have a strong tie to any specific construct of race because I am biracial. The idea that I couldn’t fully occupy either space of “Black” or “white” forced me to explore where those parts of my identity meet and diverge. Having a family background which were both oppressors and oppressed is an interesting identity to have. It begs for exploration,” says Girvan.

She also explores our common humanity despite societal divisions.

“A lot of the things that are designed to divide us, whether intentionally or non-intentionally, are constructs and ultimately, we’re sharing a lot of the same human experiences,” says Girvan.

One way she explores this divide is by singing in other languages.

“To feel and taste another language in your mouth instead of just listening and thinking I have no idea what that person is saying is great because language is so tied to culture. Themes of love and loss, grief, joy, all these emotions are universal human emotions,” says Girvan.

Girvan learned the value of singing across cultures when she was in a professional choir before moving here.

“The list of languages we performed in was huge. Russian, Japanese, Estonian, Finnish, Lithuanian. It was endless. That was always a big joy for me. I have an ear and a desire for pronouncing things fairly authentically,” explains Girvan.

One of her current creative projects, Witness: Roots, Bark & Branches, explores relationship and identity and was recently supported by a CKCA grant for the development phase.

“It was fantastic… for a project that had to do with exploring relationship and identity, it was important to have people involved have the time and space to develop relationships. I’m so grateful for that. The next step is finding out how all of the stuff gathered is going to manifest in an installation in an art gallery,” says Girvan.

Girvan explains her work is also related to larger forces at play.

“This work is so necessary to wrap our heads around how we can deal with the catastrophes that are happening, both the climate emergency, geopolitical war and all the divisions we’re feeling. It boils down to relationship to each other and the planet and how we can reconcile ourselves to a collaborative model.”

Even though she tackles heavy subjects, she always brings humour into her artistic process.

On the side, Girvan relaxes by cooking.

“I’m such a foodie. My go-to relaxation is in the kitchen. My childhood curries are the thing that I go to most but I’ll try everything. I’m endlessly curious in the kitchen.”

Girvan recently stepped into a new role at the Capitol Theatre as their Community Engagement and Outreach Manager.

“It’s so rewarding,” says Girvan. “With the way arts organizations are heading right now, there’s an acknowledgment that there needs to be work building relationships between people, supporting community, and underserved communities.”

Girvan has also been doing work around equity in the arts.

“This year I’ve also started doing equity and access work with Arts BC in a new pilot program called Pathways. Carla Stephenson who is local was one of the four people who have researched and developed this program over several years. This fits hand in glove with the work that I’m doing at the Capitol. It’s challenging but really rewarding.”

Girvan agrees she wears many hats in our community.

“It’s like four different hats but they all look very similar when on.”

Girvan is constantly driven by relationships and deepening creative output.

“It feels like a lot of these things are gathering momentum and I’m curious about where they’ll end up going. It all comes down to relationship. Every single thing is how do we relate to each other and where can we collaborate,” says Girvan.

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