Allison Girvan (left) with Malaika Horswill. Photo: Bill Metcalfe

Allison Girvan (left) with Malaika Horswill. Photo: Bill Metcalfe

Corazón youth choir to restart with new director and cautious COVID-19 protocols

Malaika Horswill will take over from Allison Girvan as director

Submitted by the Corazón Vocal Ensemble

After closing down at the beginning of the pandemic, Nelson’s youth choir Corazón will restart later this fall, but slowly and carefully.

There will be many changes, including a new director, a smaller group, and enhanced COVID-19 protocols at rehearsals.

Allison Girvan, who has directed Corazón for 20 years and brought the group to national prominence for its innovative presentation and repertoire, is stepping back, to be replaced by Malaika Horswill.

Malaika grew up in Nelson, began singing in Corazón at age 11, and then got a degree in education at the University of Alberta while singing in the Edmonton choirs Kokopelli and Òran.

For the past five years she has directed Gracenote and Kôr, two young adult choirs in Vancouver.

In the year leading up to the pandemic, Allison had come to the conclusion that because of her workload and some deterioration in the quality of her voice, she had to either stop teaching or stop performing.

Then the pandemic hit, and she had to stop both. At about the same time, she discovered that Malaika was planning to move back to Nelson.

In her email to Corazón singers early this year announcing her departure and Malaika’s arrival, Allison wrote: “There is a short list of exactly one person whom I would trust to bring the right balance of personality and musicianship … and who understands our special place in Nelson and all the treasures and limitations of a smaller city.

It’s not common for choir directors to arrange music for their group, but this has been one of Allison’s and Corazón’s hallmarks. Malaika is also an experienced choral arranger.

“There was so much similarity between how we approach things, and also our skill sets,” Allison says. “And at the same time Malaika has so many qualities that are different than mine, to breathe new life into into the organization, a fresh perspective.”

Malaika, busy planning the upcoming year, says she is still a bit overwhelmed with disbelief.

“I was 14 years old when I decided that I was going to be Allison Girvan when I grew up. It was the plan. And I have since learned that I can’t do that. I have to be me, and that’s a beautiful thing too.”

Pre-pandemic, Allison directed about 150 young choral singers in six youth choirs in Nelson, including Corazón.

The three youngest groups in that family of choirs, Voix Vive, SongCore and Fireflies, whose members range in age from four to 12, will not be starting up this year.

Allison will continue to direct Lalin, a small choir of singers a bit older than Corazón. Malaika will direct Solstice, age 13 and 14, in addition to Corazón.

Early in the pandemic, 53 members of a choir in Washington became ill with COVID-19 and three of them died following two rehearsals that were identified as the source of the spread.

“And now,” says Allison, “the decisions choral directors all over the world are needing to make about how and if to restart are incredibly difficult and laden with extra layers of consideration.

“All directors are doing their best to protect their singing communities and safeguard against a repeat of events that have scarred the global choral community.”

Corazón will start with two online meetings in October, with the first in-person rehearsal on Oct. 26, by which date singers must be double vaccinated. This requirement is a response to the special challenges facing choirs in the pandemic.

Masks will be worn and rehearsals will be shortened to one hour in length. Corazón’s size will limited to allow for physical distancing, but there are still some spaces open. Anyone age 15 to 25 wishing to audition for Corazón, or age 13-14 for Solstice, should email choir.malaika@gmail.com before Oct. 1.