BY MARGARET STACEY
Allison Girvan received the Nelson Rotary Club’s Vocational Award of Merit on March 22. The annual award is for excellence in a person’s profession, honouring high ethics and mentorship.
Girvan and her son Gabriel sang “The Parting Glass” to the Rotary Club after Chris Fairbank’s presentation, and she commented that her work had been made possible by the community and its singers.
A Prince George native, Girvan first appeared in Nelson in 1989, with her husband-to-be Don Macdonald for a summer program at the Capitol Theatre, notably starring and stunning audiences musically as an Anne Murray-ish singer in a show called Love is Strange. She had been studying music at the University of Victoria and has since distinguished herself in the Vancouver Electra Women’s Choir, the Vancouver Chamber Choir, the CBC Vancouver Orchestra, the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, vocalist for studio sessions for radio, TV and feature films and as a vocalist with John McDermott on tour and PBS.
Girvan’s Nelson career began as a musical director for the choirs at Nelson United Church, and she initiated a girls’ choir, which morphed and grew later into Nelson’s first cultural ambassador and award winning choir, Corazon.
She took on the directorship of the Shenango Singers sisterhood, and has also branched her work into a senior youth ensemble Laline, as well as a younger group VoixVive, and boys have been attracted to the choirs in recent years.
Girvan has also served as the musical director for the Capitol’s summer program for many years. She has been a star performer in the Nelson Community Opera and Amy Ferguson Institute productions, as well as the Capitol Theatre and Overture Concerts series. Girvan is a director on the Board of the Amy Ferguson Institute which promotes choral and vocal music.
Girvan and Macdonald have two sons, Gabriel and Duncan. Gabriel distinguished himself recently by winning a Kootenay vocal competition and also appeared as a lead apostle in Jesus Christ Superstar this past year. Duncan now sings with Allison’s younger choir.
Those are Girvan’s facts. But what the Rotary Club praises by this award is her impact on the young people and adults of Nelson; her mentorship has always gone above and beyond the work of vocal performance teaching. Girvan is famous for her international style of teaching — “anything but English” sometimes; Celtic, Finnish and Hungarian never intimidate her and therefore all her students just fly with it, laughing at the sometimes bizarre folk translations Girvan delivers before the songs are performed. She is beloved for her sense of humour and passion in music teaching, and young people want to emulate her grace and dignity, so it is no hyperbole to say that she is a wonderful role model for them.
As a teacher she requires a high standard of behaviour and ethics from her students, co-workers, and choral friends. Girvan is generous with her time and talent. She believes music is a window on the world for her choirs, and she challenges them to do much more than sing well; they have to sing with heart and understanding. Always curious and seeking new music, she challenges her groups technically. Girvan also has a gift for making everybody shine in some way in performance.
Girvan has found ways to develop relationships with the wealth of musicians and creative organizations in the Nelson area, constantly inventing new performance opportunities, often for local fundraisers. For example, Girvan, with two other professional community sopranos, Noemi Kiss and Kathleen Neudorf, delivered a Monteverdi piece for a recent local performance, and in early April, Corazon will be showcasing concerts in the Touchstones gallery.
The joy of singing is Girvan’s legacy to our community. We are very fortunate that she has chosen to bequeath it here with love.