It’s difficult to say what excites the members of the Corazón Vocal Ensemble more: the music they sing, or working with choir director Allison Girvan.
“I’ve known Allison for a long time as well, and I just love her,” explains 16-year-old Mikaiya Austin. “I always watched her with her students, and she’s a pretty amazing woman. And the world music, it’s beautiful.”
“It’s Allison to a huge degree,” suggests 19-year-old Geordi Campos, a five-year Corazón veteran. “But also the choice in the repertoire is very different from a lot of other singing groups. There’s a lot of variation and a lot of different cultures that we blend together.”
The more than 60 teenagers who make up the choral group are back from their annual spring tour, ready for a trio of year-end shows that will highlight both their connection with each other and their range.
Formed just over a decade ago, the group boasts singers handpicked from the Capitol Theatre’s summer youth program (Campos) as well as those who grew up listening to earlier versions of the Corazón (Austin). The group performs pieces in “as many languages as we can find,” says Girvan. This year, that includes two African dialects, Ladino, Bulgarian and Italian, as well as English.
While pronunciation and enunciation can be tricky for singers, Austin says learning the ins and outs of another language also has its rewards.
“You can connect with the piece in a different way,” she says. “And when it comes from different countries we learn about what each of these songs means and how it relates to different cultures. It’s really neat. It gives a whole different meaning to what you’re singing.”
For Girvan, that’s the whole point.
“What it does is open up the discussion to how we as people who share the human condition also share similar emotions, similar trials,” she says.
“Once you start translating things and discovering the things expressed in another language are the same things that would be expressed in an English pieces of music, it becomes very easy to make those connections between different cultures.”
Because the Corazón singers examine the emotions behind their pieces — and, in many cases, devise culturally appropriate choreography (“that doesn’t come off as corny at all,” Campos adds) — they often resonate with audiences in ways other choirs singing foreign language pieces might not.
“We strive to sing things with musical integrity, but there’s an intangible quality that the group has, which seems to come through when they sing in front of audiences,” Girvan says. “There’s a openness about how they approach things that really leaves people undone when they experience it.”
“With our group you kind of get a feel of the emotion, because we put a lot of that into the words,” says Campos.
“And we sing it and it just comes across as a very emotionally riveting piece.”
This year’s Corazón Vocal Ensemble year-end shows run at 3, 6 and 8 p.m. Saturday at the Nelson United Church. Tickets are $18 for adults and $12 for students and seniors, and are available in advance at Eddy Music. The 3 p.m. show features a special performance by children’s choir VoixVive.