CNMN > Projects > Allison Girvan: Music is the Vehicle for Community Building

Allison Girvan

  • Voice
  • 13 to 18 years of age
  • Adults
  • Intergenerational

Lalin meets September- June; Fireworks Choir is one rehearsal and one performance in a day

  • Community associations
  • Diversity

Allison Girvan: Music is the Vehicle for Community Building


Explore choirs as a vehi­cle for com­mu­ni­ty build­ing with Alli­son Gir­van, a con­duc­tor who uses glob­al song to cre­ate con­nec­tions and build rela­tion­ships across cul­tur­al differences.

Alli­son is a choral con­duc­tor and com­mu­ni­ty music prac­ti­tion­er in Nel­son, British Colum­bia. She has orga­nized 5 com­mu­ni­ty choirs of a vari­ety of ages. The doc­u­men­tary features:

Fire­works Com­mu­ni­ty Choir, open to any and all singers for one annu­al event, open to as many peo­ple who would like to come and sing togeth­er in the com­mu­ni­ty. In 2023, the choir had 250 par­tic­i­pants, which was the first time this spe­cial choir hap­pened since the pandemic. 

Lalin Vocal Ensem­ble, an audi­tioned choir of young adults that grew out of the youth choir pro­gram, as there were singers in the teen group want­i­ng to con­tin­ue , and Alli­son iden­ti­fied oppor­tu­ni­ties for lead­er­ship and men­tor­ship devel­op­ment, as well as dig­ging into more chal­leng­ing repertoire. 

Phi­los­o­phy under­pin­ning choral work

To Alli­son, it is a mis­per­cep­tion that a focus on com­mu­ni­ty-build­ing in choirs will com­pro­mise musi­cal excel­lence. By nur­tur­ing trust, and inte­grat­ing inten­tion­al social inter­ac­tions such as eat­ing togeth­er or going on a trip togeth­er, the music changes in a pro­found way.

As some­one with mixed her­itage, Alli­son finds glob­al music pro­vides a lens to look at ways in which peo­ple share the human expe­ri­ence. Approach­ing reper­toire is a way into anoth­er culture’s music based on integri­ty: how do these words res­onate for each singer? What do the words mean? Singing diverse reper­toire helps singers con­nect across cul­tur­al differences.

Com­pe­ten­cies to do this work well

Cul­tur­al com­pe­ten­cy:  In choos­ing diverse reper­toire, Alli­son ensures that music is appro­pri­ate to be sung. Some cul­tures, espe­cial­ly Indige­nous soci­eties, do not share songs out­side of par­tic­u­lar con­texts or peo­ple, unless a song is gift­ed. Addi­tion­al­ly, some groups who have a his­to­ry of oppres­sion may be reclaim­ing their own music, so Alli­son is care­ful to build rela­tion­ships to nav­i­gate these choic­es. This involves talk­ing to many peo­ple of those cul­tures, and know­ing how to own up to a mis­take if it is made. 

Empa­thy and space for emo­tions: If a rehearsal goes by with­out the choir laugh­ing, some­thing is miss­ing. Peo­ple may express them­selves joy­ful­ly one day, or more sor­row­ful­ly the next. Trust that what­ev­er is pre­sent­ed is what needs to hap­pen. Mutu­al trust allows grace to be giv­en to the facil­i­ta­tor as well since there is a mutu­al under­stand­ing and for­give­ness that has been cultivated. 

Embod­i­ment of group val­ues:
Lead­ing by exam­ple and ignit­ing joy, kind­ness, con­fi­dence and com­pas­sion all help the group to reach those goals faster col­lec­tive­ly by see­ing an exam­ple of it. 

Con­duct­ing is rela­tion­al: rather than the con­duc­tor “mak­ing” the music, Alli­son sees con­duct­ing as in elec­tric­i­ty, that ener­gy pass­es through the con­duc­tor to singers. Con­duct­ing is rela­tion­al, tak­ing the ener­gy and reflect­ing it to the group and the audience. 

Musi­cal skills respon­sive to the par­tic­i­pants: singers describe Allison’s musi­cal abil­i­ty in know­ing what to keep and what to let go of. Alli­son is trained as a singer and con­duc­tor, but she is com­pelled to use that train­ing to build community.

View sec­tions of the documentary:

00:00 Intro­duc­ing Alli­son and her choral work 

01:07 Fire­works Com­mu­ni­ty Choir 

02:30 Lalin Vocal Ensem­ble 

03:44 Phi­los­o­phy of choral singing

07:48 Competencies

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