REMINISCENCES: The Grand Forks Choral Society

Celebrating over 20 years as a group, the Grand Forks Choral Society continues to produce inspiring concerts.

The Grand Forks Choral Society's new musical director Kirsten Nicolson (left)

Celebrating over 20 years as a group, the Grand Forks Choral Society continues to produce inspiring concerts that leave residents in a whimsical state.

After founding director Tracey Garvin (nee Bourrel) arrived in Grand Forks in 1988, she was eager to start a community choir.

“I just love to sing and wanted to create the opportunity for others to be able to join together to create the magic a choir seems to be able to do!” she explained.

Along with Garvin, music teacher Bruce Gratten and voice teacher Jill McVie helped to organize the new society. Open to both youth and seniors alike, the inaugural meeting was held on Oct. 13, 1988 in Room 4 at Perley Elementary School.

The choral society’s debut Christmas concert had them alongside the students of Grand Forks Secondary School, who performed productions of Hillbilly Christmas and The Baddest Angels.

The choir ended up singing four songs in its first night, including Do you Hear What I Hear, and Carols Around.

Since its inception, the choral society has performed at the Yale Hotel for a gathering of municipal officials in 1989, as a part of the Boundary District Arts Council Performance Arts Series and a Friends in Need Telethon (via videotape).

Over the years, the choir has sung with the Gospel Choir, the Sopranos, as well as the Sopraninos. The newly formed Doukhobor Community Choir joined the choral society at this year’s Christmas concert, Peace on Earth.

Garvin fondly recalls the laughs shared during rehearsals and the trips the society made as a group.

“We travelled to Kelowna, Trail and Nelson for festivals of various kinds,” she told The Gazette. “The concerts (especially the ones when we showcased the high school kids), hosting orchestras to collaborate larger classical works, singing at the hospitals and care homes at Christmas – and the list goes on and on!”

The Grand Forks Choral Society has also welcomed many new members over the years and continues to do so.

Nancy Gillmor has been a part of the choral society since the very beginning and has been president for most of that time.

“The first night I went to the choir startup I knew I had to become a member,” she pointed out after seeing an article in The Gazette about a choir starting up. “The director was Tracey Bourrel (now Garvin) who was effervescent.  She just had this incredible bubbly personality (and) we soon became best friends. At the time, I was writing articles for the Phoenix Ski Hill and I wasn’t sure that I would have time to commit to singing, since I also I had three young children.”

In the end, Gillmor joined for herself for her own time and she recommends others to join as well, since singing is great for one’s health.

Gillmor noted the choir has continued to mature and evolve since she joined the society 24 years ago.

“The biggest changes over the 24 years are how the Grand Forks art scene has matured and evolved as well,” she explained. “The Grand Forks audience has become more refined and more available to enjoy the music. I know the choir is evolving in the way it needs to go.”

The directors, accompanists, larger productions with greater numbers of people and groups, along with the lighting and special effects have also evolved, added Garvin.

As for Gillmor, it is her love of music that keeps her coming back each year, with its wide musical selection for festive tunes, classical selections or Top-40 favourites.

Similarly, Joan Thompson joined the choral society because she felt it would be a great way to meet people.

“I had just bought a house at the lake, was on a sabbatical from work on the coast, and thought it might be a good way to connect with some people and musical life of the community,” Thompson explained.

Though she joined in 1998, Thompson has been the musical director for the choral society for the past five years. She has also served in various other capacities, from an accompanist to section coach, soloist and musical arranger, as well as the conductor of guest choirs.

Her most memorable moments are the appreciation she receives from its members and the care given.

“The cards, gifts, donations, (and) visits to hospitals; these are all ways the choral society demonstrates a core value of its organization – people come first!” she said.

Thompson pointed out the direction of the choir is up to the new director but it would be great to see the society maintain it strong infrastructure, membership and presence in the community.

She recently stepped down as the musical director after the last choral society Christmas concert, Peace on Earth.

“There’s a greater commitment to musical integrity,” she added. “ In addition to being a social and recreational activity, singers are willing to put work in necessary to make music ‘speak’ or connect in concerts.”

Though Thompson will not be participating in future concerts, she will remain with them in spirit. She does encourage residents to join for its recreation value and love of music.

“It is a wonderful way to experience inimitable feeling of creating harmony with others, and offering that to your audiences,” she concluded.

Taking over for Thompson is Kirstin Nicolson, who noted the spring concert would be focused on the theme “coming home,” and Nicole Frasier.