Two of the region’s most well known voices have come together to bring to life the beauty of choral music in an otherworldly album titled breaTH.
In the works for five years, Selkirk College Contemporary Music & Technology Program instructor Don Macdonald and his wife Allison Girvan provide all the vocals on the 10-track album that transports the listener to a full choir experience.
“This album is for anyone that enjoys choir music, thought provoking poetry, or just something a little out of the ordinary,” says Macdonald, who did the majority of the recording for the album over the last six months at his home studio. “It’s good Sunday morning rainy day music.”
The latest offering is the third album Macdonald and Girvan have released together, joining the catalogue withResonance and Fishing by the Light of Ancestors. The impetus forbreaTH came from several years of demos for sheet music publishers the couple recorded using only their two voices. Macdonald chose these particular songs to record because they shared a common thread of rich harmonic texture.
“I started improvising on the piano in about Grade 10 having very little idea what I was doing, but I remember just focusing on creating chords that I found interesting and chaining them together,” Macdonald says of his creative process for breaTH. “I think not knowing what I was doing was helpful in that it made me build a vocabulary of ideas that didn’t come from a book, that were in some ways chance encounters that lead to developing my own style. This focus on harmony is what I would consider the centerpiece of the album—harmony can go from brittle and cold sounding in one moment to warm and nurturing in the next—I’m constantly in search of the perfect companion to the poetry.”
Macdonald grew up in Nelson where he first started performing in Mathilde Klassen’s boys choir at the age of five. He went on to study music at the University of Victoria as a composition major and in 1985 first met Allison who was a clarinet major and then switched to vocals in her second year. They both became members of the University of Victoria Chamber Singers, an auditioned group of 20 singers who toured to various locations around the world.
Though the couple has chosen to live in a rural setting, both Macdonald and Girvan have extensive catalogues of work that travels far beyond the West Kootenay. Macdonald has written soundtracks for more than 50 film and television productions, receiving numerous awards for his work. Girvan has recorded two solo albums, toured in several different solo and group performances, and is the beloved director of the Corazon Youth Choir.
In 2009, Nelson’s Amy Ferguson Institute commissioned Macdonald and local playwright Nicola Harwood to create the ambitious KHAOS opera which made its world premiere at the Capitol Theatre and received acclaim at the highest levels. The local production starred Girvan as the soprano in the re-imagining of a Greek myth of Demeter and Persephone set in a contemporary world of climate change.
“This year marks our 26th year of being married, but we were collaborating way before that,” Macdonald says. “We have always worked well together. There’s a shared respect for what the other brings to the table. I am always bouncing ideas off her and consider her to be one of the best musicians I have ever known.”
At the Selkirk College Tenth Street Campus, Macdonald teaches Composition, Film Scoring, Ear Training and Improvisation in the two-year Contemporary Music & Technology Program. Continuing to learn and delve into territory that is unfamiliar and challenging is something Macdonald hopes rubs off on his students.
“Recording an album is my way of staying in the industry and then being able to communicate those industry experiences to my students,” says Macdonald, who is in his 22nd year as Selkirk College faculty. “I don’t want to teach music like it’s all from a book. The strange thing about music these days is that the way things are done, both from a creative perspective and a business perspective, is changing so rapidly that by the time a book is created delving into a current trend, that trend has quickly become obsolete.”
Macdonald credits coming to class to teach the next generation of musicians as a vital component of his passion for the craft.
“I feel incredibly luckily to be here immersed in this creative world and I think I’m as compelled to be active musically now as when I started this life-long adventure,” he says. “The students are a constant source of inspiration to me and I feel lucky to have so many of them as my friends and colleagues.”
You can find breaTH on iTunes and CD Baby or head to Macdonald’s website at donmacdonaldmusic.com. Learn more about the Selkirk College Contemporary Music & Technology Program at selkirk.ca/music.