For the past 10 years, Jenn Forsland has played an integral role in the Comox Valley music scene. In addition to performing regularly with a variety of ensembles (jazz, folk, rock, roots, bluegrass and classical), she also directs the Celebration Singers. She teaches privately, is the classroom music teacher at the award-winning School District #71 Navigate Fine Arts Academy, and has led the CYMC Festival Chorus and MusiCamp Alberta Choirs on several occasions. A distinguished graduate of the music education program at UVic, Jenn trained classically as a vocalist, pianist, and conductor. For over 20 years, Jenn has worked with singers of all ages, as a teacher, conductor, adjudicator, and clinician. In both Alberta and BC, her students and choirs have received gracious recognition locally, provincially and nationally for their fine musicianship and technical excellence. She regularly facilitates teacher workshops and has directed various honour and demonstration choirs. With enthusiasm and passion, she inspires singers of all ages to work towards choral and vocal excellence, musical sensitivity and a joyful expression of self through the shared musical experience.
After attending the University of British Columbia, where she was able to sing with the UBC Choral Union and Collegium Musicum, Jo-Anne began her musical career teaching high school music in Campbell River, BC. For many years, she also conducted the Campbell River Singers.
While returning to UBC to retrain as an ESL teacher, Jo-Anne was privileged to sing in the Vancouver Cantata Singers. A founding member of Island Voices Chamber Choir, she began conducting in 2006, after the passing of her dear friend and musical visionary, Frances Keen.
Although Island Voices is based in a rural area, Jo-Anne has been able to develop her skills by bringing excellent clinicians such as Ramona Luengen, Bruce Pullan, Diane Loomer and Barbara Prowse to work with her and the choir at the annual choir retreats.
Perhaps growing up in Quesnel predisposed her to life away from the urban currents. It certainly predisposed her to a musical life. As the daughter of the church organist, she was destined to a childhood of choir singing and piano lessons. This early interest led her to travel to the University of Victoria, where she studied piano and conducting before training as a teacher.
In 1980, Frances came to Campbell River to teach in the elementary music program. Almost immediately she began her long association with the Campbell River Singers community choir, first as an accompanist and then, for many years, as its conductor and musical director. Later she became a founding member of Another Pacific Disturbance, a small a cappella choir centred in Campbell River.
It was during this period of choral activity that Frances was accepted into a conducting master class with the renowned Canadian conductor Elmer Iseler and his acclaimed choir. More than anything, it was this experience that committed her to the challenging conducting path that she has followed since.
In the Fall of 1997 Frances was encouraged by her friends and musical accomplices to start an auditioned chamber choir, dedicated to the fine performance of the a cappella chamber choir repertoire. The group of singers she assembled came from Quadra Island in the north to Denman Island in the south and from all along the big island in between. The Island Voices Chamber Choir was born.
Frances may have been diminutive in stature, but she was full of big ideas. She pushed her choir to “sing excellent music, excellently”, but she pushed herself, too. Passionate about becoming the best conductor she could be, she was never shy about seeking advice from the best. A personal highlight for her was her participation in the National Conductors’ Symposium with Jon Washburn and the Vancouver Chamber Choir in 2004. Already ill, she took strength from the challenge of conducting a professional choir singing difficult music in front of a knowledgeable audience. The kudos she earned were the most powerful form of medicine possible for her.
During her four-year battle with cancer she shared conducting duties with Jo-Anne Preston, but never wavered in her commitment to Island Voices. She succumbed on July 2, 2006 and left many to grieve. She left a rich legacy of personal and professional accomplishment, the gift of her love for her friends and family and a choir that still sings for her.
A choir is, almost by definition, greater than the sum of its parts; it thrives on the passion and commitment of its singers and the relationships that make it whole. But it also needs a director with the vision, tenacity, musicality and talent to make the magic that is choral music. From the founding of Island Voices in 1996 until her passing in 2006, Frances Keen provided the inspiration, motivation and love that sustained our choir.
A young and talented musician with ambitious musical dreams, looking for a home base, might be forgiven for not thinking at first of Black Creek. But that is where Frances Keen settled, raised a family, made a career as a teacher and launched what has been called “Vancouver Island’s best kept musical secret”, the Island Voices Chamber Choir.