"I can't live without music in my life." — That’s why Katherine Girvin is going above and beyond to volunteer her time directing an a capella children’s choir that is gaining international attention.
The group, Chamber Bravura, has performed at the Vatican and Carnage Hall multiple times. They’ve won competitions and have been featured performers around the globe but they rehearse in different homes throughout San Diego County.
Every weekend, year-round, a group of around 35 kids comes together for rehearsal. “We've got kids from Borrego Springs. We've got kids from Lakeside, from Chula Vista. We've got kids from Scripps Ranch. We've got a kid from Camp Pendleton area," Girvin said.
And while the kids come from all corners of the county, Katherine Girvin, likely travels the farthest. Girvin is a Borrego Springs principal who drives two hours every week to volunteer for something sweet she says she can't live without.
"It's like all the ingredients come together to make this beautiful dessert,” she said.
Girvin started the group in 2012. At the time, she was a choir director at Marshall Middle School in Scripps Ranch. When some of her students were promoted to High School, Girvin started an afterschool group to keep the choir singing together.
"So we combined the veteran a capella students with the current a Capella students at the Middle School and created Chamber Bravura," Girvin said.
Girvin left her teaching position at the Middle School to pursue a career in academic administration. But Girvin kept directing Chamber Bravura and opened the group to anyone 10 to 18 years old.
The kids are talented. And they’re required to work.
"I have high expectations. There's no denying that!" Girvin said.
In fact, it's in their name. “Chamber” is the name typically associated with groups that sing without accompaniment and “Bravura,” Girvin said, means “exceeding expectations” in Italian.
They've carried their exceptional harmony around the world. They first performed abroad in 2012 at The Vatican. Their growing resume is impressive: “Italy, Germany, Austria, Australia, New Zealand, England, Ireland, Whales, and Prague. They've performed in Carnage Hall five or six times," said Girvin. "And let me tell you, they sing! Three to four times a day when we travel. It isn't like one big concert."
Incredibly, there's no audition to be part of this group. Girvin said the kids just show up and she requires them to be prepared for teamwork. “When they don't know their music then they're affecting the entire group,” Girvin said. “Being a team player means that you're showing up and you're doing your job not just for yourself, not just for me but for the person standing next to you."
Olivia Kuykendall has been singing with Chamber Bravura since the group started. She said the group credits their success to their dedicated director.
"She's just so talented and so amazing at it even though she didn't go to college for this, which is insane because she's so amazing at it!" Kuykendall said.
Nick Aguilar has been singing with the group for four years. "We put it together just like magic and for her to be here and just support us through all of this is such an amazing thing," Aguilar said.
Katherine Girvin said, while her role as choir director is often more stressful than her job as a principal, she loves it. And she directs the group basically for free. Girvin asks only for a small donation for gas money to help cover the cost of her long commute. Her musical mission is payment enough.
"Being able to bring something back to the community and the students and to change their lives with music," Girvin said.
Singer Denise Cecena said without a doubt, being part of Chamber Bravura has changed her life. She calls Katherine Girvin her guardian angel: “And God brought me my guardian angel and every day I want to wake up and I want to go to school and I want to be with this amazing group and I just want to go on with life," Cecena said. "I haven't had in all my life the support like the support that she[Katherine Grivin] has given me and I've never felt loved like the way I do when I'm around her."
It’s these success stories that keep Katherine Girvin motivated to keep the group singing in harmony together. "I sometimes stop and think maybe I should take a break from this or maybe I should put it in the hands of somebody else but I can't. I love it! I love them. And it's fun," Girvin said.
Chamber Bravura leaves April 11 for New York to perform at Lincoln Center. They'll be in Iceland in June. Everyone pays their own way on the trips abroad including Katherine Girvin. Girvin said several of the kids have to fundraise to afford to go on the trips.