Every Thursday morning, Peggy Nancarrow boards the bus near her home in Esquimalt and sets course for the Frederic Ozanam Centre, where she volunteers her time running a music program for adults with different abilities through Community Living BC.
“This is the joy of my week, the thing that I get to do once a week that I love,” she says.
For well over a decade, the classically-trained former music teacher has been welcoming voices of all kinds into her chorus, where she’s “just doing her thing.”
It’s that combination of modesty and genuine passion that has garnered her a 2017 Widening Our World (WOW) award. She was nominated by her longtime friend Albert Stadt, who says those in the program look forward to it every week.
Since 2009, Community Living BC has presented the WOW awards to those whose courage, leadership, innovation and dedication to supporting their communities have allowed more full inclusion of people with diverse abilities. Last year 47 nominations were submitted from across the province. Of the four recipients, two make their home on the Island, including Nanaimo’s Eve Reinarz.
“It absolutely blew my mind,” says Nancarrow, a grandmother who was honoured for “providing the people CLBC serves with opportunities to build relationships and confidence through music.”
Each week, a group of 15 to 20 singers assemble to stretch their vocal chords and practice songs under Nancarrow’s direction.
“It’s a sense of wellness, and a sense of importance,” she says of giving individuals choice over the music and the way they sing it. They may pick the same songs over and over, but it makes them feel good, she adds.
Working with a group with such varied abilities has changed the way Nancarrow approaches not only teaching, but music itself.
When she performs in her own choir, she strives to be pitch perfect, but that all goes out the window at Ozanam. The focus is more about getting to the right note, than perfecting it, she says.
Some of the participants are non-verbal, but they love music and recognize the melodies. Nancarrow will sing songs and change the lyrics to incorporate their names. The real reward for her, she says, is watching their faces light up.
“I love it, I love the people, I love that they get excited when they see me, or when they sing their favourite song,” says Nancarrow, who has a strict no-Shania Twain policy, but a penchant for ’60s rock and roll.
“They might be fragile physically, but they’re not sick, they have a different ability. Giving people an opportunity to sing literally gives them voice.”