When Elizabeth Irving first started high school, the words “Grade 12” carried the weight of great expectations.
Grade 12 would be the year of momentous occasions, the year that would reward you for all your work over the previous five years. It would be the year when everything happened.
It wasn’t supposed to be the year when everything went sideways in a global pandemic.
But the 17-year-old New West resident, who’s about to graduate from St. Thomas More Collegiate, hasn’t let COVID-19 stop her from carving out her own memorable grad year.
Irving just released a new single, Your Time, which she wrote during some of her moments of struggle in 2020.
“I was going into Grade 12. I was kinda losing a little bit of hope,” she said. “This song really helped me get through the pandemic. It’s an anthem that I hope inspires other people.”
The song was recorded at Paranoyd Studios in Port Moody, where Irving has been recording since she first won a Tri-Cities Got Talent contest as a 10-year-old in 2014. It was then mixed and mastered in L.A. under producer Bob Malone, and the recording includes the talents of such top musicians as drummer Kenny Aronoff – all done remotely and brought together by technology.
Irving admits she’s not a huge techie (“surprisingly, for a teenager,” she says with a laugh), but she’s come to embrace the power of technology over the past 15 months.
For recording, she notes, having Zoom as a platform for writing and producing allowed her the freedom to instantly communicate and collaborate with the team in L.A.
Technology has also allowed her to keep pursuing her love of performing, though she admits it’s not the same as performing live.
“I think, for performers, the audience and talking to them, conversing with the audience, is such a huge part of your performance. It just gives more oomph to your performance, more passion,” she said. “Losing that, for me specifically, was a huge loss. I love interacting with the audience when I perform. I kind of feed off their energy when I sing.”
But she’s taken on as many virtual projects as she could – including sing-alongs for the Vancouver Whitecaps’ Caps Clubhouse series for kids and for the City of New Westminster’s holiday programming at Christmastime.
“I still tried my absolute best to get on Zoom, to get on virtual performances, and be there for everybody who was stuck at home,” Irving said. “I really had to make my virtual performances a getaway for families to do something fun from their own homes.”
She’s also continued work as an anthem singer for the Vancouver Canucks – minus the thousands of fans who would typically be in the arena.
“Without them, it’s so different. It’s like this hole while you’re performing; it feels like you’re by yourself,” she said. “That pleasure of, after you sing, hearing people cheering, is just the most satisfying feeling.”
MAKING THE MOST OF GRADE 12
At the same time, Irving has been throwing herself into her Grade 12 year. Her schedule at STM has her in class part-time and online part-time, on alternating days.
Despite COVID, she’s been able to continue pursuing her studies in the school’s music department, where she credits teachers Ethan Shoemaker and Johnson Lui for their enormous commitment to the program. She’s a member of the school’s concert choir and its auditioned chamber and jazz choirs, and she notes the two auditioned groups require a huge time commitment.
“It’s almost like you’re taking football or a very high-end sport, just because of how much time it takes up,” she said.
Choir is also where she has found “really, really amazing friends,” and she’s glad they’ve been able to keep singing, albeit with masks on and physically distanced from each other – and without the live performances they would otherwise be offering.
Learning through COVID isn’t easy on anyone, Irving admitted, but she said she’s grateful to be at STM.
“The teachers and the staff have really advocated for all the Grade 12s and are really, really trying their best to make the most out of this year,” she said.
To round out her final year, Irving has also continued playing on the school’s Ultimate Frisbee team and volunteering in the learning assistance department, where she works as a teacher’s assistant and peer tutor helping students with disabilities.
“They’re just the most happy and amazing, genuine individuals that I’ve ever met,” Irving said.
EYEING THE FUTURE
That work, in combination with her love of music, has set Irving on her path into the future. Come fall, she’ll be starting music therapy studies at Capilano University.
“I love working with kids and people, especially children that have a disability. That’s something that I really love to do,” Irving said. “Music therapy was really kind of a no-brainer for me.”
With fall now in sight, Irving is also looking forward to a world where she can start spending more time with her family and friends again.
Her two older brothers, 23-year-old Jonathan and 25-year-old Jamieson, don’t live in the family home anymore, so she hasn’t seen them as much as she’d have liked over the past year.
For Irving, her two hockey-playing brothers have been one of her big influences. In fact, it’s because of them that she got into anthem singing at games – she started with the Coquitlam Express Junior A team when Jonathan was playing for them, then moved on to the Coquitlam Adanacs lacrosse team and, after that, to the Canucks.
“It’s really sweet that it started from my brothers. At the end of the day, they’re the roots of my motivation. Seeing them be successful and follow their goals and aspirations has pushed me to follow mine,” she said.
The one goal she can’t wait to accomplish right now? Hugging everyone she knows.
“I’m also a huge hugger, so not being able to hug my family and friends has been hard for me,” she said with a laugh.
GET TO KNOW ELIZABETH
Check out Elizabeth's debut single, Remember, released in 2020: