Nan Baardsen doesn’t go unnoticed.
She dresses well, laughs loud and spins a great yarn — when she has the time, at least.
Baardsen is a busy woman. The little suitcase she has in tow is proof positive. It’s filled with sheet music, concert programs and rehearsal schedules.
Baardsen is the director of the Minoru Senior’s Centre choir, a 40 member-strong group that performs at care homes and seniors’ residences throughout the year.
Did we mention Baardsen is 91?
Video: Good morning, I'm Nan Baardsen (singing)
“I don’t have a halo above my head. Don’t even try to look for it,” Baardsen chuckled to the Richmond News.
“I feel very fortunate I’m still around, as healthy as I am, and can do something helpful with music...it’s what I’ve always been good at.”
Music has followed Baardsen throughout her life. Growing up in her Muirhead family that loved music, she remembers the days when families would sit next to the piano and sing.
“That was such a life we had when we were younger,” Baardsen recalls of her childhood in Scotland.
At age 16, she began a 27-year career with the British civil service, though work never quietened her passion for song.
Baardsen first joined a local operatic society in Glasgow, Scotland and then became a soloist with a local operatic society in England after moving there in her 30s.
“We did many big musicals at that time. That was the height of my music career; my ‘glory’ days singing in Britain,” said Baardsen.
In 1969, at the age of 43, she moved to Eastern Canada, where her brother was residing; together they relocated to Vancouver after a cross-Canada road trip.
“We were bombarded by the change of scenery… All we saw were trees, and then you hit the prairies, which was so expansive you couldn’t take in. Then you hit the Rockies and it was so majestic…” Baardsen recalled.
On her very first day in Vancouver, Baardsen was offered a job, as a singing waitress in a hotel pub in West Vancouver.
“My brother parked the trailer in a parking space under the Lions Gate Bridge. It was bucketing with rain outside… we decided to go to a pub nearby for beer,” recalled Baardsen.
Her brother called out her name when the pianist invited the audience to sing on the stage.
“I was so embarrassed, because I looked terrible. We had on big wellington boots, big heavy sweaters, terrible hair, while everyone else there was dressed well,” she said.
“Anyway, I sang some Italian ballad to them. After I sat down, the owner of the hotel came to me and offered me a job.”
Baardsen turned down the offer, choosing instead to work as an insurance agent, a career that lasted until her retirement.
Still, she carried on singing in local choirs before she moved to Richmond in 2003 and joined the Minoru Senior’s Glee Club, and became the club’s director in 2011.
“When I took it over, it was almost like a singalong, rather than a performing choir,” said Baardsen.
“I’ve always been a performer, and my ideas are very different. I make sure everybody stands up at one time, and when we are singing a happy song, they have to look happy.”
The club now performs 400 songs and adds 20 new songs every season.
“I get a lot of enjoyment from doing this. Every day when I wake up, I think about all the things I need to do today… Age for me is just a number,” she said.
Baardsen attributes a healthy and happy life to a positive take on life – and her sense of humour.
“I see humour in everything. Even with the most serious things, I can suddenly want to giggle at something,” said Baardsen.
“If you handle things with humour, you get much better reactions than bulling and yelling. I’d rather pass fun than pass a cutting one.
“I’m so glad to wake up every day and find I’m still alive and kicking," she laughed.