Friday, December 29, 2006
I hooked up with a member of this group a few months ago when I last sang at All Saints Church. This group was holding regular Christian music concerts to help fund rural schools in Bangladesh. I'm always ready to use my talents to help underprivileged children, especially in the area of education, so I said I would sing in the next concert. And as it worked out, it was in this short time that we're back in Toronto.
We gathered at 6pm for a traditional Bangladeshi meal, full of curries and rice pudding. Sooo good. Then the whole crowd moved into the sanctuary of All Saints for the concert. There were only 2 other performers besides me, so we all had a fair amount of time to fill.
"Nueva Trova" is the choir from a local Spanish congregation. The 9-member-group sang traditional songs and hymns in Spanish, accompanied by guitars, tambourine and a rain stick. Robert Baidya, one of the night's organizers and our fabulous chef, entertained us with traditional Bangladeshi songs and instruments. The performances were intriguing because of the different sounds and languages, but the most captivating part was how sincere everyone was in their desire to praise God through music.
I did 2 15-minute sets. The first was all gospel music, and I accompanied myself on guitar. I wanted to throw in some originals, so I did "Infinitely More" and "I Call Out Your Name". Gerald joined me for the second set, which was all Christmas. We did "Twas in the Moon of Wintertime" with djembe, and "Welcome to Bethlehem" with dueling guitars. He also accompanied me for "The Joseph Carol" and "Mary, Did You Know" - our Holy Couple set!
The acoustics are so beautiful in All Saints that we did everything unplugged. The sound obviously carried well, because the feedback was very very positive. I was even invited to sing at another church, which we can hopefully work out on one of our return trips.
I had so many gigs cancel on me this Christmas season. For a while, I was very frustrated by the whole situation. But tonight was something good. It was a little reminder that God's plan in still in place. I will continue to say, "Yes, Lord."
Thursday, December 28, 2006
I’m a huge sucker for music theatre. A well-choreographed song and dance number just does me in, so once the show started, I was grinning and giggling like a child. And tonight, I officially fell in love with the Rockettes! You hear about them. You make fun of them (who hasn’t made a kick-line with their friends?) But until you see them in person, you just can’t appreciate what a strong performing team they are. I love the kick-line and, cliché though it may be, my favourite was the March of the Wooden Soldiers. So simple and charming!
But here’s the thing: We’re watching the show, and it truly was all about glitter and bright colours and shopping in New York. Santa was our emcee for the evening, and at one point, he announced that if he didn’t get out with the toys, Christmas wouldn’t happen. Well, I’m a huge Santa fan, but I know for a fact that Santa does not dictate the arrival of Christmas. As I’m watching it, I’m thinking, “This is what’s wrong with Christmas. We see these shows that teach us that Christmas is all about toys and shopping.”
But, boy, was I wrong.
I’d heard about the Nativity at the end of the show, but I truly had no idea what was coming...
They introduce the scene by acknowledging that this story is the true reason why we celebrate Christmas. They quote Isaiah’s prediction of the coming of the Christ child. (Yes, the Biblical Isaiah.) Then they tell the story about the census, the traveling, and the night of Jesus’s birth. There is no dancing, no tap shoes, no dialogue. It is sensitive and respectful, and truly stageworthy. The costumes are beautiful, but still restrained, and the lighting makes use of shadow and scrims. There is one flashy, yet completely appropriate piece of staging: the shepherds have real sheep, and the kings have real camels! (Yes, on stage!)
At the end of the scene, all the characters are on stage for the “living nativity”. A voice-over reads the poem “One Solitary Life”. The pit-singers burst into “Hark the Herald Angel Sing”. The woman next to me starts to sing along. I reach up to wipe the tears from my eyes. (I’ve been doing this since Isaiah).
And that’s how they end the show.
No kick-lines. No curtain call. No final bows.
Just a baby in a manger.
You can’t tell me this isn’t ministry. This show attracts thousands and thousands of people a year, and each of those people is given the chance to hear the Gospel story. I just sat there, amazed at this bold move. I know that money and audience numbers determine what goes into a show like this, but they could have ended with a huge song-and-dance "holiday" number. In our politically charged era, they make no bones about the fact that this is a Christmas show, and that Jesus is the reason for Christmas.
A few weeks ago, a Toronto judge received public flack for ordering the removal of a Christmas tree from the lobby of a provincial court. She deemed it to be a “religious symbol” that might offend non-Christians. Well, if she’s really worried about offending non-Christians, she should march right down to the theatre and protest the Rockettes, because every night, this Christmas, they are telling the true story of Christmas to thousands of people...
... and I'm so glad they are!
Tuesday, December 26, 2006
Yesterday morning, I attended our 4th-Sunday-in-Advent service. Last night, I attended our family worship service, where Gerald and I, accompanied by Esther and Michelle on harmonies, performed "Welcome to Bethlehem". At midnight, I attended our late service to hear Dad's Christmas sermon.
This morning, Gerald and I got up early to attend the Christmas morning service and perform "Mary, Did you Know".
And this afternoon and tonight, we gathered with family, and with friends who have become family, to eat, drink, chat, laugh, and just celebrate being together on this most blessed of days.
In his sermon last night, Dad referenced one of my favourite Christmas songs, "The Christmas Traveler", performed by the Irish Rovers. The quote is this:
A kingdom for the loving, He has come to lead us to.
The Son of Man is living now. Can you feel it too?
I scarcely can believe my ears. The joy is in my heart,
For God has heard His people's need, and gave a brand new start.
In a year that is seemly full of endings for us - Dad's retirement, leaving Canada, selling our house - what a blessing to know that God is always full of brand new starts!
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
Tonight’s blog will probably be short and full of typos as I’m dropping-tired.
I had a gorgeous and luxurious day. Today, I received my birthday gift from Gerald - a day at a spa! And not just any day, but a day full of special Chocolate and Peppermint treatments! I won’t bore you with the details (even though there was nothing boring about it!), but I must share this one image: I started the day with a soak in the jacuzzi, which is outdoors! The sun was blazing down, and the water was so hot the steam was billowing into the cool air, yet it was so mild that I could sit outside after to dry off. And all I can think is, "This is MID-DECEMBER???" Heaven!
Tonight, I attended a Gordon Mote concert at St Paul Community Church. Gordon is always great when you see his 2-song set in the Gaither concert, but a solo show is a real treat. He played songs off his new Christmas album, and was joined on vocals by his wife, Kimberly, and friend, Angie. The harmonies were gorgeous, and it was lovely to hear the different voices come in on the solos. I picked up the album last week, and the songs are great. It’s a nice mix of simple piano/vocal songs, and fully ramped uptempo stuff. Gordon also did his "Mary Had A Little Lamb" bit, where he demonstrates the way different churches play the same song. Very funny, and if you watch the audience closely, you can tell who goes to what church!
We’ve decided it’s time to head home for Christmas! We’re ready for Mom’s gingersnaps, Aunt Florence’s cherry cake, and Sebastian’s wild and crazy lovin’!
Tonight was our last late-night Walfart shopping spree, pickin up water and snacks for the road. Tomorrow is all about planning our drive, arranging a rent payment for January first, paying our electric bill, and making sure the house-sitter knows the code for the laundry room.
I’ll be home for Christmas...You can plan on me....Please have snow and mistletoe... I love that jacuzzi...
Now, all I can do it trust in God. (So much easier to say than do!) We're praying that my application will be judged fairly, and that it will be quickly and smoothly approved. If you're the praying kind, we would love your support on this...
Tonight, I started reading a new book, and following verse was printed just inside the title page:
25"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? 26Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?
(Matthew 6, NIV)
Isn't funny how God always knows just the right thing to say?
Monday, December 11, 2006
But yesterday, I was homesick!
10 years ago, Dad came to me, and several other people in the parish, with an idea: What if we told the story of the Nativity in the churchyard, outside... in December! He had this idea that we would put stages up, each with a different scene from the Christmas story, and the audience would walk through and see each scene, ending with the Holy Family. I was brought on as co-writer and director, sets were built, 50 actors and singers were cast, and the first staging of THE REAL CHRISTMAS STORY magically appeared. Now, 10 years later, we have performed that play for over 5000 audience members, and the 2 years it appeared on Vision TV, it played for an audience of over 60,000 people. All of this, from my Dad.
Yesterday was this year’s show. We’ve all been praying for good weather, and in the morning, Dad called to tell me it was 2C and sunny - just perfect. I got an update last night, and even today, they’re continuing to send me stories of actors who pushed through illness to take part, and audience members who have come each of the 10 years.
I’m so thrilled that this ministry has been a source of joy for so many people. I hope it continues long after we’re gone from the parish. But for this weekend, it all just makes me a little homesick, and wishing I was there to say, “Welcome to Bethlehem!”.
So, today, I decided to do some Christmasy stuff to lift my spirits. I had seen signs for something called “Walk Thru Bethlehem”, and thought this would be the right choice.
It takes place each year at Woodmont Christian Church, and, like our play, it is put on by the church to reach out into the community at large. It runs 1:00pm - 7:00pm, and you can go at any time to ‘walk thru’. When I arrived there were literally hundreds of people lined up right around the parking lot. It was a warm night (10C after dark!), which was a blessing cause the wait was about 40 minutes. The big difference between this and our show is that this is NOT a play. It is an event, a happening, a truly interactive experience.
Every once in a while, a Centurion soldier would walk past to keep the line in order. I heard parents whispering warnings to their children that the soldiers were looking for little boys under the age of 2, so they’d better behave. (Don’t know if that’s really in the Christmas spirit...) As the line snaked around, I noticed they had a large wood fire burning on the little hill by the building. I thought, “How nice and charming. It will keep people warm.” But this fire wasn’t for us; it was for the shepherds. How do I know this? Because next thing I saw was the sheep! That’s right - sheep! Half a dozen sheep, roaming the hillside. Actually, they were tethered on, but in the dark, you couldn’t see that, and they just looked like they were roaming. Crazy! There were kids all over the hill, petting the sheep and getting close to the fire. Every once in a while, a light would shine from one of the lower roofs on the building, and an angel would appear to the shepherds. A recorded voice-over would read the angel’s announcement from the Bible, and the angel would stand out there in blazing white glory. It was so awesome!
The event proper was inside. When you arrived at the door, the first thing you did was register for the census. Everyone had to fill out a census card with the number of people in your family and from whence you had traveled. Then, we were greeted by a citizen of Bethlehem who told us the political climate of the day, and how excited they all were that the census had brought us here. He invited us to wander freely in Bethlehem and to enjoy our time here. At this point, I still didn’t know it wasn’t a play, so I was all geared up for a good show. I had no idea what awaited me...
Around the corner, we saw the grain and fish vendors from the market. I thought, “O dear, is this whole thing going to be something we just look at and walk past?”. Then, they offered us samples of nuts, and dates, and fish. What???
A huge door opened up, and we entered the marketplace of Bethlehem. And I’m serious - We were in Bethlehem, first century. The floors had been covered in layers of mulch, so you felt the earth under your feet. The walls and ceilings were draped in burlap and cloth. Every where you looked, you saw a beautiful detail that spun you back in time. And everything was interactive!
First, I saw the Village Oven, where they were grinding grain with this rotating stone. You could help them make the flour and the dough, and a few steps down the line, you could taste the bread. You could watch the carpenters building house-hold items, and the sellers trying to tempt you with brass knick-knacks and ‘real gold’ jewelry. The weaver informed us that the sheep we saw outside belonged to her family, and that the shepherds were their husbands. She told how they would collect and spin the wool, and how they would die it with ginger and figs and pomegranates. She made bracelets and gave them to the children.
There was a well in the middle of the market, so water was accessible to everyone. A man with a recorder walked about playing beautiful melodies. A special room housed a storyteller who told legends to the children. There was a booth were we could “buy” doves and sheep for our sacrifices. And then, we could enter the Synagogue. It was full of artifacts, and write-ups explaining their use in worship and education. This was the only place in the market that didn’t have a mulch floor. It was covered in rich carpets.
There was a place where the children could make rag dolls, and even if you didn’t make one, they would just give you one. (Mine is blue!) I dropped by the Physician’s tent to see what they were all about. A healer asked if I had any ailments. When I mentioned I’d had a headache last week, she grabbed my hands and taught me an acupressure technique. I listened in for a bit, and whatever people mentioned was their ailment, they had an oil or herb or technique to heal it!
The Tent Maker explained how the goat wool sheets were light and airy so your tent would keep out the sun and the heat, but that when it rained, the goat wool would expand to keep out the water. The Basket Weaver was twisting reeds to make bracelets for everyone to wear. At the Food Tasting booth, we could try matzos in honey, spiced tea (amazing!) and sesame cookies.
Not a detail was missed in this market. Tables were filled to overflowing with wares and supplies. People greeted you with “Shalom”. The lighting was soft, and the pathways were crowded with people, and lined with palm trees. This was not a museum piece - Every spot was filled with the tastes and smells and sounds of a busy marketplace.
It was even appropriately messy. At the wine press, they had an huge barrel filled with grapes, and on top of the grapes was a bare-footed child, squishing the grapes with his feet. (And no, they let us taste fresh grapes, not wine.) At the Potter’s booth, you could watch him work the wheel, and then you could grab a hunk of clay and make something yourself. And then there was the Olive Press. It was 5 feet high by 3 feet wide and made of stone. There was a central tub filled with olives and a large stone that could be rolled through the olives using a large wooden handle. Three children were working the press and explaining the process. They were up to their elbows in olive oil, and the smell penetrated the air.
At this point, I chose to leave the marketplace, and go outside to the Stable. There, I saw Mary and Joseph and the baby (which I think was a doll). The Magi were there, and they would let you touch and smell the frankincense and myrrh. No free gold samples, unfortunately. And there were more animals! This time, it was sheep, goats, a long-haired ox, and ... wait for it... a camel!
What an incredible experience! It’s very different than our show, but it is truly unique, and a great way to touch on the world as Jesus may have seen it.
I felt very inspired and Christmasy at the end of the day. After the show, I bought a wreath for my car. Tis the season...
Saturday, December 09, 2006
I was so excited to see the show, and I hoped I would run into some people I knew. Our table was right next to the Speer table, so I got to have a lovely visit with Ben, Miss Mary Tom, and some of the family. Mike Allen was there, and I also got to say Hi to Reggie Smith, who helped coach me and Scott Baker for our "I’ve Just Seen Jesus" duet this summer.
Gordon was fighting a cold, so we didn’t get to see him in person, but he was in fine form on stage. Actually, the whole show was pretty incredible. Most artists did Christmas music, so that was great, and the stage was simply decorated with wreaths and trees covered in white lights. It opened with the awesome Christ Church Choir, directed by Landy Gardner, with Joy as the soloist. I’d heard great things about their choir, and I was not disappointed. It was a total star-studded evening (and I use that word with proper respect), just full of great artists. Reggie and Ladye Love did a duet, followed by sets from the Easters and the Isaacs, whom I always love! Linda Randle did a few songs, including "His Eye in On the Sparrow", which she practically owns at this point. Ben sang the SG classic, "Beautiful Star of Bethlehem". Signature Sound and GVB were absolute crowd-pleasers, and they just sounded great.
One of the true highlights was Mark Lowry! The only time I’ve really seen him as a soloist was at the Toronto taping last fall, and it seemed that he never really got a lot of air-time. But last night, he was relaxed and funny and completely entertaining. He did a solo and told some great stories, and carried a pocket of one-liners tailor-made for Bill. But the finest moment was when he sang, "Mary Did You Know". Of course, I’ve sung this song often and I just adore it, but what a treat to hear it sung by the writer himself. Actually, as he was singing, I remembered this summer, when I heard Buddy Greene, the co-writer, sing his interpretation of the song. Both men sing it very differently, but both also sing it from a deep and grounded place. Such a blessing to hear both writers sing their song within months of each other.
And here was the other highlight: Gloria was there! It is no secret that I am a huge fan of this lady and her presence and her incredible ability to recite wisdom through a simple lyric. She did a few stories and poems, and laughed as Mark told tales of their breakfasts together, and their talks of God and His wonders. It’s very clear I’m not Gloria’s only fan.
The show went very late, but the hours just flew by. At the table, we got to talk to lots of great people - long-time Gaither fans, and people attending their first Homecoming concert ever. I even had the quirky experience of meeting Wendy V, a lady who reads my blog and who once reviewed my CD. There were people who had never heard Gordon play, and people, like me, who have become recent, but devout, fans. People were quick to share stories of the effect Gordon’s music has had on them.
Such a great night of joy and blessings! And, as these concerts always are for me, it was a reminder of what I want to do, and of the high standard being set by those around me. Tonight, I am inspired... to sing... to write new songs... and to spread the Gospel through song.
Friday, December 08, 2006
But on to the adventures of today...
This afternoon held a seemingly dull, but hugely important job. Today, we mailed my visa application back to Toronto. I dropped by ASCAP to pick up my final letter for the package, assembled my pile of documents, found a post office, and had it all sent back to Toronto. Praying it will be filed very soon! Whoo-hoo!
Tonight, we attended the NSAI Christmas Party. More whoo-hoo! They have a huge building, and it was just packed. I saw people with plates of food, but the crowd was so tight, we never actually found the tables hosting the food. Not to worry - we did find the bar!
Actually, the first person I saw was Ralph Murphy, who just wrote my letter for ASCAP! He remembered my face from this summer (people here are so good at that!), which was great cause I got to thank him in person for the letter.
The place was just crawling with people, so we grabbed a drink and just started talking to folks. We ran into some people we’d met already through the critique meeting, so that was cool. And we got to meet a few new people as well.
Don’t know how much legitimate networking was done, but we heard about some great restaurants, exchanged a few cards, and got an invitation to a songwriting party on Saturday.
All in all, a great way to spend an evening!
Wednesday, December 06, 2006
We arrived at the church at 5:00 tonight for a pre-service rehearsal. But, of course, most people were late and rehearsal didn’t actually start til 5:30. Still, we got to run through everything once, so that helped. Gerald and I had taken time to rehearse during the day, so we felt well prepared. But as we ran through things, my mic was still not working! I mean, it may have been working for those in the audience, but I couldn’t hear a thing. Not one single note! Not only is this disorienting when you’re on stage, but it also meant that I couldn’t tell if my harmonies were fitting in with the key of the song. I had complained about this all the night before, and really didn’t want to complain again, but I also didn’t want to be making ugly sounds into the mic. So after rehearsal, I made one more request for my mic to be turned up. I crossed my fingers...
The kids attending the service started to gather around 6:00 for pizza and basketball and just hanging out. Such a great place for them to gather! A few minutes before the service, the music and ministry team gathered for prayer. We then moved backstage where we waited for a music countdown before going on stage. I was so nervous. Singing with a band like this is something I never really do. It’s much more rockstar than my normal kind of music. I felt miles outside my comfort zone. Standing backstage, I took a minute to pray silently, and what I mostly prayed for was to remember that I was not there for the band or the music or the sound. I was there for God. I was there to serve God and to bring His children closer to Him through worship. I prayed that focus would replace nerves, and that everything I did tonight would be in service to Him.
When we got out on stage, our first song was uptempo, and the kids stood up and started singing along right away. That was a great response, and it filled the room with energy. “So Good to Me” is actually a duet, so when we hit my solo verse, I started to sing, and I could actually hear myself! Yay! I sang out, and it felt good. Now that I could hear myself, I felt tonnes more relaxed and the rest of the set went very quickly. I played tambourine, sang harmonies, and even did a nice little ad-lib here and there.
Gerald had a wicked guitar solo coming up on one of the songs. When his time came, I was so excited, I turned around to watch him. But nothing came out of his guitar! Now that my mic was working, his wasn’t! That gorgeous solo was lost in the barrage of sound! Arg! They hooked him back up for the rest of the set, but it was disappointing that no one got to hear his solo in the service.
After the service, we said our thank-yous and headed out. The night before, we had seen a house with lots of Christmas lights in the distance. Since it was dark now, we decided we would drive around to try and find this mystery house... but you would not believe what we found!
Mom, get ready for this: We found a small little street where each and every house was completely covered in Christmas lights! I don’t mean a few wreaths in the windows and a string of lights in the bushes, I mean all-out-North-Pole-freaking-Christmas-lights! I don’t know if they have a local Christmas lights competition or what, but this was truly and wonderfully insane!
Each and every house on the street was all lit up from lawn to chimney. There were wreaths, Santas, candy canes and gingerbread. One lawn had a vintage near-life-sized Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. One had lights in the shape of a family ice-skating, and another shaped like a carousel. There was a huge arch with elves welcoming us to the North Pole. There were more elves throwing presents into Santa’s sack. There was Christmas music being piped into the air. There were several nativities, but the best one was all white, and larger than life! And the piece de resistance: One lawn even had a real live Santa who would greet you and give you candy canes! Seriously! They had Santa on their lawn!!!
It was so awesome! I didn’t have my camera with me, so we’re going to go back another night and try to get some photos. I only hope Santa is still there!
For people who don’t get snow, these Southerners certainly know how to do Christmas!
Sunday morning, I decided to go back to last week’s church, BCC. It was such a unique experience that I wanted Gerald to check it out. Also, I’d exchanged emails with someone from the music department, and I wanted the chance to introduce myself in person.
We decided to hit the 11:00am service - such a nice change from the earlier services I usually attend. The music was already on the go when we got there, and the band was even bigger than last week. This church is in a time of transition and, like St. John’s, they are looking for a new preacher. They’ve narrowed down their selection, and this Sunday, one of those short-listed came to preach. He continued in their 8-week preaching theme of “Break Free”, and spoke about breaking free from the self-destructive labels we put on ourselves. He based his sermon on the story of Peter. When Jesus renamed Peter, “the Rock”, Jesus was not just saying that Peter was a rock now, but that Peter would continue to develop into a stronger character who would provide strength and stability to those around him. This preacher challenged us to open ourselves up to God, and to allow God to take away our negative names, and replace them with names of strength, love, and power.
After the service, we started talking to people, and I was lucky enough to speak to Anna, the person who had emailed me. Well, as we’re chatting about the church and all its programs, the assistant music director comes up to Anna and announces he’s in trouble for the youth service Wednesday - He’s without a guitar player and a harmony singer. Gerald and I sort of looked at each other, and very shyly piped up, “Um, we do that”. Next thing we know, we’re exchanging emails and marking a rehearsal time into my datebook.
(As a side note: Yes, this is non-paying. BCC has a roster of volunteer musicians, and we’re not able to accept any paying work without a work visa.)
Later that night, we received an email containing charts and lyrics for the music for Wednesday. We’re thinking, “This is cool. It’s only 4 songs, and it’s a good chance to jump into the music program two feet first.” Then we open the charts... They’re all in the Nashville Number System! That’s that thing I mentioned that Gerald is learning in his guitar lessons where all the chords are represented by numbers instead of letters. But notice I said “learning”, not, “he’s-learned-it-and-it’s-second-nature” So, we both put in some significant time figuring out how to translate the charts and then rewriting them into letters.
In the midst of all this, we still had a bunch of errands to do. Yesterday took us all around, but the best part was a visit to NSAI. We were gifted a few mugs as a welcome-to-Nashville present, and then we decided to use the computers to print off the lyrics for Wednesday. We discovered that the member lounge is a great place to meet other people, and almost lost the whole afternoon to chatting and socializing. And Gerald had a wonderful moment where another songwriter remembered his song from the critique meeting last week and exclaimed, “That was the best song of the whole night!”. Yes, my husband blushed!
Later that night, we had dinner with our great friend, Joel. It was a great chance to catch up and try out a fabulous new restaurant (well, new for us), but it was also an important meeting as Joel is my visa sponsor, and this brings us one step closer to filing the package. I also need a letter from ASCAP, and today, I brought my package to their offices to get that final letter. Then it’s back to Toronto for the final polish and filing.(Sounds like we're giving it a pedicure!) It’s months later than I wanted it to be, and this may keep us in Toronto longer this winter, but I’m so impressed with how it’s looking, and I’m so anxious to have it sent in. Praying like crazy over it. If you’ve got an extra prayer, I know a good use for it...
So, after all that visa stuff, errands, and trying to use our community’s fitness centre (I’m working out every second day!), we still had to spend lots of time practicing these songs. Let’s not forget: Neither one of us had ever heard either of these 4 songs before. Gerald has never read numbers charts before, and I’m okay at harmonies, but listening to recordings and having to pick harmonies out is a pretty daunting task. (I’m no Monika!)
This afternoon, Gerald had a guitar lesson at 4, so he got his teacher to look over the charts to see if we had them right. (Almost perfect!) After the lesson, we jumped in the car and raced over for the 5:00 rehearsal.
BCC’s youth service is held in a funky-shaped portable building called the Onion. Every Wednesday night, approximately 50 high-schoolers gather for an one-hour worship service. They have social time before, and then a full service with music, prayers, and a message. Tonight’s rehearsal was for the band and tech. There were 8 of us in total, and a full sound team made up of young people. We spent a lot of time working out the sound. The acoustics in the room are terrible, but the team worked hard to find a balance. We spent several hours working on the songs, and ended with a final run-through of the set. There’s one other harmony singer who’s done all the songs before, so that makes it a little easier.
We were a little nervous going in, but everyone was very cool and supportive, so we had a lot of fun. We’ve kept tomorrow quiet so we can rehearse a little more. Going to get a good night’s sleep so I have all those pretty notes in my throat!
Saturday, December 02, 2006
What an amazing show! It took place at the Gaylord Entertainment Centre, which is like our ACC. It wasn’t sold out, but it was pretty full. (The Chicks actually did sell out Toronto, and I think it was for 2 shows.) And the crowd that was there was loving it. I think this was their first concert in Nashville since the infamous show-down. They’ve called it their “Accidents and Accusations Tour”, and it was a real homecoming night.
The opening act was local singer-songwriter, Pete Yorn. He had such challenge in playing this huge stage, already full of the Chicks equipment, in this cavernous space, with only a four-piece band. But the crowd loved him, he had great songs, and his band really rocked out. Gerald picked up his CDs after the show.
The Chicks came on the stage just after 9:00pm, and the crowd went insane! They were backed up by a 9-piece band, which at different times included strings and organ. And everyone in the band was a monster (aka: incredibly brilliant player). You could tell they were having a great time with the music and the vibe of the crowd.
They opened with stuff off the new album, which we picked up last week. All the songs on the album are co-written with all three members of the band, plus one other writer. Their songs have such gorgeous melodies, and the crowd joined in on most songs. After a rocking start, they brought us close to tears with Landslide - such a stunning arrangement. And they did my personal favourite, White Trash Wedding. It’s such a weird little song, and I was really hoping they’d play it. They did an instrumental song too, which was great for showing off the skills of the band members.
When we got there, I realized I was about to see my first country music concert, but after the show started, it was clear that these Chicks are total rock stars. The crowd was wild for them, and they played it up every chance they got. Nathalie Maines is just visceral on stage - she’s all energy and voice and body. Real masterclass on how to play for a crowd that size.
The concert ended about 11:15pm. After the show, we wandered down Broadway and visited one of the honkeytonks (the name for the local country bars). They had a great band, so we boogied down for a few songs, and then headed off for late night eats at the Sunset Grill - a trendy Yorkville-type place that offers an after-midnight menu.
I’m so glad we went to the concert. First off, it was just a killer show with great music and exciting performances. But secondly, it gave me ideas for music and melodies and arrangements and performances. What more can I ask from a show?
Friday, December 01, 2006
Okay, I know some of you will be thinking, "What took you so long???", but today, we finally visited our NSAI office here in Nashville.
I had a short visit there this summer, so I was sort of familiar with the building and some of the services they offer that can’t be offered at our Toronto chapter. For example, we get some use of the building during business hours. There are rooms that can be booked for co-writing sessions, and a lounge with computers, a phone, and a library of songwriting books.
NSAI is running a huge song contest, so part of our visit today was so Gerald could submit songs to the contest. (They’re mostly looking for country songs, so I decided not to enter anything.) The prizes are many and awesome, as is the competition - literally thousands of songs have been entered! Gerald submitted "Comin’ Home" and "All Her Flowers Are Wild" (with me and Monika on background vocals!). All Her Flowers is my favourite song Gerald has ever written, so I’m thrilled that he entered that one. Fingers crossed! xxxxx
Later, in the evening, we returned back to the office for our first Nashville NSAI meeting. When we got there, we were greeted by the membership co-ordinator, who greeted me by name - she remembered me from this summer! Very impressive...
Tonight’s meeting was a Christmas Critique Night. People could submit any songs for a critique, but Christmas songs took the priority. The meetings are run quite differently from the Toronto chapter. At home, the general structure of a meeting starts with a guest speaker, or a songwriting lesson, lead by one of the group’s co-ordinators. Then we have critiques, where you either play your song live or on CD, and then everyone in the room can give feedback.
In Nashville, not all the meetings involve song critiques. Sometimes, the meetings are solely for pitching songs to publishers. Or, the whole meeting may be devoted to a speaker or pro-teacher. Because of the large number of attendees (30-50 a meeting), songs can only be played on CD, and you must be a member to have your song critiqued. (Guests are welcome to come and watch the meetings.) If there’s a crowd, like tonight, they may only listen to half of your song. And who is ‘they’? The critiques are only given by industry professionals. There are a lot of groups in the city where you can go to give and receive group feedback. But NSAI only gives professional critiques. And again, because of the large numbers, you’d be there all night if you had everyone commenting on every song. Our panel tonight was the husband-wife team of Patty Way and Damon Medic of Quarter Moon Music.
Gerald submitted a new song called "Santa Smells Like Uncle Ron". He wrote the lyric over the summer, and when he found out tonight was focusing on Christmas, he whipped up a tune and laid down a quick demo. It’s a fun and irreverent look at a childhood memory, and Gerald got lots of laughs and some great feedback.
I submitted "Welcome To Bethlehem", using the new demo we did just before we left Toronto. They were a little taken aback by my "unusual point of view", but they both really liked it! They said it would be a difficult pitch (which I already knew) because of its odd style. But they also thought it was well written and fun. My favourite part was when they called it "weird". Made me smile!
I felt very inspired after the meeting, and I have stayed up very late writing something new. Actually, I started one song, got very frustrated with it, and moved on to a second song. I’ve completed a lyric for it, but I’ll have to look at it again in the morning to see if it’s actually worth keeping.
Wednesday, November 29, 2006
First off, let me mention the great new thing that happened today: Gerald had his first Nashville guitar lesson! One of his goals in coming here was to find a great guitar teacher who could show him some of those special Nashville techniques that all the great session players have. He found this teacher through a guitar store, and booked his first lesson for today.
The teacher was very impressed with Gerald's playing (of course!), and he'll be able to teach him more skills that will improve his ability to compose on the guitar. He's also going to teach Gerald the Nashville Number System. This is a way of writing chord charts here is that is used by every session player in Nashville. In simplest terms, numbers are used to represent the chords of the song, and where they fall in the scale. Once you choose your key, your 'Do' becomes 1, 'Fa' becomes 4, 'So' becomes 5, etc, and then you can play the same chart into any key. (Yes, I'm explaining this terribly, but I already told you I was tired!)
Oh, and if you're unfamiliar with the term "session player", this is someone who works primarily in the studio, recording back-up instrumental parts on other people's CDs. A singer like me would hire session players to play piano, drums, cello, fiddle, etc, on my CD. A session player needs to be highly skilled so that they can play a huge range of music. On one CD, they'll be playing southern gospel, and on the next, they're be playing country-rock, and they need to sound equally awesome on each song. They are paid by the hour, so they also need to be able to play new music very quickly with almost no rehearsal. A skilled session player is a gift to the music industry.
And speaking of gifts, guess what we did tonight? ... We saw Amy Grant perform!
Lipscomb University was having their Christmas lighting ceremony tonight, and what a gorgeous night for it. After the sun went down, it was still 20C and perfectly clear. The air was warm and rich, and we had to laugh at the people lining up for hot chocolate.
Lipscomb is sort of interesting in and of itself. It's a Bible college, but they also have an entire grade school that's somehow part of the same system. So you can start at Lipscomb in Kindergarten, and stay at Lipscomb all the way through University.
The ceremony was outside on the steps of a huge building surrounded by tonnes and tonnes of lit-up trees. The first group to perform was the University Jazz Band and Vocal Ensemble. Really smooth, tight harmonies. Then, they has this mass choir of 300 children, made up of 3 choirs from the Elementary, Junior High, and High Schools. Each choir performed on its own, and then they did a few songs as the mass choir. I'm such a sucker for choral singing, so this was all just so wonderful for me.
And then they brought out the guest of honour, Amy Grant. I found out about this free concert the first or second day that we arrived here, and I've been counting the days ever since. Sooo excited!
She had a small band, and the mass choir backed her up on several songs. It was all Christmas music, and she did a nice mix of classics and originals. And you can tell it's a songwriter's town - she announced the writer's names before the title of every song.
She told us that her daughter always wants to get up on stage and dance. So, at one point, Amy opened the stage up to all the children in the audience who wanted to come up and dance. Her daughter led the way, but once the other children saw that it was for real, there was a flood of children up on the stage, rocking away to Up On The Housetop and Mr. Santa (to the tune of Mr Sandman). It was so joyous and wonderful! And so tempting to jump up and join the party. Gerald made sure I just danced on the spot...
After the party settled down, Amy sang one of her most beautiful songs, Breath of Heaven, the song that tells of Mary's journey to the birth of her child. It has haunting music, and as the first chords sounded, it started to rain - cool and soft. It scared away a few folks, but really, it just set up this lonely and beautiful atmosphere for the song. The choir filled in with lush harmonies, and Amy's singing was rooted and honest. It was truly magical. (Until the woman in front of us decided to gouge our faces with her ginormous umbrella, but we can edit her from the memory.)
She did about a 50 minute set, after which they had more Christmas lighting ceremony stuff to do. We didn't stick around for all that. We were just there to see Amy. And I'm sooo glad I went! So talented, and so inspiring...
Tonight just reminded me how much I want to be here... how much I want to write and sing for God's glory... how blessed I am to be on this adventure... I'm just so thankful for it all!
Monday, November 27, 2006
Today has, thus far, been wonderful. Lovely phone call from les parents, accompanied by slight pangs of homesickness. Lots of emails from friends, and a few e-cards thrown in. I missed a call from Newfoundland on my cell phone. Going to call them from a pay phone soon...
Gerald has written me a song for my birthday, and tonight we're going out for a romantic Italian dinner. It's strange being away from the rest of la familia today, but it's still a pretty awesome birthday. I have a new house, a new country, a new husband, and lots of dream-come-trues... What more could I ask for?
Okay, a little catch-up on what happened this weekend:
We did lots of dull things, like shopping around for a cell phone, buying a few groceries, blah, blah, blah. We did lots of small-but-satisfying things, like trying out our new fireplace and making hot chocolate in our new pawn-shop microwave. And we did some Nashville stuff, like jamming on our guitars, and establishing our new song-a-week challenge.
The fireplace is actually awesome! The weather is certainly not calling for fires, but I'm just so excited that we've had one every night. I've always wanted a fireplace, so now we light up at any excuse. (Wait, maybe I didn't phrase that quite right...)
Back in the cafe today. More Nashville observations: They have smoking in restaurants here! We Ontarionians (is that a word?) don't know how lucky we have it. Oh, and I've written before about how air condition obsessed they are here in Nashville, but who would think they'd still be at it in November! Seriously! It's lovely outside, but you still need to bring a jacket for inside the restaurant.
Oh, and it's 23C today. Happy Birthday to me!
Yesterday, I tried out a new church, Bellevue Community Church, or BCC for short. It was recommended by several people as having a great music program and great music people. I've been to many churches, but this is very different from any where I've ever been.
It's non-denominational, so I knew it wouldn't be Anglican and we wouldn't have Communion. I also knew it would have contemporary music. But here's what I wasn't expecting:
First off, it's HUGE! It's situated on acres and acres of property on a hill, so from the parking lot you can see for miles. They formed this church to appeal to the non-churched, or those who are uncomfortable in traditional churches, or those who've had bad experiences in church. So nothing about it looks like a traditional church. There are no crosses, icons, or stained glass windows. The seats are like those in a movie theatre, and the building is more event theatre than sanctuary.
The service was in the contemporary worship style: music, announcements, prayers, message, and out. The music leader for this week was Canadian, so I introduced myself to her after the service. Apparently, there are a lot of Canadians in the congregation. The sermon was fantastic. It was about living a life of gratitude. They're doing an 8-week series of sermons, so this was part of the series.
The whole environment, again, was very "un-churchy". I don't mean that as any sort of insult, because that's actually what they're aiming for. They want people to feel very comfortable in the presence of God. In between the 2 morning services, they have their coffee hour, which they actually call Happy Hour (nice!). They sell Starbucks coffee at 2-to-1 prices, to encourage buying a drink for a friend or newcomer.
And this church is very friendly and welcoming! I had tonnes of people say Hi, and the info desk gave me lots of info, and even the phone number of their music director. They have tonnes of programs in music and drama, and a lot of stuff for youth. They do a lot of outreach into the community, and have many volunteer opportunities. After the service, I even ran into 2 people I knew, which was sort of funny. I really enjoyed my visit, and will probably go back again.
And now, off to celebrate the rest of my day!
Friday, November 24, 2006
NASHVILLE - It's like Newfoundland... but Hot!
Today, it's a whopping 21C! I have no idea what that is in Fahrenheit, but it feels awesome! We had breakfast on the front steps, and our jackets are still in the car.
I'm writing this from a cafe in Hillsboro Village (the cool Annex-like area). We still have no internet or phone, so it's a little hard to feel connected right now. We've decided to hold off on internet til the New Year, to keep our bills low while we're away. We'll be visiting cafes and the library to keep in touch there. And after we leave the comfort of this cafe, we'll start our hunt for a phone number.
The last few days have been relaxing and fun. We tried to see a show at the Blue Bird, but it was sold out, so we went to see a movie instead. The Queen. Brilliant on all sides of script, acting, and visuals. We've been meeting and making friends, so socializing is getting fun.
We've also become daily Walfart shoppers. It's a 24-hour Walfart, so 2 nights ago, we went shopping at 2 in the morning. You'd be surprised how many people were in there. Nashville is sort of an early town. Because people don't tend to have the standard Toronto 60-minute commute, things start early here. It's not uncommon for a concert to start at 6pm. We thought it would be tough to find anything that was open 24-hours, but the Walfart and the Walgreens are our friends. No IKEA though, so I'm a little confused about where to get curtains and tea-lights.
Yesterday was Thanksgiving here. Felt no great need to celebrate it, seeing as how we just had Thanksgiving a month ago. We slept in, worked out in our new workout centre, walked around the neighbourhood, and found the one restaurant that was open yesterday for supper. Very nice day of enjoying our house and exploring our 'hood.
Today, we're back to work. Our big goal is getting a phone, and trying to have one Walfart-free day (don't think we'll make it!).
Oh, and as we sit here, we are bombarded with Christmas music. Americans truly believe Christmas starts with Thanksgiving. Don't they know the no-Christmas-til-after-Allison's-birthday rule?
Off to explore our new city!
Tuesday, November 21, 2006
First off, let's just state the obvious - We love it! It's a gorgeous 2-story townhouse in West Nashville. We're in a gated community (read: safe and private!) with a pool and a 24-hour fitness centre. It's a small community, with kids and a playground. We're in an end unit, which not only means it's quiet, but also means windows and grass on 3 sides of the house.
The house is 1350 square feet - that' s bigger than our place in Toronto! The main floor has a living room, kitchen, dining room and 1/2 bath. Upstairs has 2 huge bedrooms (one of which will become the music room) and a huge 2-sinked bathroom. It's full of closets and is impeccably clean. There's a dishwasher, a washer-dryer hook-up and ... wait for it... a wood-burning fireplace!
Outside, there's a small patio in the back, and we can plant flowers in the front and back in the spring. We are surrounded by trees and sunshine. Okay, the sunshine isn't guaranteed, but it's nice right now!
We haven't met our neighbours yet, but the staff is awesome. They all live on site, and one lady is going to lend us a bed and a sofa til we get set up. Southern hospitality!
We took a visit to Walmart tonight, where we literally packed up 2 carts with towels, sheets, dishes and brown sugar (for the espressos. We didn't bring towels, but we did bring our espresso maker!) The poor girl at the check out was a little stumped. She asked if we were newlyweds. Well, we sort of are...
We don't have the bed yet, so tonight will probably be camping out. But we don't care. We're just so thrilled to be here.
Tonight, we met up with a Canadian friend of Gerald's named John. He's a singer-songwriter who's been here for years. The three of us hopped off to F.Scott's to hear my friend, Teri Reid, sing. F.Scott's is very upscale restaurant with killer desserts that offers live jazz. Not very "Nashville", but very cool and fun.
I met Teri at Stamps-Baxter this summer. I had only heard her sing southern gospel then, so this was a real treat. She had a great quartet, with herself on vocals and keyboards, joined by sax, electric bass, and drums. Awesome sound in a great atmosphere.
We're exhausted and excited and just so happy tonight. I have to admit though, now that we have a place, I'm a little homesick for Sebastian! But we have just a few more weeks to get settled and make a few friends, and then we're back in Toronto for the big turn-around. The time is going to fly!
We had hours of long distance phone calls, and faxing documents back and forth. There was nothing wrong with our records; it was just a matter of collecting all the stuff they required. Finally, at 4:55pm, we got the call that we had been approved!
We celebrated with dinner in a great Indian restaurant. We were seriously afraid that Nashville would only provide us with deep-fried chicken and barbeque (not that there's anything wrong with that!). But if you keep your eyes open, there's some great ethnic food around here.
Tomorrow, we get the electricity hooked up, and then we're good to move in! This is such a relief for us. We'll get settled in now, go home for Christmas, and when we do come back for our longer stay, our home will be here waiting for us. And now - decorating!
Monday, November 20, 2006
As I walked up to the front door of the church, I started to get very nervous. I couldn't really figure out why. I'm very comfortable in all kinds of churches, and I always love visiting a new church. And then, it dawned on me: I wasn't simply visiting this church. I was starting my search for a new home church.
Ugh! Everything dropped right into the pit of my stomach. I've never in my life had to search for a new home church. I've just always attended Dad's church. And now, in a new city, in a new country, I have to find a new church. One where Dad is not the priest, and nobody knows me from Adam. It's not even like attending a new church in Toronto where I might know one of the priests, or they at least would have heard of St. John's. It's going to be all brand new.
I'm sure, at some point, this will be a wonderful and dynamic change. But this morning, all I could think about was how many things are changing and how quickly our "normal" is going to shift. As Gerald pointed out, the last time my world changed this much, it was a completely traumatic experience. This is, obviously, very different and very positive. But I think my body relates change to tragedy, so it's probably bracing for the worst.
I found a pew in the middle of the church, and it really is a striking church. Beautiful stained glass, including 2 windows made by Tiffany himself. The choir is traditional and stunning, as the voices drift over you from the upper gallery. And the dark green paint and rich wood trim combine to make the huge sanctuary quite comfortable. It was a Communion service, with a lots of hymns and liturgical music - all very cheerful. They call their book The Book of Common Prayer, but it's almost identical to our much more contemporary Book of Alternative Services, so that felt homey to me.
The preaching was excellent (a perfect 15 minute Anglican sermon!). He spoke about the dangers of making success, materialism, and secular activities our "religion". He challenged us to look into our datebooks. Can you find something in the past week that honoured God? Can you find something in there that served someone in need? If not, challenge yourself to do both in the next week. A great exercise...
After church, I found out about their women's ministry, and picked up a newsletter. They're having a speaker for their women's group next Sunday. I think I may go. The church shopping has begun...
This afternoon, Gerald and I attended our first official songwriter's event since arriving last Sunday. Doak Turner is a songwriter, who has started a brilliant networking opportunity. Once a month, he hosts a party at his house. And at first glance, it just seems like a good time - lots of food, a beautiful setting, and 50 people in the mood for a good time. But this is clearly a party where the song wins out over the food. (Don't mistake me: The food was awesome!)
Everyone gathers about 3:00pm, and grabs something to eat. After the paper plates are tossed, and the grease from the fried chicken is wiped off the fingers, then the real party begins. Everyone pulls out their guitars and finds a room in the house, and just starts playing songs. I mean, every room in the house! With the exception of the bathroom and the kitchen, every room is just full of people playing their songs for each other. There is a keyboard in each room for the keyboard players, and one room is assigned to hold guitar cases.
Each room becomes a "round". A round is a common Nashville phrase where the songwriting conch is passed around. I play a song, the person next to me plays a song, and so on around the circle til it's my turn again. It's a very popular format for songwriting concerts. At first, I was completely intimidated. I mean, I write a few songs, but I know I'm a singer first. I don't have a huge rep of songs that I can just pull out and play and sing at any time. So, at first, I just sat back and listened as Gerald joined in the round. (Totally Gerald's element!)
But after a while, I got the itch, and I did the few songs I could do by myself. I was completely nervous, but so happy I did it. When I did "I Call Out Your Name", an impromptu choir formed and we had full harmonies on the chorus. What a blessing!
We met lots of great people, including a lot of folks who moved here from all over the country to chase their dreams. All week, I have been frustrated that it has taken us a whole week to get out to a songwriting event, but I met a lot of people who've been here for months and they're just getting out now. Guess it's all relative.
We hear about the apartment tomorrow. Fingers crossed. Prayers raised...
Sunday, November 19, 2006
This area is sort of like the Annex in Toronto. Lots of great little shops, restaurants, and cafes. There's a rep cinema, and an intimate guitar store, that we actually visited on the honeymoon. This part of town also features Jackson's, home of the infamous deep-fried twinkies, which I tried last summer. We also found a fantastic used book store, and now that we have an apartment, we clearly need some new books to fill it!
It was a gorgeous day (finally!) so we just tried to spend lots of time soaking up some southern sunshine.
Our plan was to see a show tonight, but we've received an invitation to a songwriter's party tomorrow. This is a monthly event where songwriters gather to share food and music. We don't really know what to expect, but we have friends who've attended, and they say it's just awesome. So, we've decided to stay low tonight and brush up on our songs for tomorrow. It's been so crazy this week with just getting around and trying to get set up that the guitars haven't had much breathing time. But tomorrow, bring on the music!
Saturday, November 18, 2006
We have our application in, but because it was late Friday when it all came together, we won't get an answer til Monday. Fingers crossed and prayers raised!
We drove around the neighbourhood and there's lots of great stuff. Very convenient area - only 10 minutes from Music Row, and near a Baskin-Robbins and a Costco! That's just good livin'.
Actually, after we filled out the application, we looked around for restaurant for dinner. We took a wrong turn, and when we drove into a plaza to turn the car around, we found a Vietnamese restaurant! It was small and hidden, but completely authentic! It was so good - total comfort food!
I started to write a song tonight. It's about the Beatitudes. Part way through the process, I realized that, with some tweaking, it could be a good hymn. So I tightened the structure to fit it into the structure of a hymn. It's 3 verses, in a meter called CMD. (Don't worry if you don't know what this means. I don't really understand it very well either, but you know how some hymns can be sung to different tunes? Well, writing a hymn to a certain meter means that you know what tunes will fit your words.) At this point, I think it's good, but I'll have to look at it again tomorrow to be sure. Funny how things can look different in the light of day.
Not much else to write about tonight. We're just exhausted, and so happy to have found a place. We said we wanted to have a place found by the end of the week, and now that we've accomplished that, we can relax and have some fun this weekend. We'll probably go see a show, check out a church, and get in touch with friends. Whoo-hoo!
Friday, November 17, 2006
Bellevue is hilly and intimate. The fall colour is just hanging on, and you can tell we just missed a stunning show. Today was, yet again, rainy and grey, but the whole area was still beautiful. The area is fairly quiet, but still has lots of shops and stuff.
Of the five places, only one was really ugly. The rest were all pretty good. They all have dishwashers (whoo-hoo!) and almost all had their own washer-dryer in the apartment (big whoo-hoo!). None of the places were simple apartment buildings - they were all apartment communities. With small differences among them, they all had a pool, a fitness centre, and a club house that hosts community events. They all had lovely landscaping and green spaces for Sebastian.
There's one place that's particularly caught our eye. It's mid-range rent, and definitely the smallest place, but it's completely charming: hardwood floors, private balcony, and a wood-burning fireplace. We'll probably see a few more tomorrow, but this is the one to beat.
Not much else going on with us right now other than apartment hunting. We are anxious to get started on making some music, but we really want to get settled in first. We both believe a good home environment is critical to the artistic process, so this is a huge job for us. We're hoping to have a place by the weekend. Then, let the decorating and music-making begin!
Thursday, November 16, 2006
So today, we short-listed apartments, and I've set up 5 viewings for tomorrow. All have pools and fitness centres. And 2 bathrooms - a necessity for the survival of our marriage!
After a very late lunch, we headed over to Gruhn's Guitars - Gerald's favourite place in Nashville. It's very specialized and high-end, kind of like 12th Fret in Toronto. We spent hoooours in there! I found a really tiny little Martin that I just love. It's small and sturdy, even smaller than a parlour size. It would be good for teaching, but the real draw would be traveling. Throw it in a soft case and you can take it on an airplane. After my airplane tragedy this summer, that's a pretty sweet option.
Gerald has fallen in love with Taylor's T5 - a unique guitar that can be played as an acoustic, and then, with the flick of a switch, it becomes an electric guitar. I played it too, and we tried a nice echo-effect on "Jesus Loves Me". Just haunting. It even makes me sound like a great player! Santa, if you're listening...
Tomorrow's going to be long and late, so tonight is going to be quiet and early.
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
A friend of our's is out of town, and has offered us use of his house for the week. Talk about Southern hospitality! We really didn't want to move again, but it was an offer we couldn't refuse. So most of today was another time of packing the car, driving around, unpacking the car, finding out how to set ourselves up again in a new space... Sounds petty, I know, but it just takes up so much time and energy. Gerald has become brilliant at packing all our stuff into my little Corolla.
This afternoon was all about regrouping and figuring out how to approach the rest of the week. We gathered info on apartments and have made a shortlist of areas and places. We are determined to get a place with a pool! (Can't really blame us, can you?)
We found a Tower Records that's going out of business, so we went in and helped relieve them of some excess gospel inventory. (all 40% off! yay!) We then had over-priced lattes and tried to figure out a good map of Nashville to buy. So far, no real luck...
So let me say this observation: Toronto is huge, but sooo easy to drive! I will never take the grid for granted again! Nashville is twisty, like St. John's, but it also has this lovely habit of changing street names. Like one minute you're on West End, and then it suddenly becomes something else, and 5 miles later it's something else! And don't even talk to me about miles. No one says, "Drive 5 minutes" or "Drive 2 blocks". They all say, "Drive 5 miles". How am I supposed to know what 5 miles is? I'm a metric baby! Also the speed limits are higher here. Lots of residential streets are 60km/hr. Not really complaining about that, but it's taking some getting used to. Actually, it will probably take some real getting used to when I get back in TO. Don't really want any speeding tickets for Christmas!
We took a visit to a guitar shop today. It was pretty small, and didn't have a lot of selection. But there was no one else in the shop, so we kicked out a little duet of I Have Decided to Follow Jesus. Spontaneous and fun and lovely.
Tomorrow, we're hoping to start our apartment visits. Can't wait!
Monday, November 13, 2006
But how did we get here?
We were finally able to leave the city on Friday, so we packed up the car with a month’s worth of living, and headed off to the border. We were careful not to pack things that made it look like we were moving in a permanent sense, as that move won’t happen til January.
Still, one the border guards decided to give us some trouble. We were questioned separately about our plans and intentions, and our relationship to one another. But because we’re not planning on working while we’re here, and they couldn’t find any real issue with us, we were given our passports back, and off we went.
It’s about a 12 hour drive to Nashville, but since we have the time, we decided to make it into a little road trip. Our first day’s drive brought us to Cleveland, where we stayed in an awful little hotel. Happily, it was next to an awesome little Mexican restaurant, with killer peppers, and a hot sauce so tasty you could drink it with a spoon. (Well, we could drink it that way!)
The next day was dedicated to the Mecca of Cleveland (for the non-sports fans!), the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame! Wicked good fun! It’s full of exhibits and memorabilia and completely awesome things. I was most impressed with how diverse the music was in the museum. They had lots of displays on the early influences of rock and roll, including bluegrass, country, folk, blues, jazz, and gospel. Mahalia Jackson has been inducted to the Hall of Fame as an ‘influence’. And I discovered a gospel group called the Soul Stirrers, who’s original lead singer was Sam Cooke. Bought their CD - sooo good!
Some of our favourite pieces in the exhibits:
- Elvis’s grade 7 report card.
- Michael Jackson’s glove (tacky, but doesn’t it represent so much of our childhood?)
- Madonna’s Gautier bustier (again, tacky, but...)
- Aerosmith’s microphone with all the scarves on it.
- Handwritten lyrics by Hendrix, Orbison, and the Beatles.
- And my personal favourite, a hand-written chart for Bobby Darin’s rendition of Mack the Knife!
I loved watching the range of people that were at the museum - kids who play in a band back home, and middle-aged couples having high-school flashbacks. So many different people, all in love with great music and great times.
After a quick lunch, we jumped in the car to head to Cincinnati. On the way out of town, we passed by a parking lot full of football fans getting ready for the game, and they were having a tailgate party! They all had the backs of their cars opened up, and they’d dragged speakers and barbeques and dogs and children and noise into this parking lot. So American! Could have been a scene from a movie!
It was a terrible day for driving with Grade A Newfoundland weather - rain, drizzle, and fog. But a triple espresso concoction from Starbucks keep us on the road and singing in the rain.
We hit Cincinnati in the evening, so we really didn’t get to see much of the city. We were looking for flying turkeys, and I was tempted to put up masking tape walls in the room, but other than that, it all seemed sort of plain and normal. Our hotel was really nice, with a big cushy bed and a downtown location. We were exhausted from the rough drive, so we decided to head out for dinner and relax for the rest of the night. We found a great restaurant called Shanghai Mama’s, that advertises as "an authentic 1920's noodle house". It’s dark, and moody, and very cozy. We started with their award-winning shrimp tempura, and moved on to huge bowls of noodles. Mine was orange duckling with thick noodles and a spicy sauce. Just incredible! Next time you’re in Cincinnati...
Next morning, we got up early (well, early for us!) and headed straight for Tennessee. We drove through Kentucky, where we had our first Cracker Barrel visit. Hello! While in Kentucky, Gerald treated me to a medley of every song every written with a reference to Kentucky. And even though we’re definitely in the off-season, you can tell this is gorgeous country down here.
And then, we crossed the border into Tennessee! Whoo-hoo! For our first night in Nashville, we decided to give ourselves a special treat: A night in the Opryland Hotel!
The Opryland Hotel is not like your everyday hotel. It has over 2900 rooms, many with their own personal balconies that hang into one of the many atriums of the hotel. We had a standard room (read: barely affordable) but it was still gorgeous and lush and beyond comfortable. I completely fell in love with the crimped fleece throw on the bed. If I wasn’t so chronically honest, I would have accidently slipped one into my suitcase...
I don’t even know if I can describe this hotel in any way that will do it justice. It has enough stores, restaurants, and pubs to fill a mall. You need to carry your map with you at all times if you have any hope of getting back to your room. But the most spectacular things are the atriums. They are huge and tropical and gorgeous. They are full of palm trees and fountains and cascading vines. They are full of pathways so you can walk above the trees or behind the waterfalls. One of the atriums is so big that it houses several large buildings containing restaurants and stores. This atrium also has a river where you can take a boat ride. When they built the river, they filled it with water from rivers across America and around the world. (It reminded me of baptisms at St. John’s when we use water from the River Jordan and all the provinces.)
But the best part is that it’s all decorated for Christmas! The official shows don’t start til later this week, but all the decorations are up, and it’s fantastic! There’s the stuff you expect: mini lights on every plant, a ginormous tree, and a place where you can write (actually, email) Santa. But there’s also the North Pole village that floats above the Italian restaurant. And the jack-in-the-box that appears to be jumping out of the roof of one of the atriums. And the all-white, larger-than-life-sized nativity that is built in and around the outdoor swimming pool and fountain. (Yes, I did say in!)
The whole experience was romantic and luxurious and just plain wonderful. Not something we could do everyday, but definitely a great way to start our time here in Nashville.
Today, we have checked into a regular hotel in the city. We’ll be staying here til we find an apartment, which we’re hoping will happen this week.
It’s taken so much time and so much work to get here, but now that the time has come, we couldn’t be more excited!
We’re here!!! Whoo-hoo!!!
Friday, November 10, 2006
I can't even tell you all the delays we've had in getting ready for this - Delays with renovations, installations, and just plain complications. I've wanted to write here many times in the last few weeks, but it has been very long days of moving stuff and cleaning stuff and fixing stuff, and at the end of the day, all I wanted was a cuddle with the puppy and a good night's sleep.
We've decided to make a road trip of the drive down: Tonight, we're going to hit Cleveland, so tomorrow we can visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Saturday, we're driving to Cincinnati where we will visit one of their many great-looking museums and galleries. And then, on Sunday, it's Nashville. Makes sense to land there on a Sunday...
Monday, we'll start looking for apartments. We've narrowed down our options, thanks to the internet, and we're probably going to choose a place just outside the city. We've been living downtown for so long now, and the idea of being surrounded by trees and clean air is pretty attractive.
And now, the horrible part: We're leaving Sebastian here for this trip! It's purely practical - We don't know where we'll be living yet and we know we're going to have to spend a lot of time out getting furniture and stuff. But, omiword!!!!! It's just the hardest thing to leave him. Mom and Dad will care for him, so he couldn't be in safer or more loving hands. But he's such an important part of our lives... If you're in Nashville with a cute puppy, please be warned that I may need to grab your puppy for a brief little cuddle. (Don't worry, I'll give him back!)
So now, final things in the car... make sure we have enough gas and a few bottles of water... and we're off!
Time to make the dreams come true!
"The universe will reward you for taking risks on its behalf." Goethe
Wednesday, October 25, 2006
We did it at our home church, and despite the fact that it's a Tuesday night, we got a good-sized crowd out. Mom covered our front of house, and Dad did our sound. He's never done sound before, but the church's sound dude was unable to come, so Dad learned how to work the board 2 days ago, and tonight he ran all the tracks. Yay, Dad!
We were joined tonight by some awesome friends, including our beautiful Monika. Moni was supposed to do a gig tonight, but at the very last minute (literally an hour before showtime!), a sub came through and she was able to join the party. More yay!
We opened with This Little Light of Mine, with everyone singing, after which Gerald did 2 of his songs - So Far and Comin' Home. Monika and I did a duet with He Touched Me, with my friend Marque on piano. I love singing with Moni. It's as natural as breathing. Esther joined us for a few songs, including When You Believe as a duet with Monika. I did Infinitely More and Jesus Loves Me, and then Gerald and I did I Call Out your Name. I love doing the duets. You get these awesome moments of really living the song together. Gerald and I finished the first half with the duet version of All Her Flowers are Wild. I loooove singing that song!!!!!
Our second half opened with Monika and Gerald doing a very jazzy version of Summertime, including a fake-trumpet solo by Gerald. (I don't know what else to call it - You know, it's when he puts his hand over his mouth and it sounds like a trumpet!) Next, we did It Is Well. Esther and I have both recorded that song, and between us all we've sung it a million times, but tonight, it just rocked (if that's an appropriate term for a hymn?) Marque accompanied us. I opened with a solo verse, and Esther joined with harmonies on the chorus. Then we did verse 2 in harmony, but after that chorus, we shot it up into a higher key. Halfway through the verse, I lifted up the melody a la David Phelps, and Moni came in with a third harmony line underneath Esther. For the final chorus and ending, we just opened up the harmonies and sang out. It feel amazing, and the audience reaction was powerful!
Then we invited up our friend, Michelle, who took the lead on Praise You, and Esther and I sang harmonies. Love that girl trio sound! More solos filled the middle part of the half, and then another girl trio on Mosie Lister's Down On My Knees.
Then Gerald and I did a first: We did a guitar duo! I wanted to do I Have Decided to Follow Jesus, so I asked Gerald if he'd solo a little over my basic rhythm guitar pattern. We both sang on it, trading the verses, and Gerald took one verse for a guitar solo. It felt so cool to actually be playing together! I've never done anything like that before! We shared a mic, and it all felt very Opry...
We ended the show with our very Celtic version of Lord of the Dance, with me on guitar and lead vocals, Gerald on djembe, and everyone else singing along on the chorus. It was just so much fun, and in the end, we were blessed with a standing ovation! Such an honour! The audience reaction was just so wonderful and generous. We have so much support from this group of people.
Tomorrow, we need to go back to clearing out the house and finding someone to tile our kitchen (Yes, another delay!!!) But tonight was so important to remind us why we're clearing the house and getting our kitchen tiled ... We're Nashville bound!
Monday, October 23, 2006
I still get nervous before I start a morning service, at St. John's or anywhere else. (I don't get stage fright, but I do value those little nerves. I think they show it's still important to me.) But that nervousness has softened, and I now worry about more important things, like choosing tempos that are easy to sing, and making sure everyone feels involved and free to worship as they please. And I am also much more free to enjoy myself! I love the process of choosing music for a service. I love hearing the congregation lift their voices in song. I love bringing in a new song I wrote and seeing people connect to it. I just feel so privileged to be doing this kind of work. I feel so blessed by the opportunities that are coming into my life.
This afternoon, I attended an ordination service at my home church. Catherine is a former teacher who has chosen to go into ministry. I love ordination services - they're kind of like weddings without the toilet-paper decorations and false shows of affections. As I watched this service of welcoming someone into their call to serve the church, I couldn't help but reflect on the changes in my career since my first trip to Stamps-Baxter last summer.
Over the last year, 80% of the music I have done has been Christian. Another 18% was devoted to children's music, and then I took 2% of my creative energy to shoot a commercial (which funded this year's trip to Music City!). That's a huge change from a career built on cabaret and music theatre. In many ways, it has been difficult and unglamorous. And yet, I feel so completely satisfied in all that I do. I'm not always perfect at it, and more days than not are full of huge mistakes, but I feel a peace and satisfaction that has never before been a part of my work. I feel truly happy and confident in what I'm doing.
It's been a full and a long day - a morning service, a little boy's birthday party, the ordination service, and a belated anniversary dinner with Mom and Dad.
This afternoon, I realized, "Oh, this is why Dad takes Mondays off".
Sunday, October 15, 2006
But there are no pews.
The pews have been removed, because during the week, the entire sanctuary of the church is full of desks and book shelves and everything else needed to run a centre for community outreach. Through countless programs, staff and volunteers strive to meet the needs of those in the downtown core - people suffering from poverty, homelessness, addiction, abuse, and loneliness.
And on Sundays, a space is cleared. An altar is pulled out onto the floor and candles are lit. Two rows of chairs are pulled around the front of the altar. And a small group of people - Christians, just like you and I - assemble to worship their Lord and Savior. The don't have a praise band or a powerpoint screen or a new grand piano. They actually don't have much of anything that the rest of us consider so essential for worship. They just have their hearts, their voices, and their honesty... and they have all of that in abundance.
When I visit All Saints, I sing a little during communion and then do a few solos. When I read the scriptures for the day, I realized "I Have Decided to Follow Jesus" would be a perfect fit. I worked up a little arrangement, and as I sang, people started to sing along, which was lovely. Later, I did my arrangement of "Jesus Loves Me", which just always feels so good to sing.
I continue to be impressed by the depth and sincerity of the faith I see in all the churches I visit, but I am never more impressed than when I am at All Saints.
Sunday, October 08, 2006
But the good news is: We're getting closer! The house will be on the market within the next 2 weeks. I have collected almost every piece of info needed for my visa, and last night, I got the news that a friend has agreed to be my sponsor. Whoo-hoo! On the 24th, we're having a "farewell concert", and a few days after that, we'll be heading off to Music City! We'll spend November and half of December there, coming back in time to do a few gigs and spend Christmas with the family. Then, back in the New Year.
This week has a great project in store, too. As a great gesture of support, friends have offered us 2 days in a killer studio for free. I'm going to do demos of a few new songs, but the bulk of the time will be Gerald's. He's got a lot of new songs, and he's hoping to get enough stuff recorded to start a small acoustic album. It's a big goal in a small amount of time, so we're not putting any pressue on it. In the very least, we'll get some great sounding demos we can use for promotion.
This morning was also a great blessing. I was back again at St. John's West. They are having me there twice this month, which is just awesome. I will admit I felt the pressure today. Not just any Sunday, but Thanksgiving! They usually have organ or piano on holidays so that people can hear all their favourite traditional Thanksgiving hymns. But as the schedule worked out, it was just me and my guitar. A lot of those traditional hymns were written for organ, so they can be a little choppy on guitar. We chose some traditional hymns, with a few newer pieces thrown in.
Last night, I really felt nervous about the whole thing. But this morning, I woke up to a truly fall day - crisp air and gleaming sunshine. When I finally left the downtown core, I was able to see leaves drifting off the trees, and new colours shining on the branches. My voice felt strong, and my spirit was ready to praise...
The service was wonderful! Today's Gospel was from Matthew, where Jesus tells us that if God watches the birds and clothes the lilies, then we have no cause for worry. Gary preached a great sermon on the reading, and I followed with "His Eye is on the Sparrow". People were ready to sing, and we had some great moments with "For the Fruit of All Creation" and "Great is thy Faithfulness".
Extra special treat: Mom and Dad came to the service! Dad gets few Sundays off, so it was awesome that his day off and my day on coincided.
After the service, I spoke with a very young 82-year-old woman who told me the music made it really feel like Thanksgiving. Love those moments...
(I've been reading Joel's blog, and he has inspired this next section.)
In honour of Thanksgiving, I am inspired to write a list of a few blessings:
- Gerald, who continues to challenge and surprise and love me.
- Mom and Dad, who have supported my dreams from Day 1.
- Monika, who loves me unconditionally.
- Sebastian (our puppy), who knows the value of a good cuddle.
- Steve, for always inspiring me to reach for my dreams.
- Nana, for teaching me the value of singing in church.
- My aunts and uncles, for their strength and friendship.
- and God, for always being faithful!
Wednesday, September 27, 2006
The meeting was packed, which was great. Tonight's lesson was on co-writing. Til now, all my co-writing has been with Gerald. But once we hit Nashville, we'd like to start writing with lots of different people, so tonight's lesson was very well timed for us. Once we heard the topic, we were broken up into partners to do a co-writing exercise. Gerald and I took the chance to work with some other people. We were all given the title "The House on the Hill". We then had to go through the steps of brainstorming, choosing the singer's point of view, and choosing to whom we are singing. After 15 minutes, we all stopped to share our ideas. And, of course, it was amazing how many song ideas could come from the one idea.
After this was critique time. I didn't have anything brand new, but I did have something that really hasn't been heard by anyone. Last year, I worked on a Christmas lyric and tune. I was pretty happy with it, but as I started to pass it around, I started to receive negative feedback on the melody. It was a real lesson on presenting a song too early. I sort of hid it in shame for many months. But this year, at Stamps-Baxter, Daryl asked me to bring him an uptempo Christmas song. I pulled out the lyric and chorded a little tune that had been bouncing around in my head. His feedback was very positive. But since I only had the one opinion, I thought I'd bring it in tonight.
Well, at the risk of bragging, I have to say it was a hit! People clapped along on the last chorus, and then gave it rousing applause. There was some critiquing of one line, which was great because that line didn't sit well with me and now I have some ideas for it. But overall, it was all very very positive. One person wants to me send it to a performer who's recording a Christmas CD, and another wants to bring it to his church. Whoo-hoo! All very exciting!!!
*sigh* Back to house stuff tomorrow. Working for the dream...
Monday, September 25, 2006
We had a prelude planned, but tech gliches cut us short. Gerald sang his song, "Do You Trust The Wings God Gave You?", but we didn't have time for my "Jesus Loves Me". I did the opening hymn, "Be Thou My Vision", and Gerald played the other hymns. The responses, psalm, and sanctus were lead on organ, and the communion songs were acapella. Quite the mix of music for one service. And, of course, that gorgeous acoustic!
This afternoon was the start of our season of Gospel Vespers services. After today, I am no longer able to be a part of Gospel Vespers. We're going to leave late October, so we'll be missing the next service. I'm booking the talent for the next few services, but after that, I'm done. I've just loved being a part of this committee and I believe so strongly in this ministry. I'll be praying for its continued success after I'm gone.
But today was also a chance for me, Dad, Gerald, and Monika to work together one last time as a team. Our Gospel theme today was the parable of the lost coin, which Dad re-interpreted as "the lost credit card". Great idea as it made it more relevant for the congregation. I love the way he makes the Bible fresh and viable for people. I set up his sermon with the solo, "Orphans of God". I first heard this song at the faculty concert at Write About Jesus, sung by the writers Twila Labar and the ever-lovely Joel Lindsey. It all worked together perfectly!
My role today was to choose and organize the music. I lead the music on vocals and guitar, Moni joined in on harmonies and tambourine, and Gerald played djembe and a little guitar. We did lots of great uptempo songs like "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms", "Sunshine in my Soul", and "Just a Little Talk with Jesus". We also taught "I Call Out Your Name" and our dismissal "Give Peace, My Friend", which is sung to the tune of Shenandoah. I lead the prayer time, and Gerald underscored it with his beautiful guitar work. Lovely!
For the last song, we totally rocked out on a very uptempo, very Celtic "Lord of the Dance". We opened with solo drum, and then added guitar, and then brought in the vocals. When we hit the verse "I danced on a Friday when the sky turned black...", the guitar dropped out and it was just percussion. We had shakers in the pews for the congregation, so everyone was playing along. Well, it was going really well and everyone was singing and playing like crazy, and then the best thing happened: People started leaving the pews and walking and dancing and playing their instruments in the aisles! We had a parade of people going up and down the aisles singing and praising and making music! In an Anglican church!!! It was awesome and joyful and everything you want great worship to be! Praise God!
Tonight, I'm tired but full. It was great to work with Dad to build this service and hear him preach. He's so gifted at tying everything together so the whole service represents a theme and flows as one unit. And it is like breathing to sing with Monika. I love her voice. I love her spirit. And I love making music with her. And, of course, Gerald is my partner in all things good and true. To look to one side and see Monika singing, then glance to the other and see Gerald jamming along on the drum... I couldn't stop thinking of that great Gaither lyric:
Loving God, loving each other. Making music with my friends...
What a blessing!
Sunday, September 24, 2006
Tonight was actually very special because we didn't just watch the concert - we helped out! When Gordon Mote performed at Stamps-Baxter this summer, we got to talking and I told him I was from Canada. He asked if I'd help out at his product table next time they came through. A few emails later and the whole thing was set up.
Late this afternoon, Gerald and I arrived at the ACC to work the table. Well, it took us 5 or 6 different gates before we found one that would let us in, so that was a little odd. (Do they have a problem with people trying to crash the Gaithers???) But once we were in, it felt great. We, along with Gordon's manager, Bob, sold CDs before the show and during intermission. It was great to see the reaction of the crowd. Some people had heard Gordon in the London concert this spring, and a few had seen the new GVB DVD air on tv last night. But most people had never heard of him. In the first half, he did "If they could see you through my eyes" and "Good old gospel ship". The crowd went wild! Seriously! It was a huge reaction, so intermission was much much busier. After the show, it looked like the table was going to be quiet, til Gordon showed up for a meet and greet. Then the crowds came, all wanting autographs and photos, and just wanting to some how get close to him. It was wonderful to see how blessed people had been through his music and his message.
It, yet again, reminded me why I want to do this. I want to be a part of a music that can bring together Christians of all denominations. I want to encourage, participate in, and help lead the worship of God in a corporate setting. I want to, some how, maybe even help people discover God for the first time, or maybe re-discover Him if they're feeling lost.
Tonight was also a real blessing in getting to know people. Gordon is funny and infinitely charming, and Bob is wonderful and very, very cool. Got to speak to Mr. Ben several times, which is always a joy. Also got to meet Kevin Pauls, who is a Canadian who has been doing some singing on the tours. The whole crowd was generous and warm. During the concert, people would sing along and clap their hands. Thousands of people, gathered in the middle of the raging city, praising God! So awesome! I was chatting with a security guard from the ACC. He looked at me with a very relaxed smile and said, "Easy night tonight.". Clearly, the good energy was just in the air...
And, of course, the music: great hymns - fantastic bluegrass by the Isaacs - always loving Signature Sound - Marshall Hall singing Jesus Loves Me - Gordon's Good old gospel ship - Jesse Dixon singing anything! So wonderful!
Off to bed! We're doing 2 full services tomorrow in 2 different churches! Sleep please...