Sunday, July 30, 2006

Nashville - Play Day #1

I am sticking around Nashville for a few extra days to relax and have fun and try to make a few plans for November. Originally, I intended to play some open mics, but we all know you can't play an open mic without a guitar. (It still just turns my stomach!)

I have a great hotel right on Music Row, near where we stayed for our honeymoon. It's not 'great' as in 'glamorous', but it is within walking distance of everywhere I want to go, they have a pool, and my favourite cafe is right across the street. I call that great.

This afternoon was all about resting. I said my goodbyes at the school, made some plans for tonight, and got a drive over here. I made long leisurely phone calls home. I watched TV and sprawled out on queen-size bed (no more dorm cots for me!).

Then I wandered over to the Lifeway Christian Store. Many of you will have been to your local Christian bookstore, including the lovely Mitchells in Toronto. Well, let me tell you - Lifeway is like the Walmart of Christian bookstores! It's just huge! Today was my second visit (first time on the honeymoon) and I haven't even made it into the book section yet. There are gifts and cards and Bibles and novels and even Christian gum. (seriously!) But for me, it's all about the music. In Toronto, there will be a small section of Southern Gospel and it will mostly be Gaither stuff. Here there are racks and racks of Southern Gospel, and tonnes of other Christian and gospel music as well. But really truly, the mission today was for backup tracks. Again, in TO, tracks make up a tiny section of any store, and they are primarily praise and worship songs. But here, because everyone performs with tracks, it's big business. My goal is to buy 10 tracks, which I figure will be a good start to planning an entire tracks-based concert. Today, I spent an hour listening to songs, finding arrangements and keys that suited my voice and my mission. I bought a few, but I didn't get through the whole section, so I am planning a second visit before leaving for home.

Tonight, I attended a concert at River of Life church. (Many of you will remember my River of Life experience from last year...) Each year, this church is host to an awesome week of free Fan-Fest concerts with some of the top Southern Gospel musicians around. Last year, I attended this same concert after school, and that's where I heard Mercy's Mark and Kirk Talley. I have since become a fan of both! Tonight's concert was incredible! I went with a family from school and we really had a terrific time.

The show opened with my songwriting teacher, Daryl Williams. He's the music director at the church, so he and his trio and the River of Life choir opened things with a great shout of praise. Later in the night, we had a set just with the trio, which was amazing! Great songs and great harmonies.

The show featured several family groups, and a fired up performance from the New Imperials. I saw them last year as well, and it was neat to see how much tighter they've gotten even over the past year. Powerful voices with a strong stage presence.

But the highlight of the night for me was Karen Peck and New River. I've been a fan of Karen's for a while now. Very late on Saturday night, they sometimes show old clips from the National Quartet Convention, and this is how I first heard of Karen Peck and New River. They are a mixed trio, of Karen, her sister, and a tenor. Their songs are great, and as a group, they are warm, funny, gentle, and highly engaging. But for me, Karen was the thrill. She's a soprano with a beautiful voice and incredible communication skills. It was a real masterclass on telling the story through song. I got the chance to meet her after, and it was just so great to be able to speak to her and tell her how much I'm inspired by her. She's a little more country than me, but we have the same vocal range, so I bought a few tracks. So exciting!!!

After the show, we all stayed out late finding some place to eat, talking, laughing, becoming friends.

Today wasn't really restful, but it was definitely relaxing and joyful. Getting up early for church tomorrow. Need to have a sleep-in day soon!

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Stamps-Baxter - Day 10

I am writing this entry the-morning-after, because last night was very wonderful and very late.

As Mrs. Von Trapp would say, let's start at the very beginning...

Yesterday morning was tough. We were all so excited for the day ahead, yet we all wanted it to go as slowly as possible. The day started with Connie's devotions. Her words have been such a blessing to me this week. She is just so bright and sparkling and loving and smart. After devotions, we had announcements, which included who made it into the closing night program. I had that little knot in my stomach that always shows up on such occasions. They read through all the groups, and then at the very end, they read our names! Scott and I got in the closing program! He was so sure we would make it, but there were so many great performers that I really didn't want to get my hopes up. I just felt so honoured to be on that list. More on this later...

In theory class, we finished our song. It's been a crazy process to co-write with so many people, but in the end, I think we ended up with something pretty good. It was interesting to notice who in the room got excited about the process, and who just shut down. I loved it. I think it was a good preparation for the kind of co-writing I want to do when we move here. No, I don't want to co-write with 18 people at a time, but up til now, I've only ever written with Gerald, and that's clearly a different process. Writing the song in class forced me to be open to other people's ideas and not just trying to force all of my ideas in to the song. (Yes, Gerald, you can smile at this!)

By the way, weird little culture shock. This campus has all these sloping walkways. Every time I walk on them, I think, "Wow, this must be so dangerous in the winter when it's all iced up." Apparently, they just don't get iced up, so no one thinks about that stuff. What am I going to do with all my winter coats?

This morning, we were treated to another concert, and this one was great: The Florida Boys. This group has been around forever. I can't remember the exact date, but I think they were formed in the 1950s? They are just great. There were 6 of them, playing piano, guitar, bass and singing 4 parts. They do a great mix of old and new songs, and all in great rich harmonies. It was so fun and so entertaining. This is one of the things I love about being here. I've heard of the Florida Boys, but they would never come up to Toronto to sing. Here, I got to hear them, talk to them, and, of course, buy their cds!

Before I move on to tonight, I need to write about something very significant. I really don't want to write about details, because this involves other people's personal lives, but in the past two weeks, I have been called up twice to sit with people who are grieving. It has been so significant for me to be able to do this. Two years ago, either one of these events would have pulled me right back into my own grief. I would have needed to call home for support. But I didn't need support. Instead, I was able to offer support to these friends. I knew I couldn't give answers or fix anything, but I knew I could be honest and authentic, and when I was in my grief, that's all I wanted from people. I will never be thankful for what happened to Steve, but today, I am so thankful for the knowledge and strength and understanding that I have gained. I feel so blessed and honoured to have been called upon to sit with these friends in their grief. I pray for more strength and more opportunities in this area.

This afternoon was rest time. I indulged in a long nap and a lengthy vocal warm-up. We all gathered for the show at 6:30pm. The auditorium was full. We all sat in the floor section in our SATB parts, and the upper part was full of family and friends. The show was a long one - 3 hours without an intermission. We would sing 3 group-singing songs, and then we would have a group of 3 solo or individual performances. It was so incredible! The group singing was raised to new heights, and I thought we'd never stop singing, "I'm His, He's Mine", by Dad Speer.

And the individual performances were just so great. We had solos with voice, piano and soprano sax. There were quartets and trios and mixed groups. Daniel and Trey, both from my quartet, did a great piano-comedy-duet. And Miles thrilled the crowd with his 5 octave range. (That's not a typo - 5 octaves!)

We were saved til the end of the program, which was a mixed blessing. Programmers usually put stronger talent on at the end of the show, so that's always cool. But it also meant I couldn't really relax the whole night! I was very nervous going on, but I took lots of deep breaths and prayed a lot. When we went out there, I just reminded myself that the notes would be there, and my job was just to tell the story. And we did! It was great. I believe it was our best performance yet. The audience response was great, and we received lots of generous feedback, so that was all very satisfying. I just felt so honoured to be included in that line-up. Everyone was so good, and it was privilege to share their stage.

Then they announced the scholarships, and I just leapt from my seat. My beautiful friend, Karen, won the Brock Speer Scholarship! She completely deserves it - she's passionate about music and learning, and she always wants to support others and make them shine. I'm just so proud of her for getting this honour.

The school has added a second scholarship this year in memory of Anthony Burger, and this will be awarded annually to a piano student. My friend, Ashley, won this one, and, and I again, I am just so excited for her. She is so sweet and dedicated to her music. Such an exciting night!

After the show, we all took photos and said our goodbyes. This morning is a hard time to see people because so many people fly out in the morning, so last night was the time for tears and trading email addresses. A group of us went out for a late dinner, and that was great. Just relaxing and getting to know each other. Getting closer just before we all have to say good-bye.

I got up at 5:30 this morning to see my room-mate off. I'm going to help in a little of the packing up now, and then head off to my hotel. A lot of my plans for these next few days have been messed up - I can't play an open mic with a broken guitar, NSAI doesn't have a Christian Songwriters Night this week, and several friends our out-of-town. So today will be all about relaxing and recovering, and tomorrow I'll start finding lots to do. I probably won't have much internet access over the next few days, but I'll write here as often as possible.

I've said and thought it every day, but I have to add it in one more time:

I'm so glad I came!!! I can't wait to move here!!!

Friday, July 28, 2006

Stamps-Baxter - Day 9

Today takes the record at the longest day at Stamps-Baxter. We started at 8am with devotions, and auditions have just ended at 11PM!!! So ready for some sleep, but I really need to get down all the awesome stuff that has happened today, and I think I just need to start at the climax:

Today, I met Bill and Gloria Gaither! That's right, not just Bill, but the elusive Gloria. Bill came last year for a Q&A and it was such a huge experience for me. But to spend time in the presence of Gloria Gaither was a dream come true. I am so influenced by her writing. I love her ideas and wordplay. I love to hear her speak on the Gaither videos. I know she speaks at conferences, but it's never in my area, so today was a rare and incredible experience.

First, Bill sat at the piano and led us in a singalong of some of their classics - He Touched Me, Because He Lives, Let's Just Praise the Lord, and so on and so on. He even treated us to the 'cult classic' - "Not A Hoof Shall Be Left Behind". Bill claims that this is the worst song he ever wrote, and used that to launch into a talk about songwriting. For the next hour, he and Gloria talked about writing and their process and the stories behind some of their songs. It was so amazing and brilliant and wonderful. I took lots of notes. Gloria encouraged us to write meaningful songs, because at some point, we will need those songs to minister to us. She is just so passionate about words and their use in ministering to others. I was so emotional through the whole thing. I have admired this woman for so long, and to sit in her presence was nothing short of inspiring.

They talked a little about the Gaither Vocal Band and videos and stuff, but then they also gave this 15 minute history on their song, "I've Just Seen Jesus". Yes, the same duet we've been working on for the past 2 weeks. They told us all about the writing process and how it came to be the song it is today. What a great story to get this week, of all weeks!

After their talk, we could all say Hi and have photos, so I had my photo taken. (Don't worry, you'll see the photo. I'll be showing this one to everybody!) When we were 'visiting', I asked if I could tell them a quick story. I told them about when we lost baby Carter, and how upset I was. That night, I had tickets to a Gaither show. I really didn't want to go, but the tickets had been expensive and Mom and Dad thought it would be good for me to go, so I went. The show opened with Bill just walking out on stage and leading us all in a few songs. The first one he sang was "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands", and the first verse he sang was: He's got the little-bitty baby, in His hands! I couldn't believe it. I cried, but I could cry with tears of joy, because I knew Carter was safe in the hands of God. I've always wanted to tell Bill how much that moment meant to me, how God had spoken so clearly through him that night. I'm sure they hear stories like that all the time, but I still felt that they appreciated me telling them.

So that was definitely the high point, but the rest of the day was pretty full too. In theory, we're writing our song. Remember, this is a co-write with 18 people. Today, we harmonized the verse, and Tracey asked us to start on lyrics. I had an idea prepared, so that's the one we're using. I thought we could write about Noah in the first verse, the second verse would be an application verse, and the hook would be something like "He washes it all away", with reference to washing away sin, grief, etc. (An application verse is that verse that turns the song out to you, the listener, and tells you how this story can apply to you. Think of the second verse of "Ask the Blind Man, He saw it all".) We all started writing lyrics, and we came up with 3 verses.

We then started to write music for the chorus. We did this more in a singalong process. We started with the end line of the verse, and someone sang what they thought would be a good opening for the chorus. Tracey played this, and we would all sing what we thought should come next. We would then decide on which of these phrases we liked best, and then add it on. We just continued this process til we had a chorus worth of music. It all seemed a little haphazard in the moment, but I think we may have a pretty good song. Tracey's class often writes a song, and they usually get published in a songbook, so that would be pretty cool.

I had my final lesson with Daryl today. I stayed up very late finishing my song. I actually ended up grabbing my guitar (my loaner guitar) and finding an empty room on my floor where I wouldn't bother anybody. I'm not happy with the music on the bridge, but I'm sure that will come. I am very happy with the tune and how it all builds. Daryl liked it too, so that was very satisfying. I also presented my Christmas song. Can't remember if I mentioned this before, but Daryl has been asking every student to write an uptempo Christmas or Easter song. I had one I wrote last year. The lyric was good, but the music was terrible. So I revisited it, and brought it in. Daryl was very enthusiastic about this one and thinks it's very pitchable. Again, we both thought it might be good for a Christmas musical. We spent the rest of the time talking about how to make demos and pitch songs. I'm just so excited to get to Nashville where I can be surrounded by writers all the time. You know, writers other than Gerald!
(By the way, I just found out that NSAI doesn't have a Christian songwriters night next week, so I can't go to that anymore, but I'll probably still drop by the office and check it out.)

Tonight was audition night, thus the very late evening. Remember how I said they were having an open audition? Well, there were at least 20 groups, and just over 50 soloists who auditioned. It was crazy! Everyone had 2 minutes, but it still went on forever. I'm such a voice junky and I love hearing people sing, so it was mostly good. But I have to say, by the end of it, I was just ready for bed and cozy clothes. Actually, it was very cool to see all the different styles and arrangements people had to offer. There are some great groups that have been assembled just over the past 2 weeks, and lots of great soloists that I hadn't heard before.

Scott and I were the first to go with "I've Just Seen Jesus". Because we only had 2 minutes, we started halfway through the track so that we could get in lots of the high notes. We had a lot of fun, and I think we did it well.

My quartet auditioned too, and we now go by the name The Accidentals. (Great name; can't take credit for it.) We sang "Moving Up to Gloryland", and it also went really well. The audience response was great, so I was really pleased with that.

The results of the auditions will be announced tomorrow morning. I would really love to be a part of the program, but even if I'm not, I'm just so pleased with tonight's experience. It's just been so good to work on these songs and get to know these musicians. All very satisfying.

I'm just ready to crawl into bed. Please excuse all typos and weird sentences in tonight's entry. It's taking all my energy just to keep my eyes open, and I really don't think I'm up to proof-reading tonight.

It's all been so good today!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Stamps-Baxter - Day 8

We're over the hump. The rest of the week is about to fly by! No! Make it slow down!

Another long and full and wonderful day. Started with theory, where we're learning melody writing. In my head, I got very arrogant and thought, "I can write a tune! I don't need this." Ha! Foolish child! There were actually lots of things to learn. We got a few rules and then we were all assigned to write an 8 bar tune. No chords or anything, just the tune. I wrote out 2 - one good, one not good. We'll just forget about the not good one...

Our class is going to write a song. Yes, one song written by 18 people. How do you do that, you ask? Well, this afternoon, we all submitted our tunes to Tracey and she played them in front of the class (no names were given). Everyone voted on their favourites. It got narrowed down to 2 tunes, and mine was one of them. (The good one, obviously!) In the final vote, my tune didn't make it, but that's cool. I'm really happy people liked it, so I'm going to continue to work on it, and then get it published in all the hymnals and make a mint!

We've taken the winning tune -very uptempo and convention style - and now we're writing parts for it. For tomorrow, we've also been asked to bring in lyric ideas. Don't know how much work I can actually put into it tonight. I still have no final tune for my song for Daryl. I sort of know what I want, but I haven't had a good long silent time in which brood, cry, and think over it. (Crying is a crucial step in the songwriting process!) Going to stay up late working tonight.

Today was my final voice lesson with Glenn Wilson. I am sooooo very sad for this time to end. I've had so much fun and learned so much, and I truly feel my voice has grown over the last 5 lessons. I feel we had a real meeting of the minds, and I'm just thrilled about this experience. How far is it to Texas, anyways?

So, the big buzz today is auditions for the closing program. Last year, anyone could audition with any solo or group or whatever. But this year, they decided the auditions would be "by invitation only". Well, it was hard to get information about what this meant, and people started to get really stressed about the whole process. So they've switched it back to an open audition. I actually think this is more fair, and it's gotten everyone excited about their songs. I'll be auditioning twice - once with my quartet, and once with Scott for "I've Just Seen Jesus". I really don't know if I'll make the program, but I just want to audition and give it my best. I didn't get on last year and I still had a great night. Just lots of deep breaths, and really hoping for a good night's sleep tonight. I can handle not winning a spot. I can't handle a bad audition!

I have a new Southern term for you: visiting. For us in Canada, 'visiting' means you go to someone's house and have a cup of tea. For those in the South (and perhaps the rest of the States?) this means having a chat with someone, anywhere, anytime. For example, if you and I run into each other in the mall, and we have a chat right there by the water fountain, that's 'visiting'. You could go home and stay, "I visited with Allison today". Isn't that funny? I just love it! I've been visiting people all day, and I haven't had one cup of tea!

Actually, 'tea' also means something else. 'Tea' is always iced. Never hot. If you want a cup of tea, you order 'hot tea'. If you order 'tea', you will get something cold. Clearly not a British culture!

Tonight, we didn't have a full concert. Instead, we had a tribute to the late, great Anthony Burger. Last year, Anthony's concert was a highlight. Such an entertainer! His stepdaughter, Lori, joined in on a few songs, so she came again tonight to sing. She sang 3 songs, and they played a tribute video, showcasing Anthony's awesome career. There are so many young pianists here who have been influenced by Anthony, so it was a powerful presentation. (Boni, I thought of you!)

We finished the night with performance opportunity, and tonight was wonderful because a lot of my friends sang, including a couple of little girls who brought the house down with Amazing Grace. I love hearing kids sing!

Now, I'm off to keep writing, and hopefully get some sleep.

Actually, just one more thought. I really don't want this week to end. I truly love it here. But I'm more excited about moving here than ever before. I can't get too sad about school ending because I know I'm coming back. There has been a lot presented to me that has made me very nervous about pulling up all my roots and moving here. But despite that, I'm so just excited about it all. I really feel we are following God's plan for us, and there's such comfort in that.

I will just continue to say, "Yes, Lord!".

Stamps-Baxter - Day 7

I thought I might get to bed early tonight. Clearly, all these shape-notes have made me delusional!

This morning started bright and early at 8:00am with devotions with Connie, and it was great. Her opening statement was, "Are you too busy?". (Gerald, don't laugh!) She went on to talk about Mary and Martha, and how Martha was flitting around trying to make things perfect, while Martha took the time to sit in the presence of God. She then asked if we are a Mary or a Martha. Oh my, I am sooo Martha! Always needing to 'take care of things', making sure everything gets done and gets done right. It was a great reminder to just take time to 'be still and know that God is God'. Great way to start a busy day!

Then, the recording began! Each year, the school records a cd of the songs we've worked on in group singing. The cds aren't marketed outside the school, but they are a great keepsake of this fantastic experience. I lost track, but we probably recorded a dozen or more songs from both songbooks. Everything is recorded live-off-the-floor, in the same set-up we've used all week. We sit in our four voice parts, and 5 mics are set up to capture the sound. An additional mic is used for the piano.

We started at 8:30am. Mighty early by my standards. (Psychic note to my future producer: don't ever expect me to record at 8:30 in the morning!) But for our needs, the morning start was pretty good. At least we were fresh to start. We went until almost 1:00, so people were decidedly unfresh by then. This pushed our lunchtime off by an hour, so we lost part of our theory class. Most people didn't complain about this. But since I've finally found a good theory class for me, I was a little bummed out.

For theory today, we had a special visit from Wayne Haun - songwriter, producer, and arranger extraordinaire. I actually did a workshop with him at Write About Jesus last year. Today he was there for a Q&A. I had to leave for a voice lesson, so I only got in one Q. I asked about what I should be looking for in a producer for an indie album. Very very helpful! Wish I could have stayed for more.

Voice today was awesome! Wish I could drive to Texas every week to study with Mr. Glenn! (Yes, Glenn is his first name, but here in the south, we call people Mr or Miss and their first name. You may call me Miss Allison!) Glenn and I continued to work on high notes and smooth tones. Then Scott, my duet partner, came in for the second half of the lesson so we could get some feedback on "I've Just Seen Jesus". It was great! We did it once, and he offered feedback all the way through. Then we did more work acapella, and then again with the track. I think we actually went overtime. It was just awesome!

We were planning on singing it for Allison's class today, but right when it got to our turn, she realized that we had gone before, so she decided to only see people who haven't had a turn yet. Fair, but poopy.

We did more group singing again tonight. We had some fun sight-reading new stuff, but we also continued to work on the other songs. We will sing some of them in the closing program Friday night.

Tonight's concert was Buddy Greene. You may never have heard of Buddy, but you've probably heard of his song, "Mary Did You Know". Yes, Mark Lowrey did write the words, but Buddy Greene wrote that haunting and completely singable melody. Tonight's show was different from all the rest. With the exception of 2 songs, everything was acoustic, with Buddy singing and playing guitar (a Martin) and harmonica. He did Southern Gospel, hymns, and lots of rootsy, bluesy stuff. On several songs, he brought up people from the audience to play an egg shaker or sing harmony. And there was lots of opportunity to sing along on the hymns. Tonight transcended concert status and became Church. It was great. So entertaining and musical and authentic and spiritual. Awesome!

So, since we couldn't do our duet in Allison's class, we decided to do it tonight in performance training. If you don't know "I've Just Seen Jesus", let me fill you in: It's a huge duet about seeing Jesus alive on Easter morning. Each singer is required to sing about 2 octaves worth of range, and my top note is a high B. Crazy! It needs lots of stamina and lots of support. I was worried about singing it at the end of a long day, but that was our time slot. I took a deep breath, asked God to take control, and started. It was great! Scott and I got our parts right, held our long notes together, and hit all our high notes. But mostly, we just told the story. We told the most important, most fundamental part of Christianity. Jesus is not dead. He's alive!

The whole experience was very satisfying. I always figure, if you don't fall off the edge of the stage, it's a good performance. (heehee!) But really, it was a challenge of a song to sing, and I feel I met and rose to that challenge. I'm also just so thrilled that it reached into people's hearts! I'm so glad we had the opportunity to give this awesome message in this powerful way. That's what all of this is all about.

The time is going too quickly here! Must find a way to make the days go slower!

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Stamps-Baxter - Day 6

Today seemed at least a week long. We started with devotions at 8:00 am (Aunt Faye was back. Yay!) and performance opportunity just ended now at 10:30 pm. I'm so tired, and I need to get back to the room soon to make my nightly phone call home, and get enough sleep for tomorrow.

Tomorrow, we will record the school cd. It will be full of the convention songs we've been singing all week. So, as you can imagine, group singing was especially intense today. We start recording at 8:30 am tomorrow, so I'm planning to get up a little earlier so I can have a nice long warm up.
It was great to get back at things today. Theory was great. Over the weekend, we had to write a 4 bar melody and harmonize it. I did my 'homework' version, and then I did 'my' version, with a couple of extra grace notes and such. I got Tracey to check both versions, and with the exception of a "frustrated leading tone", I did well. She played it for me, and I'm pretty happy with how it sounded too. We also did some rhythmic work with writing and clapping different rhythms, so that was easy for me.

I had no private lessons today, but I've been continuing work on my song for Daryl's class. I think I have the lyric complete, so I'll bring that in tomorrow. Then I'll finish shaping the tune so I can try and finish it this week.

Today we had a representative from Singing News Magazine come to the school. Singing News is the southern gospel magazine. I've been getting it for a year, and I just love it. Anyways, they're going to do an article on Stamps-Baxter some time over the next year, and they came today to do interviews and pictures. Ben wanted a cross-section of students interviewed, and I was one of the students he chose! We were interviewed in a group, and asked about how we found out about the school, what have we learned, etc. I was asked about how I felt when I won the scholarship. I told him and I nearly started to cry. It still makes me so emotional! I also told him how my life has changed since coming to Stamps-Baxter - how I've given all my art and music to God, and how I've started a music ministry in Toronto. I told him I didn't want him to think I was bragging, because I know I'm not the only person who has made that choice because of their time here. I think it's such a great legacy, and I think lots of people should know that.

Let's be honest, we all know how interviews work. They interview and photograph lots of us, and then in the final edit, some of us will end up on the cutting room floor. That's not negative, just honest. (Pacifier!) But the truth is, I'm just honoured to be asked. I'm thrilled that Ben would consider my opinions worthy to represent the school. Of course ... it would also be pretty cool to see my name in Singing News!

Every spare minute today was filled with quartet and duet rehearsals. We performed the quartet for Jack Clark, my awesome and brilliant theory teacher of last year. He gave us some great feedback, and we also spent some time on a little choreography. (And yes, I do mean little. We're not Signature Sound!)

We brought the duet to Scott's voice teacher, Reggie Smith. (The same Reggie from last week's concert.) He's sung the song before, so he had some really specific feedback for us. We're going to do the song in Allison's class tomorrow.

Tonight's concert was awesome! In my head, I have titled it "Speerfest!". It started as an Allison Durham Speer solo concert, and that in itself was incredible. What a singer! She did some classics, and then introduced some songs from her new cd. She did "Upon this Rock", which is the same track that I sing. Wow! I was going to sing it while I'm here, but probably not now! I love her because she just continues to raise the bar higher and higher.

Halfway through the concert, she pulls up Ben, and they do a few duets, and Ben treated us to the always lovely "Suppertime". Then the whole family comes up on stage: Mary Tom, Rosa Nell, Aunt Faye, Tim Reid, and also Mike Allen. It was awesome! Rosa Nell just tore up the piano, and we had several rounds of "Didn't it Rain", each one more wild than the next. The show ended with Allison and Ben singing "Because He Lives", and no one does it better than them.

Just an awesome and inspiring and exhausting and full-full-full day! I'm so glad I'm here!

Monday, July 24, 2006

Stamps-Baxter - Sunday

Another relaxing and wonderful day. It's nice to have a bit of slow time, but I'm also really anxious to get back at it all tomorrow. I'm excited about the duet and the quartet, and we'll be performing both this week.

This morning, I attended Trevecca Nazarene Church. From what I understand, the Nazarene denomination comes from the Wesleyan-Methodists, and there's some kind of Baptist influence too. The church we attended is on this campus, but it has a full congregation that has nothing to do with the university. I think the university is sort of a ministry within the church. The church was packed this morning. (No one has cottages to go to!) We started with about 30 minutes of music and prayers. The music was lead by a 16 piece band, a 5-voice praise team, and a huge choir. We sang a mix of hymns and praise choruses, and it was really great. Very singable. The prayers included the Apostles creed, and a confession, but it was a confession of weakness, as opposed to a confession of our sins.

After the music, we had a 30 minute sermon based on the letter to the church in Smyrna from Revelations. The pastor talked about staying faithful in the rough times. It was long by Anglican standards, but he was a very engaging preacher, so the time passed quickly. There was an invitation for prayer, and some people came to the front of the church and knelt by little benches, where they were met by a prayer partner. (Maybe these are 'prayer benches'? Pretty sure they're not called 'little benches'.) During this time, the congregation sat and we were engaged in corporate prayer. The service ended with a rousing song and a benediction.

It was a really refreshing service, and I'm glad I went there. We actually went in a little group and just walked there together, so the whole experience was lovely. The church offers a little present to visitors, so we all walked away with a cd of the choir and band. Free stuff!

This afternoon, the school hosted a picnic. We all gathered under the picnic pavilion for Mrs. Winner's fried chicken and biscuits (soooo good!) and lots of music. Some people sang with tracks, but the best stuff was the jam session with some of the instrumentalists here. Such awesome musicians. You know, those kind of people who can pick up anything with strings and just play along on any song in any key. It was great. I, of course, am a champion tambourine player, so I jumped in the percussion section. I've offered to give a masterclass on tambourine playing next year, but, so far, I haven't been taken up on it. Fingers crossed!

I had to leave the picnic early to fit in one more rehearsal for the duet. It's going well. Just a few more parts to figure out. We're going to sing it for Allison tomorrow or Tuesday.

After a little rest (a.k.a. nap!), a group of us went out for a late dinner. It was just so nice and relaxing. Chatting, telling jokes, sharing favourite songs, getting to know each other. These are the things I'm loving this year. I'm just finding more time to connect with people and share good life-stuff.

Going to get to bed as soon as I can. I want to be able to take in every second of the next week, and I won't do it without a good night's sleep!

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Stamps-Baxter - Saturday

Today was a day of relaxation. I slept in til 11am - yay! - and took a nice long soak in the tub. The tub is only three-quarter length with no plug, but it was still wonderful. (I used Dad's trick of using a face-cloth wrapped in a plastic bag for a plug.)

My room-mate, Debbie, arrived last night. We met last year and sang in a trio together. So today, the two of us hooked up with our suite-mates and went sight-seeing. (Each room here houses 2 people, and you share a bath with 2 other people, thus our 'suite'. )

And here's the best part: I became the tour guide! Yes, I, the Canadian, lead the Southerners around Nashville! So funny!

We went downtown and had lunch at Jack's BBQ, and then just poked around Broadway. So much fun, and just so relaxing. It's been such a busy week that we all really needed some easy time. The weather was perfect - sunny and warm, but not overwhelming heat.

We wandered up to Music Row and sat out on the patio of Caffeine for a long time. Gerald and I went there several times on our honeymoon, sipping quadruple espressos, so it was lovely to go back. We drove around the Music Row area to look at the publishing houses and the Speer Building, and then drove over to Opry Mills.

Opry Mills is a mall on steroids. It's just huge. The stores are huge. The statues are huge. The food is huge ... and fried. They sell deep-fried apple pie! They actually have a full-sized carousel in the food court. This place makes the Eaton Centre look like a corner store.

Mostly there, we just wandered and looked at stuff. We ran into a lot of other Stamps-Baxter kin, so there was a lot of 'fellowship' going on. We went into the Gibson store, which was way too much fun. They had a lot of Bourgeois guitars. This is what Gerald plays, so I had a great time picking away. Actually, if Ger was there, we would have been there all night. They also make guitars there, so you can look in and see all the parts and equipment.

We had a late supper in the food court, and then just wandered home. I really did no work today, so I may do some writing before I go to bed. It was just a really great day of talking and reconnecting and making new connections and just having fun. So wonderful!

Friday, July 21, 2006

Stamps-Baxter - Day 5

Friday is a mixed blessing. It's awesome because I can relax tonight. I'm sipping an espresso-saturated macchiato while finally catching up on my email. I've warned everyone that tomorrow I'm sleeping in til the double-digits, and locking up the bathroom for an hour of tub-soaking time. But Friday also means that school is half over and I still have so much to do.

This morning started with devotions with Connie Northam, and she spoke right to me. Last night, I sat in my room, and all my fears of moving to Nashville overwhelmed me. "I won't know anybody." "No one will know me!" "How do I do an altar call?" I called Gerald, and he told me I was letting my worries distract me from the things I love. Well, Connie gets up this morning, and the first thing she says is, "Today I want to talk about worrying". I was floored. She told great stories, and ended up on the Bible verses that tell us about the 'lilies of the field'. This verse always brings such comfort to me! I was like God was reaching down and touching me on the head, and just letting me know, "I'm still here!".

Today was my first day in my new theory class, and it was great. I really feel like I fit into this group. Actually, I'm really glad I'm writing this, because it's reminded me that I have homework this weekend. Homework! Okay, not so happy about that. But really happy about the class. I finally feel like I'm with other people who are speaking my language. Itself of 'reviewing' figured bass, we're actually learning it. Very happy with this move.

Another fantastic voice lesson today. We worked lots of exercises, and he brought me up to a high F! I won't stop til I make his ears bleed!

Stamps-Baxter takes place on the campus of Trevecca Nazarene University, and today we were visited by its president. He talked a little about the school, but then he started to speak about the importance of writing, and then he started to talk about Blogs!!! I got so excited! He spoke about how fascinated he is by blogs, and then told us that he believes God has a blog. God started to write His thoughts, beginning with the 10 Commandments. But stone was not enough, so God continues to write a living blog, and it is us. In us, He writes His love, His songs, His will, and His message. Our job is to let other people read God's message in us. Isn't that awesome?

By the way, everyone here thinks I'm in my twenties. I am feeling soooo blessed, y'all!

This afternoon was another songwriting lesson with Daryl. I brought in my new first verse, and half a second verse. It's going well. I'm going to spend some serious time with it this weekend. I want to complete the lyric and start to shape a tune for it. Maybe some chords? We'll see. Depends on how much time my theory homework takes!

I finished up Nick Bruno's career workshop today. He had lots of great advice of recording, so that alone was worth the price of admission.

Tonight's concert was the faculty concert. A lot of the staff are away for the weekend, but they still did a great 'homecoming style' performance. Everyone was great, but for me, Teri Reid stole the show. Teri is the daughter of Miss Mary Tom Speer, and at school, she teaches theory to the young 'uns. (I'm still working on my Southern talk. Be patient with me!) She has a great soulful voice, with lots of power and plenty of blues influences. I'd heard her just sing a few bars last year, so it was great to hear some full songs tonight. And Ben and Miss Mary Tom stole the show with the Speer classic, "Didn't It Rain". Actually, Ben worked his butt off with the wordy patter verses, and Mary Tom stole the show with her one line, "Rain, rain, go away! Come again another day!". Ben can just nail those verses, but no one can compete with Mary Tom's moment!

One of the things I'm really appreciating this year is the smaller moments. Last year, I was just so overwhelmed with finding my way around and learning how things worked and trying to eat the food, that I sort of experienced the school in broad strokes. This year, I think I'm really getting to appreciate the details. Like getting ready for bed at night and hearing the trains in the distance. Like having lunch with Miss Mary Tom and hearing stories of the early years of the Speer family. Like sitting here while people sing four-part harmony acapella. Beautiful!

This place is so awesome. It is full of great music and great people. As the song says:

"I can hear the brush of angel's wings. I see glory on each face. Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place."

Stamps-Baxter - Day 4

Thursday! Where did this week go? I can't believe it's almost the weekend! I still have so much I want to do!!!

The days are so long and full that I need to look at my schedule as I write so I can keep track of what actually happened today. Each day feels about 3 days long! But trust me, I have no complaints about it. *bliss*

I have finally made a move with my theory class. I really thought I'd work at it and stick it out, but today it just got to be too much for me. I spoke to Shawn about it and he was awesome and offered to review some of the concepts. The problem is that we're 'reviewing' stuff that I've never actually learned. The sight-reading and ear-training is all fine. I'm strong in that stuff. And some of the part-writing exercises are fine. And Shawn is fantastic and the whole class is full of great people. But when they slip into figured bass and the Nashville number system and the circle of fifths, I'm just lost.

Here's my metaphor: Steve was Serbian, and when I first started to spend time with his family, they would speak English, but occasionally slip in a Serbian word or expression. I would gradually pick up phrases, and eventually (little known fact!) I was able to have a short conversation in Serbian. But, when family from the old country would come, it would be all Serbian, and it was too fast and too intense for me to catch up.

This is what theory class was becoming for me. I was the only non-keyboard player, and all these people spoke a language that I've just never learned. I spoke to Tracey, who organizes all the classes, and when I told her this fact, she gave me the understanding look I needed to see. Tomorrow I'll start in her class. Wish me luck!

Group singing was awesome again today. We have three conductors, and having the mix of conducting styles keeps things really interesting. When Glenn conducts, he does these great exercises for blend. He starts us ooohing on a major chord. (For the non-music people, this is just a 'happy' sounding chord.) He then starts to move us around. For example, the tenors will go up a half-step, and then the altos will go down a half-step, and the sopranos will go up a step, and so on and so on. Each time he moves a section up or down a note, it makes a brand new chord. The idea is to train your ear for chords, to listen to the other parts, and to create blend in the group. It's a great exercise, but the side-effect is that it sounds gorgeous! You could record it and sell it in the New Age section.

Today we were served meat that was NOT deep-fried. I received several complaints and was told it was my fault for complaining about all the deep-fried food. Funny southerners. By the way, I can't even tell you the number of Canadian jokes I'm getting this year. None of them are funny, but I'm still getting them every day!

For today's Vocal Technique, Allison brought in an ear-nose-and-throat specialist to talk about vocal health. Very useful, but to be honest, most of it I've already studied. But I forgot to write about yesterday's awesome topic: Building your breathing muscles. Lots of great stuff was discussed, but here's my favourite. To build up your breath support, lie on the floor and put a 5-pound bag of flour on your stomach. Now sing. Apparently, the extra resistance makes you work harder and builds up all the singing muscles, the same way weights work for your other muscles in the gym. For those who go to the gym ...

This afternoon I continued attending Career Development with Nick Bruno. Today we talked about how to book gigs, the non/benefits of having an artist demo, using a booking agent, how to ask for a fee, and growing in your career. Very practical and useful.

My 'free time' today became a rehearsal for "I've Just Seen Jesus". I'm still learning a few of the parts, but it's starting to take shape. I think we'll present it in Allison's class after the weekend.

Tonight in group singing, we sang a new song by Charles Towler called "His Blood Has Made Us One". It says that even though we all come different churches, homes, and backgrounds, we are all united in Jesus Christ. What a powerful message! And set in a gorgeous tune. The church likes to fracture itself so much, when the Bible actually calls us to unite. This is definitely a song that needs to be sung!

Well, I've been waiting for tonight's concert all week: Gordon Mote! I've been such a fan since the Gaither concert in London, ON, this spring. I was so excited when I saw his name on the schedule, and I even talked about it in my improvised intro on Sunday. And I was not disappointed. He played and sang for an hour. He's incredibly funny, so he does some great patter, and even did a little demonstration on how the different churches would interpret that classic hymntune, "Mary Had A Little Lamb". Sooo funny! But his music is just the best. He makes incredible song choices, and does great interpretations of classic songs. He sings right in the pocket, and every note is pure soul. Such a great night! He even invited Ben up to sing "Til the Storm Passes By", and Ben just tore it up! I bought Gordon's solo piano cds to add to my collection, and then had a little chat and told him I saw him in Canada. Well, they're coming to Toronto in September, and he's asked me to work his product table! I gave my card to his manager, so let's hope it all works out.

I'm trying to head back to my room early so I can work on my song for Daryl's lesson tomorrow. I don't mind sacrificing a little sleep tonight. Tomorrow, my room-mate, Debbie, arrives, and then it's the weekend and I can sleep and spend some serious time soaking in the tub. Oh, Happy Day!

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Stamps-Baxter - Day 3

My blogs seem to be getting later and later. The days are getting longer. By tomorrow the day will be 26 hours long!

Today started with skipping breakfast and getting some extra sleep. Not my favourite way to start things, but sleep is just so precious right now. I'm in danger of over-extending myself with extra lessons and extra rehearsals. (Gerald, don't say a thing!) So I'm trying to be very conscious of finding quiet times, especially for my voice.

Theory continues to be a challenge. Writing parts was fine until we were "allowed" to use inversions. (For the non-musical, this is when you take a chord and sort of mix up the order. If that doesn't make sense to you, don't worry. You fit right in!) I am at a disadvantage in the class. Because I'm in a class of keyboard players, most of these people can look at the chords on the page and know what it will all sound like. I'll know what the tune is like, but I can't read the whole thing and hear it in my head. Finding it a little frustrating. Sticking to it though ... at least til some tiny part of my brain explodes.

Had a great songwriting lesson with Daryl today. A few months ago, Gerald gave me a hook for a song. He would have used it himself, but it just screams 'gospel', so he thought I'd enjoy it. The chorus came easily, but I haven't been able to get any verses out of it. I told Daryl about it yesterday, so he asked me to bring it in today. This morning, I worked out a structure for the song and scratched out a first verse and a bridge. I brought it all in, and Daryl really liked it. I'm going to keep working on it over the week, with a goal to have it finished by the end of school. Sleep? Ha!

This afternoon brought another voice lesson with Glenn. So awesome! Today he brought me up to a high E. And not just any high E, but an easy high E! We continued to sing through "He Touched Me" in several keys, working on tone and vowels and easy high notes. Really great work!

Every afternoon, you can take an elective. Most days I want to do Allison's class, but today I did career development with Nick Bruno. Nick is a pianist, producer, and just all around gospel music man. I have his book, so I went in with lots of questions. The class was packed and we hardly touched the list of questions we all had, so we're back at it again tomorrow. I took this class last year, but this year, with our move to Nashville impending, I feel it is critical for me to take it again.

We have 30 minutes of free time a day, after supper. Tonight I took that time to practice our duet, "I've Just Seen Jesus". It's such a huge sing, so it's going to take a fair bit of work. We'll do little things this week, but I think we'll do some hardcore work on the weekend and present it next week.

Group singing continues to be a great time of joyful noise. We're now learning songs from 2 books. One is classic southern gospel, like "Where Could I Go?", and the other is full of new convention songs from contemporary writers, including some of our faculty. I continue to become a brilliant shape-note singer.

Our concert tonight was a real treat: Stephen Hill and Reggie and Ladye Love Smith. I'd seen Stephen's concert last year, and I was really excited about seeing it again. Partly because I really enjoy his music. But also because he plays guitar. His show is a mix of tracks and guitar songs, and includes a lot of his own originals. I figure his show might be a good model for me. (I actually sat there with my notepad taking notes all through the show. I am my father's child.) Stephen played 30 minutes, and then Reggie and Ladye Love came on and did 30 minutes. If you've never seen this duo, you're missing out. Reggie and Ladye Love are a married couple who sing in amazingly strong and vibrant harmonies. Their individual voices are beautiful, but together they are just magic. I'd seen them in the Gaither shows, so it was a real treat to see them in this setting. Lots of energy, and great song choices. They also have a wonderful on-stage chemistry that's just infectious. Why, yes! I did get rid of some of my American money tonight!

After the concert, I rehearsed "Moving Up To Gloryland" with the quartet again. One of our members has written a very funky ending, so it took a bit to pound that out. But it's really starting to come together. It's such a fun song that you can't help but get all worked up over it. And all our members are some degree of crazy, so it's all good!

Oh, and I forgot to tell this story yesterday. Since getting here, I have seen the weirdest sight: Americans going crazy over Coffee Crisp. Now, Canadians reading this will say, "Who really cares about a chocolate bar?". But apparently, you can't get them here, so some of the other Canadians brought down a boxes of them to give out, and they're like gold. I swear you could use them for currency! Funny, wha?

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Stamps-Baxter - Day 2

Long and tiring and excellent day.

This morning started with devotions by Connie Northam. She told a great story about crashing her Daddy's car the first day she ever got her driver's license. Her message was one of mercy, and how we will all make mistakes today, but we will still have the love of God. What a great way to start the day.

I had my first of five private songwriting lessons today with Daryl Williams. I worked with Daryl last year, so I'm very excited to be back with him this year. I played my new song for him (on my lovely lender guitar!). He really liked it and could see how I'm applying his lessons from last year. He thought it might be a suitable song for a church musical. Given my musical theatre background, this is definitely an area of interest for me. We talked about some writing goals for the year ahead, and some possible avenues for my songs. For tomorrow, I'm bringing in a song from home that I've started but now I'm stuck on. I was hoping to do a little writing on it tonight, but tonight has gotten later than planned, as you'll see as you read on...

More theory... We're working with part writing. It's going okay. ... Yes, that's all I have to say about that right now.

This afternoon, I sang for Allison Durham Speer's class. I did my Sandy Patti version of "It Is Well". I just love singing this song, but when I stood up today, I got hit with a nasty case of nervousness. This is such a rare occurance for me, so of course I love that it happened today! I still got through it and hit all the high notes, but it was a little frustrating. Allison gave me some great feedback, both positive and constructive. There is so much to learn from her! Again, so glad I'm here.

Tonight's concert was Johnny Minnick, former singer with the Happy Goodmans and now a pastor with a large recording and performing ministry. What a voice! And what a presence! He opened with a solo, but then brought out his wife and son, and they were all joined by Allison, Ben, Mike Allen, and Daryl. What a powerhouse of voices! They did a lot of great classics, and it was amazing! The voices were incredible, but it was just so amazing to watch the spirit on stage. They all loved each other and were having so much fun. It really was awesome. I could have watched them all night.

Oh, I'm in a quartet! After the concert and performance opportunity, I rehearsed with the group. We're singing "Moving Up To Gloryland". Love that song, and just so thrilled to be asked to join in. I think we'll sing it later on this week.

Every night, after all the formal stuff, any one with an instrument can join in on a jam session of bluegrass music. Clearly, I'm not going to grab any instrument and join in, but I usually like to drop by and hear a song or two before coming here to write. Well, tonight, we had a special guest: Earl Scruggs sat in! The legend himself. He sat on the couch, surrounded by bass, fiddle, several guitars, and a huge audience of fans. So awesome to watch a master at work.

I think that's one of the things I love best about this place. You never know who's going to drop by. You never know what special event is going to take place. You just have to stay open and see what's going to happen next!

Stamps-Baxter - Day 1

Okay, first for my guitar update: I love my husband!

Seemly unrelatedly facts, but read on...

This morning, my honey called to see if the guitar is still under warranty, and it is! If I bring it back to Toronto, the repairs will be covered by the manufacturer! So happy! It took hours to get any info from the airline about making a claim, and then they told me it would take 4-6 weeks to even get a proper response. But the guitar is so new that Gerald figured the warranty would still fit and voila! I am just so relieved that it will be taken care of with some speed and without expense. I just couldn't stomach the idea of spending hundreds of dollars right now, not to mention having to deal with the airline.

On a wonderfully related note, someone has lent me a guitar for my stay at Stamps-Baxter. So awesome and generous!

Well, today was long and great. We started with devotions with the always elegant Aunt Faye, who reminded us to be true to ourselves all week, and not be tempted to copy others who we might believe to be more talented that us. (Whew! Bad sentence structure!)

Then we were all put in theory classes. I'm in Shawn Degenhart's class, and our focus will be writing SATB parts. (For the non-musical, that the parts sung when men and women sing together in 4 part harmony.) The first part of the day went a little over my head. Everyone else in the class is a keyboard player, so I feel they're speaking a different language sometimes. But I've been told that this is the right class for me, so I'm sticking it out and planning on asking tonnes of questions.

I had my first private voice lesson of the week with the amazing Glen Wilson. Glen came highly recommended to me, and I'm so thrilled to be working with him this week. He's crazy in all the best ways. He made me reach down to touch my toes, while singing, and then he pushed me into a wall, again while singing. Don't laugh too hard - the man clearly knows what he's doing. I sang a very easy high D today. Hello!

There's a change in schedule this year, so next we had group singing. Group singing! I love it! How many people get to sing every day with 200 other people? It's just awesome. We have a different song book from last year, so the first few days will be all about learning new songs. Next week, we'll do the recording, so this time is so important for developing a good blend in the group.

Fabulous and amazing news: I can sing shape-notes!!!! Seriously! I'm clearly no expert. I can't pick up a piece of music and just sight-read the shapes acapella. But when we're sight-singing a song with the piano, I can not just read the song, but I can sing the shape-note names! It's sooo much fun! Now that I've got it, I get frustrated when one the conductors skips the shape notes. Bring 'em on! I can take them!

Oh, and a small but interesting piece of info. The chicken today, not fried! Has the devil learned to skate?

Oh, but let's go back to one more wonderful thing: I've been asked to sing a duet with someone. And not just any duet. "I've Just Seen Jesus". Such a thrilling song! More to come on this...

This afternoon was more theory. My head is spinning. We're learning "figured bass". Don't ask.

This afternoon also started our time with the always awesome Allison Durham Speer. She started with 30 minutes of vocal technique, and then opened the floor to performance training. I'm planning on singing tomorrow.

Tonight was more group singing, and then outside for the school photo. After, we had our first concert, performed by Darlene Neptune. Darlene is an expert on the life and music of Fanny Crosby, so she opened with a little story about Blessed Assurance, and then invited us to all sing along. Such a great hymn! Actually, part of her concert was a little hymn-sing, so that was great. We even sang Peace in the Valley. *sigh*

After the concert, we had the first "performance opportunity". This is when any student can get up and sing. I chose to stay quiet tonight. I'm just so tired with the traveling and the guitar trials. I have many plans to sing over the next few weeks, but not tonight. Tonight is quiet and a phone call home and an early night...

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Stamps-Baxter - Orientation

I'm here. I can't believe I'm finally here. It's so awesome and wonderful, but I can't write anymore til I share some awful news...

My guitar has broken in half. I am completely heartbroken! I brought it here with great expectations of sharing my songs, and even playing a few open mics on my extra days. But when I opened the case in Nashville, my heart sank. The headstock had completely broken off. I am so crushed. But not just for the practical reasons. It meant so much for me to buy that guitar. It meant that I was moving from a hobby player to a gigging musician. It took hours and hours to find it. It took so long to get the money to finally make this special purchase. And now it sits in 2 completely separate pieces, utterly useless.

Everyone here has been very supportive. Offering to help me get it fixed. Offering to lend me their instrument. I'm still waiting to hear from the airline about how to properly file my claim. It's so gross. I'm just sick to my stomach over it.

But with a deep breath, I have to remember that I am in the most awesome place imaginable, and I am so blessed to be here on a scholarship. As I write, there is a group of people jamming and singing. Kids are chatting and starting new friendships. Faculty are studying theory tests and trying to make up classrooms of like-skilled students. People are relaxed and friendly and open to this great new place.

My flight and travels went well. I spent the afternoon unpacking, and took a quick drive to Walmart with a fellow Canadian for some chocolate and batteries. By the way, a TONNE of Canadians are here this year. (Yes, Canadian spelling of tonne! My spellcheck will freak out!) Can't wait to meet them all. Oh, and the Walmart was more like a Costco. Ginormous! And they sell beer. Just weird.

Tonight we had chicken for dinner. Yes ... it was deep-fried!

But the highlight of the night was orientation. At first, it didn't seem like much of a highlight. People were still registering, and nothing seemed very organized. But then they asked me to come up and share my experience of a Day-in-the-life-of-Stamps-Baxter. Me! I felt - well, put on the spot - but also just so honoured that of all the people in that room, that they would ask me to share my experience!

Not being one to shy away from a mic, I jumped up, and started an improv, tag-team discussion with Stephen Speer about life at Stamps-Baxter. Geeky as it may seem, I told everyone to get lots of sleep and lots of water cause they're about to work their butts off! I also warned them about the deep-friend food. I don't think they took me seriously. Oh, the lesson they are about to learn!

On a serious note, I talked a little about the classes, and then told them how lucky we all are to have this experience lying before us. I encouraged them to be open to new ideas, new people, and new experiences with God.

Afterwards, I got to meet lots of new people, and even met a few who've read my blog. A couple of people mentioned how this blog helped them learn about the school or prepare for coming here. That felt pretty awesome. This started as a simple way to let my family know about my Nashville adventures without having to send too many emails. To think that it has actually helped someone is just such an honour! (And yes, I am blushing like crazy as I write this!)

Tomorrow will start the big stuff: Theory. Group singing. Voice lessons. Songwriting. Concerts. Learning. Singing. Growing. Praising.

*sigh* Time to follow my advice. Off for a good night's sleep...

I am so happy to be here!

Saturday, July 15, 2006

One day til Stamps-Baxter!

This time tomorrow, I will be in Nashville, TN, ready to start my second year of Ben Speer's Stamps-Baxter School of Music. I am freaking-out-excited!!!

I have almost everything packed, my final load of laundry is drying, and I think I've chosen a hotel for my extra days. (I'm going to stick around Nashville a few extra days so I can play open mics, etc.)

I've also just taken a few minutes to re-read my blog entries from last year. I am just so thankful for that time! I can't wait to see what experiences lie ahead in the next week. (Wow, that's a bad sentence!)

I guess, on this day, I just want to say I am so grateful for what God has done in my life, especially over the past year. I feel so blessed, and not just because of the obvious stuff. I feel blessed to know that I am following God's will in my life. I put my art, my career, my life in His hands, and I just feel so supported in all of it.

I am so thankful for the opportunity to attend Stamps-Baxter again, especially on a scholarship. I pray this time will be a blessing for all of us!

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Singing at my home church!

Today was a rare occurrence: I actually sang in my own home church!

More often than not, most Sundays are now spent singing at different churches. And trust me, I have no complaints about this! I've been working now for a year at trying to build up this kind of ministry, and I feel so blessed that it's actually working. Some Toronto churches are very closed to 'outside' musicians. They have their own choir or band, and don't really want other musicians on a regular Sunday. It can be a real challenge for Toronto singers to find churches to visit and minister. So, I've been very fortunate to be welcomed in so many places.

But today, it was lovely to sing "at home". It was great to see familiar faces, sit in the pew with Mom, and watch Dad lead the service.

For my solo, I did "He Saw It All", with the Booth Brothers track. I've been trying to learn more songs to tracks, so this was one more great opportunity to work on this skill. My goal is to have a full show's worth of songs to tracks by the time I hit Nashville this fall. I will still include guitar in my 'act', but I do want to give myself lots of options.

I was also just so thrilled to sing "He Saw It All" at St. John's, because most of the congregation had never heard it before! Last year, several of us heard it for the first time at the Gaither's Toronto taping, and we were so excited by it. I remember the first time I heard that chorus. I just wanted to yell, "Yes!". What a great song! So this morning, I was just so excited that someone else would get the opportunity for that "Yes!" moment.

During communion I sang "In the Garden", accompanied by Boni on piano. It is always such a pleasure to sing with Boni. She's a master at following a singer. I know I can add a chorus or go for the high note and she'll be there to support me. Just awesome!

The rest of the day was still musical - I wrote a new song last night, so I took the chance to play it several times for different people. Basically everyone I met today got greeted with, "Hi, want to hear it?". The reaction has been good, so that's encouraging. I wrote it last night, and after the first draft, I got very strict with myself. I kept going over every note and every syllable thinking, "Okay, if I brought this into NSAI for a critique, what would people say?". It was actually a really good exercise to do. I found several things to fix, and that ultimately led to a more coherent finished piece.

Only one week til Stamps-Baxter!!! One week tonight, I'll be getting ready for bed, decorating my room with wedding pictures, and trying to remember my shape notes. So excited!!!!!

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Gage Park.

What an awesome and blessed night! Tonight, I sang in the Inspirational Music concert series in Brampton's Gage Park. This series of summer concerts, organized by Lesley Morgan, has been running for several years, but if you stick to Toronto, like I do, you might never hear of this awesome ministry.

Every Tuesday throughout the summer, audiences in Brampton are treated to two hours of free Christian music. The city donates the use of their park and gazebo, and all the artists and organizers volunteer their time as well. People can bring their lawn chairs, get a free Bible or Christian book, and enjoy a variety of musicians from choirs to soloists to bands. Each night features 4 or 5 different performers, so there is really 'something for everyone'. (I hate that phrase, but it really does work here!)

Tonight had a theme of Hymns, which was great for me. I'm trying to get more experience singing with tracks, so I chose 3 tracks and one guitar song. I opened with a Sandi Patty arrangement of "Amazing Grace". Yes, it is done sooo often, but I really wanted a good singalong song to open my set. And it worked - lots of people joined in. Next I did another Sandi Patty arrangement - "It Is Well With My Soul". Not only is it one of my very most favourite hymns, but it's a killer arrangement that gets nice and high at the end. People sang along, which was awesome, but this song also got a great response from the audience. They actually clapped twice for it! (This year on American Idol, David Foster said you know you have a great song when you can get applause in the song as well as at the end. I couldn't help but think of this tonight. It really is such a great song!)

Next I moved on to my guitar song. I spoke about how great it is that we're still singing hymns like "It Is Well", but how it's also important to be writing new hymns for the church. (I got a little applause for this!) I taught everyone the chorus for "I Call Out Your Name", and then sang it on guitar. I did hear some people singing, so that was pretty cool. It might just have been my parents, but still - people were singing :)

I ended my set with Allison Durham Speer's track for "Upon This Rock". It's such a great song and such a great arrangement. And with all those high notes, it's a good one to end on.

Tonight was great and fun and I really enjoyed being a part of it. It was wonderful to meet the audience, and so awesome to meet the other musicians. But here was the coolest part: We were singing the Gospel in public! Not in a church or our living room or in a concert hall. Right out in the open, where everyone could hear us! How often do you get to see that in this politically correct city? What a great opportunity for all of us! I feel so blessed to have been there!