Friday, July 27, 2007

Stamps-Baxter - Day 9

Day 9! I can't believe we're so close to the end. I've had the chance to read some other people's thoughts on the school on some other blogs and websites. It doesn't seem to matter if you're a 'regular', or if you attended one school ten years ago. There is something so special, so magical about the Stamps-Baxter experience that it elicits near poetry in its remembrances. There's the big stuff, like meeting Bill Gaither or getting chosen for the closing program. But it's those small beautiful moments that seem to float up to the memory first, like hearing Tracey play a cool piano lick during group singing, or finally learning Do from Mi. I love watching all the newcomers this year. I can see them falling in love with the school just like I did that first year, amazed that such a place exists, and wondering why they couldn't have found it ten years ago.

The morning started out on a bittersweet note for me - my final lesson with Mr. Glenn. We did an exercise he calls his "Amazing Grace rap". It's not technically a rap because it's sung, but it's a great exercise none the less. You sing the first verse of Amazing Grace all on one note and all in one breath. You then move up the scale, doing the same on each note. It's great for loosening up the singing apparatus and getting your tone out of the back of your throat. I've been working on Jack Clark's song, "It's Unbelievable", and we took a final look at it today. With just these few lessons, I can already feel a difference in the song.

Later this afternoon, a student was asking Mr Glenn some questions about the voice, such as what is the difference between head voice and chest voice. I was nearby, so I became the sample student and we gave a brief voice demonstration in the middle of the product area. It is such an honour to work with him! I will definitely be back on his list for next year.

At lunchtime, we had a group picture taken of all Mr Glenn's students. My friends, Darl and Nancy Morgan, are the school photographers this year. (Last year, on the Saturday after school, I went to a concert at River of Life church, and I went there with the Morgans.) They have been at school every day with their cameras, taking pictures of students, concerts, classes, teachers, and even the student body photo. If you want to see the pictures, feel free to visit There's a nifty one of me with my guitar outside, and I think there's one of me and Gerald too. (I haven't been on it since last weekend, and they're adding new stuff every day.)

Oh, I also wanted to mention the spontaneous singing. I know I mentioned it when we took the group photo, but I don't think I've heard so much spontaneous singing before. On any break in activity, it is not uncommon to hear someone just break out in a hymn or familiar chorus. And suddenly, a small crowd will start to add harmonies. It's so wonderful! I was working the product table today when one of our younger students came along singing "I've Got That Joy, Joy, Joy, Joy Down in my Heart". Well, I know that from camp, so we had our own little singalong right there at the product table. Remember on the TV show "Fame", when they'd break out in musical sequences in the hallways of the school? Well, it's like that, without the dancing.

I got to sit in on Allison's class again this afternoon. It was a jagged class because of issues with the sound system, but it was still time well spent. Allison has a real knack for watching a performer and picking out those few specific things that can be tweaked to bring the performing up to a higher level. She also offers lots of postive encouragement and a safe environment. I think that's why so many people are willing to take risks and expose their hearts in her class. During today's class, we also had a guest performance by Teri Reid, joined by her brother Tim and friend, Chris Beverley. Teri told a little bit of the Speer's recording history, and of their early performances in TV. Then the trio sang a rocking traditional gospel song that used to be sung by another family group back in the early Speer days. Teri is such a rip-em-up singer, and the song was great!

Bu the best times of today all happened in group singing. We did a little rehearsal for tomorrow, but it was pretty much all sight-singing of new songs. Sooo cool! We did a few ballads, but mostly lively uptempos. I continue to struggle with my shape-notes, but I think that stands true for most people at the school! And that's no insult to anyone. Those cryptic little shapes just go by too quickly!

In the morning's session, Mr Glenn finished a song, and then cued Tracey to begin "Farther Along" (not a song we're singing tomorrow). We all sang a verse and a chorus and it was lovely, but then from the back, we heard that sweet voice we all love. When Miss Mary Tom got to the chorus, Ben and Miss Rosa Nell joined in on harmonies. So gorgeous! They've been singing this way their whole lives, and when they sing together, it just seems as honest and natural as breathing.

In the evening session, we were rehearsing a song for tomorrow called "Move Away to Gloryland". Well, as soon as the last note hit, our conductor, Charles Towler, just broke out into other convention song about Heaven. I didn't know it, but everyone else did and I quickly picked up the chorus. Well, that started a whole spirit-filled singalong. We moved from song to song to song - nothing from the songbooks, just songs that most people knew from memory, or could at least pick up pretty easily. We ended with several full-out, sing-em-high choruses of "What a Day That Will Be". It was just incredible. Maybe this happens in some people's churches all the time, but I've never experienced it anywhere but here at the school. That spontaneous, spirit-filled, Heaven-ready singing! Awesome!

We didn't have a concert tonight as it was the final night for closing program auditions. About 75 soloists and groups tried out, and they narrowed it down to two dozen. Tonight, they had to sing their entire song with full accompaniment. I would not want to be the judge on this one. There is so much talent, and how do you choose between the seasoned professional and the little girl who is just starting in sing on her own?

Tomorrow will start early for me. Staff must be there at 7:00 - Yes, in the AM! I also know tomorrow will be filled with taking photos and sharing email addreses and trying to squeeze every last moment out of this experience. We need all the memories we can get to last us til next year!

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