Wednesday, March 30, 2011

East Coast Tour - mapping it out!

Last summer, my heart longed for Newfoundland
(as it tends to do in all Newfoundlanders)...

As the longing grew, we decided to plan an ambitious tour that will take us through New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland over the entire month of August 2011.

I've been sharing our plans in our newsletter (there's a sign up box for our newsletter on the right side of this blog), but I just realized I haven't been blogging about it! What's up with that?

So, now we're blogging!

Our goal is to do a minimum of 20 concerts in festivals, private homes, and churches of all denominations. We have a few concerts on the books, and a few more in talks.

The current challenge is the route. So today, we took advantage of Mom and Dad's road-trip experiences. The four of us sat down with all the maps I'd ordered (thank you, provincial tourism!) and mapped out a driving route.

Here's our current plan for the tour (dates are approximate):

August 2 - Start the drive from Ontario.
August 4-7 - New Brunswick.
August 10-22 - Newfoundland, moving west to east.
August 23-29 - Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

If you're in any of these areas, or know any churches or venues in these areas, we'd love to hear from you! Please feel free to contact me via the Contact page on

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Living Manna, Living Bread

What a wonderful way to spend a Sunday!

This morning, we visited St. John's Weston for another dose of Cafe Church. People gathered around tables as we played gentle welcoming music. Instead of a traditional sermon, the priest, Michelle, divided people into small groups. Each group was asked to discuss a Bible verse on the theme of "sacrificial giving," and then write and read a prayer based on their discussion. We then moved into Communion, transitioning from a meal of coffee and sweets to one of bread and wine. We sang our own songs for reflection, and to emphasize the theme, finished with the congregational song, "Sister Let Me Be Your Servant." Powerful worship in a casual setting!

This evening, we joined an awesome team at St. John's York Mills for the Gathering service. In addition to our standard band tonight, we also welcomed a keyboardist and a violin player!

As the final song of the opening set, Monique had chosen my song "Living Manna, Living Bread." It was the first time we'd done it for the Gathering, so I knew people would just be learning it on the first verse. As we got to the second verse, I could see mouths moving as people started to recognize the melody. But by the third verse, people had started to worship - hands raised, eyes closed, voices singing.

It's hard to describe the feeling of watching all this unfold. We know the songs come from a source greater than ourselves, but to see the songs connecting people back to that source, well, it's pretty awesome.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Nashville - Capturing Songs

I decided to take advantage of some quiet time today and dip into the song-filled air of Nashville.

I sat in Tara's living room by a sunny window with my favourite songwriting tools - my pink MacBook, my pink Bible, and my Masterwriter.

A blank Masterwriter page, ready for a new lyric...

Masterwriter is our favourite lyric writing program. A new file opens for each song. From that page, you can visit several resources - rhyming and regular dictionaries, thesaurus, pop culture references, a full Bible - and collect words and phrases that might inspire your song.

In the silence, I transcribed a lyric I'd recorded last month on my iphone. As I wrote out the first verse and hummed the melody, the structure became clear, and I wrote a second verse and chorus. Next, I drifted through songs that are in my "close" category - lyrics that need a final polish or maybe a pass with a co-writer. Finally, I opened a new page, and thought about Palm Sunday. A first verse came, and then more verses that took the singer through the events of Holy Week. I wrote a full lyric, but it's a different theme than I first intended, which is always kind of fascinating.

I'm feeling more and more inspired to write these days. I often think of Brian Doerkson's term "writing for the gaps." In contemporary praise music, we don't have a lot of songs for liturgical moments or certain seasons of the church year. I want to write songs for these gaps.

It's been a funny trip. We haven't been able to get out and hear any music, but I feel like the music's been coming to us...

Friday, March 18, 2011

Nashville - Good Friends, Good Songs, Good Food

We spent the early part of the day with Tara, having a long lunch at the amazing Monell's. We lingered in the garden for while, drinking in the sunshine, and sharing favourite praise songs with each other. I took notes and I'm planning a "song shopping" session on CCLI when I get home.

The Cupcake Collection, while waiting in line!

In anticipation of tonight's dinner (not that we should have been thinking about more food at this point!), we walked over to The Cupcake Collection, where the line-up meandered out the door and down to the sidewalk. As we approached, people were cheering and dancing on the front porch. These are people who love their cupcakes! And trust me, their red velvet is dance worthy!

Jenna and I sat by this glorious saucer magnolia tree!

I spent the afternoon sharing caffeine and stories with my good friend, and Church of the Redeemer music director, Jenna. I talked about Infinitely More and the new songs we're writing and plans for our East Coast tour. She talked about the Redeemer team and her journey and where she feels God is directing her path. It was an inspiring visit.

As she told her story, I heard the start of a song. As I drove back to Tara's, it started to grow. I rushed into the apartment, shunning everyone til I could write down the things that were brewing. It's still very rough, but it's a start.

Gerald always says the air is full of songs here in Nashville... you just have to listen and pull them out...

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Nashville - Studio Day

Last summer, we recorded 9 demos of Gerald's country songs. We were really happy with the results, but as we listened to the demos, we realized one of the vocal performances wasn't quite what we needed it to be. It's nothing against the singer, but sometimes, you just need a different feel for the song.

Denny Martin & demo singer, Paul Pace

Today, we returned to the studio of Denny Martin to re-record the vocal. We were joined by powerhouse vocalist Paul Pace. He sang 4 hours of demo singing this afternoon, was heading to a showcase at 6:00pm, and then had another full performance gig from 8 til midnight. That stamina is a great mix of natural talent and healthy technique.

And what a voice! He nailed the song - lead vocal and harmonies - both in notes and performance. He gave it just the right kind of energy. After Paul left, we stayed with Denny as he did the mixing. So interesting to watch how it all comes together, and to hear Denny's stories about his experiences in producing and songwriting.

We now have 9 awesome demos! Tomorrow, we start getting them out to the people who can do something great with them.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

We're in Nashville!

In the last 2 days, we've changed countries, time zones, and seasons.

We've ditched our winter coats and admired the blooming magnolias.
We've had catfish, pulled pork, and fried green tomatoes.
We're hanging out with friends, laughing lots, and saying y'all.

We're in our southern home...

Monday, March 14, 2011

Spiritual Fitness Plan for Lent

My Dad, Rev. Hollis Hiscock, is writing a weekly Spiritual Fitness Plan for Lent. His plan includes scripture, reflections, and practical spiritual exercises.

To follow along, visit Dad's blog:

Sunday, March 13, 2011

St. John's York Mills - Part 2

Gerald and I were back as team leaders tonight, and what a great band we had! Gerald on guitar/vocals, Brian on percussion, Carol on guitar, Steve on bass, Susan on piano/vocals, and me on vocals/worship leader.

We chose a mix of praise songs ("Indescribable") and songs that reminded us of the Lenten message ("Refiners Fire"). Like this morning, we offered Gerald's song "All The Things I've Broken" as a song of reflection. We tied it together with lots of prayer, led by Drew, Brian, and myself.

Playing on the team is always good, but sometimes, the music flies off the page, and the worship transcends the everyday. That's what it felt like tonight. Effortless, beautiful, and open.

Nights like tonight, I'm so glad I said "yes" when God came calling...

St. John's York Mills - Part 1

This morning, Gerald and I led the praise team at St. John's. This was also the morning we welcomed our new interim music director, Eric Osborne. (Eric will lead the choir and play the organ while we're looking for a new full-time music director.)

It also marked the first Sunday of Lent, so with all these things coming together, Gerald and I decided to try a few new things today:

Traditionally, the organist has only played for the choir, but today, we invited Eric to leave the organ bench and play piano with us for "My Heart is Filled With Thankfulness."

For the first Communion song, we played Gerald's original song, "All The Things I've Broken," as a song of reflection. The praise team never gets to play a song that's not congregational, so it was nice to be able to offer this message in this way.

Our final Communion song was the beautiful "King of Love." The band played the first two verses, and when we got to the third verse, Eric joined us on organ! Yes, organ and praise band! It was majestic and awesome!

For so long (and like so many churches!), we've had two distinct music 'camps' in our church - traditional and contemporary. But today, we broke the seal. We're far from being one cohesive music team, but I truly feel that today was the first step towards a music team united by a love of great music and powerful worship.

Friday, March 11, 2011

World Day of Prayer

Today I participated in the World Day of Prayer service at St. John's. Each year, women from a particular country write a new prayer liturgy for the service. On the same day, women from over 2000 communities in Canada and 170 countries around the world lead the liturgy in their home churches.

This year, the service was written by the women of Chile, and it reflected their particular culture and language. The theme "How Many Loaves Have You?" was woven into the prayers and the music. My involvement was as a dramatic reader for the story of Elijah and the Widow. (1 Kings) I played Elijah, and it was fun to stretch my dramatic muscles a bit.

The whole service was so lovely, with references to Chilean culture and history. We had women from seven different churches participate in the service, with a reflection offered by our rector. I wasn't able to stay for the reception, but rumour has it there were empanadas and homemade bread!

Sunday, March 06, 2011

New Song Sunday

This morning, we lead the music at the Church of the Messiah in Toronto. They're a great church with a very open and creative attitude towards music and worship, so I knew we'd have a great time with them.

Since this is the last Sunday before Lent, we decided to sing lots of uplifting songs, like "How Great Thou Art" and "Shine Jesus Shine". In the Anglican tradition, we don't sing Alleluia during Lent, so we included lots of Alleluia songs, like Michael W. Smith's "Agnus Dei."

One of the challenges of visiting different churches is the service music. Most often, these pieces (like the Sanctus, the Psalm, etc) have been written for keyboard or organ and they don't work well on the guitar. So for today's service, Gerald and I decided to write two new pieces of service music!

I wrote an Agnus Dei ("Lamb of God") with a gentle, pretty melody. Gerald added his beautiful guitar, and I was really happy with the results. For the Gloria, we decided to create something based on the tradition of "paperless music." In this style, the leader teaches the congregation a simple, singable piece by rote. I made the text "Gloria to God in the highest and peace to His people on Earth" into a 2-line refrain with an uptempo beat. Gerald added a cool groove to keep the pulse going. I taught the refrain to the choir and congregation, and then sang the verses myself. People sang out, and it was really fun!

I think there are other churches who might have a need for songs like ours, so I've decided to register them with CCLI. It's going to take a little while before they're available to license them through their services, but I'll let you know when they're online.

We really had a great time at Messiah this morning. We're going to return for two Sundays in Lent, and we're talking with the cantor about ways we can work with the choir for those services.

Later in the day, we sang with our mega-sized band at St. John's for the Gathering service. Then, we came home and watched the 25th anniversary concert of Les Mis. All in all, a great day of music!