Friday, July 29, 2005

Nashville - Day 10

I can't believe my time at the school is over! It took so long to get here, and it's gone so quickly.

I've learned today that people are actually reading my blog. What a crazy thought. I hope I can continue to be honest in my writings and not get self-conscious.

Our day started with devotions. I love Aunt Faye. Our theory class opened the day by singing Heaven's Parade. Way too early to be singing a high G!

Then I had my final lesson with Mr. Lane. What an awesome gentleman. I wish I'd had my picture taken with him, but my memories and learning will stay with me forever. I've just loved our time together. His passion for music and writing is so inspiring. He was very encouraging, and sent me home with lots to work on. I definitely want to continue to study theory and harmony when I get home. And I'm going to take all my songs and start to write SATB arrangements of them.

We had a great time in our final theory class. Someone requested that I sing It Is Well. I didn't want to take away from class time, but they insisted. So I sang the verses and everyone joined in on the chorus. It was so amazing. I took a class photo. What a great group of people. And what a great teacher, Mr Jack Clark.

Oh, and I didn't make it into the closing night program. But that was cool. I've had lots of great singing opportunities here. It just meant I could relax this afternoon and enjoy the day.

Our final group singing session was wonderful. Everyone sang out and just praised the Lord with voice and song. I have learned so much here. It will take a long time to grasp all that has come to me in these days.

I'm also so thankful for all the friends I've made. We all have such a bond through the music and through our faith. In Toronto, we're very multicultural, and yet it's not proper to say you're a Christian. It's okay to talk about religion, but not about faith. It's been so nice to be able to talk honestly about God and our faith.

Well, what a night! All the students did group singing, and then there were a few soloists and groups performing as well. It was like a super-high-class-gospel-student-recital. Michaela sang His Eye is On the Sparrow, and it was an annointed song. She is so awesome. I want her to come to Toronto so I can book her at my church. There was some great quartets. We did 12 group songs, and it sounded awesome. There was also some comedy bits showing the best way to be the world's worst gospel quartet!

And then, Ben and Aunt Faye and Miss Mary Tom came on stage to talk about scholarships. I don't know if I mentioned this, but I applied for a scholarship and didn't get one. I was pretty mad too. The scholarships are based on financial need, and this year, I've been feeling pretty needy. When I got here, I got a little more mad cause I kept meeting people who'd won scholarships. I kept saying, "God, I don't know why you didn't let me have a scholarship, but I'm sure you know what you're doing. It just doesn't make any sense to me." And I prayed to find peace with it, which I did.

Tonight, they started talking about another scholarship, based on talent and being a diligent student. I didn't know any such scholarship existed. As I sat there, I thought, "God, this is the kind of thing I'd love to get. I know I didn't win, but I thank you so much for the amazing experience I've had here." And with that, they called out my name.

They called out my name! - Allison Lynn! - Even when they said 'Allison', I thought it may be someone else. But it wasn't. It was me. I won the Brock Speer Memorial Scholarship for my dedication to learning gospel music and developing my talents. I was in shock. I just started to cry. I'm starting to cry just remembering it. Someone pushed me up on stage. I hugged everyone. I thanked them. I thanked Mom and Dad and Gerald. Without them, I'm not able to do anything. I told them I'd never worked so hard in my life, and that tomorrow I'm going to spend bobbing around in a swimming pool. {I can't believe I said that, but I wasn't really in a clear state of mind!}

I told them that three years ago, my life changed, and at the age of 29, I was a widow. I told them that I had been angry at God for a long time. But after a year, He kept knocking, and I let Him back in. I told them that I gave my career over to Him, and now look where He's brought me...

I never thought I would be in Nashville and I never thought gospel music would be taking such a prominent place in my life. Before I came here, I was at a crossroads in my music career. I prayed I would find guidance in what I do. I told everyone, "I will either come home hating the whole industry, or I'll have a contract from Bill Gaither." Well, it's pretty close to a contract...

I know that I'm still in shock from tonight. But I know that God wanted me here. The plan He has for you may not be what you expect, but it is definitely awesome!

"Our God is an awesome God!"

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Nashville - Day 9

Today was a mountain, a valley, and then another mountain.

This morning started with devotions with Aunt Faye. Yes, she's everyone's aunt. I thought devotions would be worship time, but it's much more relaxed. Every morning, she just tells a little story with a meaningful message, and then leads us in a short prayer. It's a lovely and calming way to start the day. I've decided I'd like Aunt Faye to come to my house every morning to tell me something lovely.

Then I had my final songwriting lesson. My song has finally come together, and yes, you will hear it in Toronto. I sang the tune, and Daryl wrote out a chord chart for it. We did a quicky demo on a cassette, so I have something to bring home. The lesson ended far too quickly, but he offered to review my material anytime. I'll be keeping in touch with him for sure.

As my classes are ending, I'm giving out copies of my cd as thank you presents. I feel it's the best thing I could put in the hands of my teachers.

After my lesson, I felt a little low. I went to my room, and spent the next five hours sick in bed. It was terrible. Nothing makes you homesick like an upset tummy. I'm feeling better now. Just a little worn out. But I'm mad cause I missed a whole day of classes and stuff.

Tonight we had auditions for the closing night program. What an impressive line-up of talent is here at the school. There were over 40 soloists and 15 groups that auditioned. We were all limited to 90 seconds, so it went quickly. Still, it took three hours to hear everyone. I did a solo and a group. My solo was It Is Well With My Soul, and my friend, Karen, played piano. I was still feeling weak, so my main goal was not to fall off the stage. I think it went well, and I've had some very generous compliments on it. Of course, I have to be realistic. They are only going to take two or three soloists, and there's no way I can compete with the 9-year-old blues singer! But I'm still glad that I took the opportunity to sing. And I just love that song so much. I'll take any chance to sing it.

My group audition was our trio, singing What God's Gonna Do. I haven't written anything about us for a while. Donna lost her voice for several days. We were hoping to perform earlier in the week, but it just wasn't possible. So tonight, we only got to do 90 seconds. Still, it was so great just to learn it and get the chance to perform with Debbie and Donna. Our group name was Pure Heart. It was really great fun, and I'll be bringing that song back to Toronto too.

And now, I must get some sleep so I can enjoy tomorrow. I don't want to miss a minute of the day. I've never worked so hard in my whole life. I can't believe it's almost over. But, oh my, do I need a day off!

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Nashville - Day 8

Today began with a great theory class. We did some work on songwriting. Jack has done an arrangement of my song "The Very Best", about the wedding at Canna. I haven't had a chance to hear it yet.

I left that class to go to my private songwriting class. It was great. The lyric is almost done, and my assignment was to write out a tune. We also took a lot of time to talk about how to market a song to different groups and artists. It was really great stuff to learn. I skipped group singing in the afternoon {don't tell anybody!} to work on the song. I locked myself in a rehearsal room and banged at the piano till I had a reasonable tune. Tomorrow, we'll do a rough recording of what I have so far.

I performed again in Allison Durham Speer's class. I'm glad I sang the first day. Her class is so popular that she has a 2-day waiting list for singers. I did "Jacob's Ladder", acapella. I started at the back of the crowd, and walked up through the audience as I sang. {If you were at my and Gerald's concert in Toronto or Botwood last summer, this is how I opened the show.} I tried to follow all the rules she has given us about being a good communicator. I sang 5 verses with 2 key changes, and after, I got the crowd to sing the last verse with me again. I've never done anything like this! Singing in the crowd. Talking directly to individuals. Leading the audience in spontaneous singing. It was great. She had very little feedback for me, but was really pleased in all the changes since last week. There is definitely lots of space for improvement, but it was still a very satisfying experience.

This afternoon, I had another lesson with Harold Lane. When you see him, he looks so old and fragile. But when he starts talking music, his whole person changes. His face lights up and he gets very animated. And he has such a gentle laugh. I feel so honoured to be his pupil. I'm learning so much about harmony and how to write it and figure it out. I'm meeting with him again tomorrow.

Tonight, we had group singing again with Mike Speck. We were the test choir for 2 new songs. They'll be published in a book later on this year, so we didn't even have finished charts. And he would rewrite as we sang. It was really cool.

Our concert tonight was by the family group, the Northams, who also led the church service on Sunday. They were so powerful! We were all in tears at some point.

I have to share a funny story from today. My songwriting teacher was asking about my acting, and I mentioned The Pacifier. Well! That's his family's favourite movie and they saw it twice in the theatre. So he introduced me to his daughter and told her I was in the film. Well, kids talk, and soon they all knew. So today, I had a line-up of children asking for my autograph! They were so sweet! And they all had questions about the movie - Who did I meet? What was it like? How much money did I make?

I'm also spending a bit of time with the kids' class today and tomorrow. They're singing some of my songs. I love it!

I think I'm falling asleep as I write!

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Nashville - Day 7

A million amazing things happened today. I'm going to go in chronological order, so make sure you read til the end.

To start with, I took my songs to Harold Lane - composer and arranger extraordinaire. Ben thought he might like to arrange my songs in 4-part harmony. Well, he didn't. Instead, he gave me a one hour private lesson in writing harmony! It was incredible. I realize there are people who do this every day, but for me, harmony has always been something "other" people figure out. Today, I learned how to do it, and it's like a light-bulb has been turned on in a dark room. I look at the music, and it all makes sense in a new way. I can see how things fit and work together on the page to make those great sounds. Imagine speaking English your whole life, and then one day learning how to read. Lots of new doors would be opened for you. That's how I felt today after my lesson. He's given me lots of homework, and I'm hoping to meet with him again tomorrow.

Then I went to a career workshop. It started a little slow. Mostly stuff I already know. But then he started talking about song choice and how to book gigs at churches, and that was great. I got his book, and I'll probably attend another workshop on Thursday.

This afternoon, we recorded our cd! It's all convention songs that are in our school songbook, edited by Harold Lane - a.k.a. my new harmony teacher! It went really well. Most songs were done in one take, and we even had time to record a few extra songs. We recorded in our rehearsal hall, sitting in the round in our SATB parts. There were 5 mics on tall poles, and they used, what looked like, a Mac program. The cd will be available for us by the end of the week.

Tonight, our group singing was again led by Mike Speck. He was on fire tonight! {The man is brilliant, but, oh my, is he crazy!} He gave us lots of great thoughts for leading worship as a choir. His best statement was that the choir should be a thermostat and not a thermometer. A thermometer tells you what the temperature is, but a thermostat can turn up the heat. A choir must raise the "heat" in the worship. We must not simply reflect the energy of the congregation. We must strive to increase the worship experience of the congregation. Just great stuff. Oh, and he's given me the name of Miss Canada. Where's my tiara when I need it?

Tonight's concert was by the extraordinary Anthony Burger. He's a pianist, and the most high-profile, non-Speer performer we've had. He's all energy, and he just burns up the keys. He is accompanied by orchestral tracks of his own arrangements. His signature thing is taking well known classical works, like the William Tell overture, and mixing in a hymn-tune. He's such a showman too. At one point, a cloud of steam exploded from the piano.

But the highlight of the day will undoubtedly go down as one of the highlights of my life. Ladies and gentlemen, tonight, I met Bill Gaither. William J. Gaither. Husband of Gloria Gaither. Writer of "Because He Lives", "There's Something About That Name", and "He Touched Me". Founder and producer of the Homecoming video and concert series. Can you tell I'm a fan? Bill Gaither is so much of what I aspire to be: singer, songwriter, and producer. Yesterday, we were told he probably wouldn't be coming. Thank GOD I brought my camera tonight! I went speechless when he walked into the room. He introduced himself and opened the floor to questions. I asked three.

1. Do you ever find time to simply attend a church service? - Yes, I'm in church every Sunday.

2. Do you still find time to write when you're traveling so much? - Not really; not as much as I should.

3. What makes you chose a location for a video taping like we'll have in Toronto this fall? - Well, we wanted to do a large auditorium taping cause we haven't done that before; we're hoping to have 15000 people in Toronto, which will probably be the largest live taping of a gospel concert; and there's always such a great energy up there in Toronto.

Yes, I shot my hand up three times. He then introduced Anthony and stayed for the concert. Oh, and Ruff Taft came to see the show too. After the show, Mr. Gaither {I just couldn't call him "Bill"} did photos and autographs. You KNOW I got my photo with him. And I told him what an inspiration he is to me. And then, I did that shameless thing that Gerald loves me for - I gave him my cd! I told him I'd like him to have it, not as a pitch, but simply as a thank you for all he's done. I don't know if he heard me, cause he was mobbed. But he took it! Bill Gaither has MY cd!!! I nearly cried tonight. I'm just so excited and honoured to have met him.

Some people have met Elvis or presidents. I have met Bill Gaither. If I had done nothing else this week but meet him, it would have been an amazing week. If I had attended this school and never met Bill Gaither, it would be an amazing week.

Now that both have happened in the same week ... I just don't have the words to describe it.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Nashville - Day 6

Obviously not my sixth day here, but my sixth day of classes. And if today is any indication, this week is going to fly by far too quickly. If they had this kind of school in a full-time program, I seriously think I would sign up. This place is so amazing.

You know how singers always say we want to sing til we're old? Well, tonight I saw a vision of what I want to be. Tonight, we had a surprise visit from Rosa Nell Speer. She's in her eighties, and her health has prevented her from being a part of the school so far. One of the conductors persuaded her to get up on stage to play piano, and she banged out What a Friend We Have in Jesus. It was swinging and great. Then she, Ben, and Mary Tom got up and did an impromptu concert! Here are these three people in their seventies and eighties, belting out 3-part harmonies, being funny and rousing up the crowd. It was so inspiring! That's what we all aim for! That's what we want. In classical, or opera, or music theatre, you reach a point where people think it's "best" for you not to sing in public anymore. In gospel, that doesn't really happen. I guess it's because the message is more important than high notes or long phrasing. The whole event was just so incredible. I just feel so blessed to have heard these legends sing in such a family atmosphere.

The rest of the day was pretty awesome too. In theory, we're learning how to write 4-part harmony. I'm so excited! That's one of the things I wanted to learn. It's kind of like doing a puzzle. You just need to fit all the right notes into all the right voices. {If this sounds inaccurate for you composers, give me a break! It's my first day!}

I also presented my song lyric to Daryl. He's really excited about it. He thinks it's really good and solid. My next job is to add a bridge and a tune. I think he'll help me arrange it. I was going to show him some of my other songs, but I think I want to focus my remaining lessons on this song. By the way, the title is "I'm waiting here for you".

There are some fantastic arrangers here, so I'm going to have some of my songs arranged in 4-part harmony. My Christmas songs for sure, and I Call Out Your Name.

We did a lot of group singing today. Tomorrow, we're recording a cd of convention music. Can't wait to see how they do the recording set-up.

I actually have lots of homework to do tonight! And I'm still expected to get some sleep!

Love being here!

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Nashville - Sunday

Another fairly lazy day, but I'm writing this a little earlier tonight so I can get ready for tomorrow's classes. I still have work to do on my song for Daryl's class. I worked on a the second verse this afternoon, but all I ended up with was a rewritten first verse. I like this new first verse better, so that's good, but I still need a second verse.

We had a worship service this morning, lead by Bruce Northam. Bruce is the father in the family group, the Northams, and he's also a preacher. He gave a great sermon about working in ministry, be it preaching or music. His main point was that it's not how you start, but how you finish. He gave great Biblical and real-life examples of people who start with God in mind, but they let other things distract them, and their lives and ministries fall apart. He gave some great tools for staying on track and keeping God first. The Northams led the music, and they were great. They're doing a concert for us this week, and I'm really looking forward to it. My voice teacher, Jaimie, is one of the daughters, and it was great to hear her sing too.

We went out for lunch and I tried fried catfish. Awesome!

Tonight, Donna drove us downtown, just for a look around. We saw the Ryman Auditorium, which was home of the Grand Old Opry for years and years. I've found out they offer a backstage tour, so I'll be checking that out on my extra days. I'm staying a few days after school ends to play around, so I'm trying to find lots of great music stuff to do. I'm sure I'll be busy!

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Nashville - Saturday

Our first day off. It's mostly been a lazy day of sleep, pajamas, phone calls home, and food. Real nice and real needed. {This last sentence sounds best said with a big long drawl.}

Tonight, we practiced our trio. My partners are Debbie, from Florida, and Donna, from Kentucky. We're going to do "What God's Gonna Do", by The Martins. We went into a practice room and worked on the harmonies, and then went out to the performance hall to do it on the stage. There were a couple of guys also practicing, and they watched us do our song. We asked if they had any feedback, and it started several hours of singing and working and creating and just having a great time with music. I think we're going to do the song during Performance Opportunity one night and if we really feel confident, we'll try out for the closing night performance.

And now, the highlight of the day - Today, Ben Speer performed my song! That's right! Today we had the barbecue, which had to be moved indoors cause of the insane heat, and the bluegrass festival. Most of the performers were from the school, so people were welcome to get up and sing with the band. Donna and I jumped up and did an impromptu version of I'll Fly Away - the only bluegrass song I know. I thought of a song I thought might be good. I said "God, if this is the wrong move, trip me when I get up to walk." I stood up, and didn't trip, so I walked up and asked if I could sing a song. I pulled out the sheet music for I Call Out Your Name. The band was Ben on double bass, Bruce Northam on fiddle, and students on guitars, accordion, mandolin, drums, and vocal harmonies. And we all started to play my song. It was so truly amazing! I was floating on a cloud of music and joy. I've sung this song many times in many ways, but I will never forget today. All these people, joining in on my little tune. Playing and singing and praising God with my little song. I'm still high thinking of it. *sigh* After, several people told me how much they liked it, and one guy took a copy to bring to his church. I'm just so warm with the memory of it all.

I continue to find this place such a blessing. I'm so glad I came!

Friday, July 22, 2005

Nashville - Day 5

I can't believe it's Friday! The school is officially half over! On Monday, the day felt so long, and now it's flying by way too fast.

Well, today was a day of brave things. I have started showing some of my songs around. I won't discuss details now, just in case nothing comes of it. Hopefully, I'll be able to share a few things next week.

My Peace in the Valley "reputation" is growing. This morning in theory, I was called to the front of the class. I nervously staggered up. Jack started to play the intro for Peace in the Valley, and I just started to sing. We did two verses, and the class joined in on the choruses. How amazing! An amazing accompanist to support me, and then this awesome group of music-loving-singers joining in.

My final feat of bravery was performing in front of the whole school during Performance Opportunity, which happens every night after the concert. This is when anyone can get up and sing, play, whatever. There is no feedback or anything. Just performing. I sang I Believe, and my new friend Karen played piano. She's also a great accompanist. I was nervous, but I really tried to focus on communicating the message of the song. I think that part worked well, and I've gotten some nice comments since. We did a lot of work on segues today in class, so I really tried to do well on my introduction to the song. But sooo nervous! Who wouldn't be with Ben Speer in the audience?

I continue to meet new and interesting people here. I amazes me how Southern Gospel, shape-note singing, convention music, and quartets is such a culture here. These people are steeped in it. Even the kids are singing these intricate harmonies and busy texts. It's so neat!

One more thing I've been meaning to mention: Southerners are a lot like Newfoundlanders. It's true! They're very generous and warm. Everyone you meet is instant family. There's lots of food and it's not always very good for you. Fashion and style are not so important. God, family, and being a good person are. And they have music and humour in their blood.

Tonight's concert was the faculty concert. It was Gaither-style - everyone sat in a semi-circle and got up for solos. Sarah Delane was a special guest singer. And the highlight was Allison Durham Speer's special appearance as ... wait for it ... Vestal Goodman! She was all dolled up with a huge wig and crazy clothes, hanky in hand, and she came out and sang in her best Vestal voice and mannerisms. It brought down the house! But for me, the most poignant moment was when Mary Tom Speer sang a solo, and Ben and nephew Tim sang back up harmonies. Mary Tom must be close to 80, and she just sang out in this strong and open voice. Her diction was clear and her message was strong. She was an absolute inspiration!

We have our most relaxing evening now. There's a movie showing later on, and people are making plans for Saturday. Tomorrow is a lazy day, so I'll be sleeping in. I've also told my suite-mates to find another bathroom for an hour - I'll be locking myself in the bath-tub for a nice long soak. All this deep breathing and good posture is exhausting!

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Nashville - Day 4

I'm so tired I think I may actually be asleep right now! But I still can't stop singing and clapping and enjoying myself.

The schedule is just so intense, and then I stayed up til midnight with my songwriting assignment. Midnight is usually early for me, but not when I need to get up at 6:30. However, the late night was worth it. I was finally able to find a quiet moment for writing, and some good stuff came. My teacher is very impressed! He said he usually puts beginners on to a second assignment at this point, but he likes my idea so much that he wants me to continue with this and finish the whole song by the end of school. It's very encouraging! You should google him - Daryl Williams - and check out some of his songs. Really good.

Tonight's concert was a real Southern gospel quartet called The Premiers. They have great individual voices, but their blend was so smooth and rich. The piano player is my theory teacher, Jack Clark. Every day in theory class, Jack gives us a history lesson. We hear a vintage recording of someone important in Southern gospel history. And usually, Jack has an anecdote that starts, "When I knew these guys...". That will give an idea of the span of his career.

Oh, and one more thing to add to yesterday's definition of 'convention' music. It's usually just four voices and piano. Adding other instruments was not traditionally done.

Just a note on the theory classes too. There are 10 theory levels taught here - everything from absolute beginner to advanced. At registration, we were given a written test so they'd know where to place us. You are placed by ability and age, so the kids are in a separate class. We all learn basic music theory, sight-singing, ear-training, and shape-notes. I think we're the only class that does history.

We have a guest conductor right now for some of our group singing - Mike Speck. He's a composer and arranger, and he travels all over the country leading and teaching music at churches and schools. He also visits the People's Church in Toronto. He's just awesome! So full of the Spirit of God, and encouraging us to seek that same Spirit through music. Tonight, he encouraged us to look for God in all kinds of music, not just the ones we grew up with or the ones we like. I couldn't agree more!

I also attended a song-writing workshop today with Dave Clark. It was so inspiring! He taught a lot of technical things, which I really need to learn. But above all technique, he told us to write from our passion, and to always strive for great songs, not just good songs.

I also want to share a lovely moment I had today. A man came up and, remembering my performance from Day 1, asked if I always sing Peace in the Valley acapella {without instrumental accompaniment}. I said that I usually do it with piano or guitar. He asked if I would mind singing it while he played. So we grabbed a quiet piano, and we played through it. He was a great player. When we were done, he told me he had never played the song before! But he really loves it and loves the way I sing it. We played through it once more. It just felt wonderful. Then he thanked ME for singing for him. I was the one who felt thankful and honoured.

This morning I was putting on my make-up and I started to hum He Touched Me. My room-mate, Michaela, started to hum harmonies. There are so many magical musical moments like that around here. What a blessing this place is to me!

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Nashville - Day 3

Wednesday is done. That means the rest of the week will fly by, and then we're half done. And I still can't figure out shape notes!

Today was awesome. I'm going to start with our concert tonight, which was by Stephen Hill. I've seen him on the Gaither videos, and I must confess that I wasn't too excited. He did some songs with back-ups tracks, and there were some good songs. Then he pulled out his guitar, and I was hooked. He did acoustic blues gospel, and I loved it! It reminded me of the kind of stuff Gerald and I do. Partly cause he plays a Taylor, but also cause he took some great classics, like He's Got the Whole World, and made a new arrangement of it. It was a really awesome performance. Very bluesy and cool. All I needed was a rum and coke. Funny... they don't serve them here!

I want to tell you a little about 'group singing'. We do this for 3 hours a day. We have a book of 'convention' songs, which are all Southern gospel songs, old and new, written in four part harmony. The melodies are simple, but the harmonies are complex, often breaking into counterpoint. For the un-musically minded, that means that everyone is singing something completely different, all at the same time. They are not long songs, but very wordy, and sometimes very fast. So in group singing, we sight-read these songs, and as the week goes on, we are starting to polish some pieces. It's a great sight-reading group, so the work is good. Imagine a choir of 250 singers, all singing four part harmony. That's what I get to do 3 hours a day.

Next week, Ben will bring in his recording stuff and we'll cut a cd of 10-12 of the pieces. Can't wait for that!

I must go to bed soon, but I'm still struggling with my songwriting assignment. I've done it correctly six times, but my lyrics are crap {excuse my language!}. So, I'm off to struggle with it some more before I go to sleep.

Oh, one more thing - I've met a singer/accompanist who's going to play for me, but she's also asked if I'd try singing some of her songs! Cool! And that's why I came - to learn, to meet other musicians, and to get better at what I do. Amen!

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Nashville - Day 2

Another long and vibrant day.

First, I must make a comment on the food. Yes Mom, I'm eating lots and eating well, but food is different down here. I've never seen so much deep-fried food in my life! They deep-fry everything! Every meal is deep-fried! It's really quite incredible and oddly impressive. Also, at every meal, I need to ask someone, "What's that?". I've had okra, chicken-fried steak (which has nothing to do with chicken) and some breakfast thing that no one seemed to have a name for, but everyone knew what it was!

I think I'm finally learning how chords work! I have an awesome theory teacher named Jack Clark, and he's so passionate about theory and music composition. My brain was ringing by the end of today's class, but I think it's making sense.

I also had my first song-writing lesson today. We discussed some tools for the beginning song-writer, and then he gave me an assignment. I have to write a verse and chorus of lyrics for the next class. He's given me a very strict structure for rhyme and rhythm. My theme is "heaven". It's a practice song, so don't ask to see it. - Unless I do something brilliant and then I'll show everyone.

Tonight's concert was amazing - Ben Speer, Mike Allen, and Allison Durham Speer. I, of course, burned up my Visa buying cds.

I'm now off to bed. I don't know how I'm going to get used to these early mornings. My bedtime is now 11:00. Crazy!

Monday, July 18, 2005

Nashville - Day 1

I'm so tired and so excited and today feels like it was four days long.

We started at 7am - yes, AM - with breakfast, and devotions at 8am with Faye Speer.
Our first class was theory and sight-singing. We have this class twice a day for a total of 3 hours. This is the shape-note singing. I'm still quite confused, so more on this at a later date.

Then we have electives, so today I chose Performance Training with Allison Durham Speer. I'm a huge fan of Allison and she's the one I really wanted to work with. So when she asked who wanted to sing, my foolish hand jumped up in the air. I sang Peace in the Valley, acapella. I was nervous, it being so early and all, but it went well. Then she gave me great feedback, both positive and critical. It was so amazing! Here I am, singing for this amazing performer, and she's helping to train me. Me! I got a lot of lovely comments from other students throughout the day. The Canadian is making her mark!
{Actually, there are 2 great women here from Alberta as well. We're the foreigners in the group!}

After lunch, there was more theory, and then my first voice lesson. I get five 30-minute lessons, and I want to use this time to delve into genre and style.

Then we had group singing, which is also several hours a day. But when we sight read a song, we are not to sing La-La-La. Oh no! We sing Do-Re-Mi! Oh my! I haven't looked at that stuff since Vanier Elementary. Very confusing and crazy! This is that shape-note stuff, which I'm really hoping to explain later.

The music we do in group singing is "convention" music. Again, hoping to explain this later.

Then in the evening, we had a concert. We get a concert performed for us every night. Tonight was the inspiring Darlene Neptune, and the powerful Daryl Williams Trio. Daryl is my songwriting coach, and I get to work with him tomorrow.

The night ends with student performances. I stayed in the audience for tonight. I've been asked to join in a trio, so we'll probably do a song later on. I'd like to get the chance to do some solo work, and maybe one of my songs as well.

I, of course, intend to make use of every minute here. It's full of talented people, and everyone is very down to earth and accessible. There's a couple of hundred students, so it's not too many. And there are even whole families who've come here together.

It's all a little overwhelming, but I'm soooo glad I'm here!

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Nashville - Orientation

I'm here! I'm at Ben Speer's Stamps-Baxter School of Music. Two weeks of learning the ins and outs of Southern Gospel singing.

It's been a long day. Rude customs agents, lost luggage, and all the rest. The airport in Atlanta is so big you need to take a train to get from one part to another.

The schedule is crazy! All day classes, with the emphasis on theory, ear training, and sight-reading, all in the "shape note" tradition. I'll be able to properly explain shape notes in a few days - I hope!

Awesome concerts every night, and vocal technique class every day - yes, EVERY day - with Allison Durham Speer! And my Gaither-fan-friends should know we have concerts coming up by Allison, Ben, Stephen Hill, and Anthony Burger.

But for tonight, I'm being the keener. I have my clothes unpacked and my books out on my desk. My bed is made and my alarm set for 6:30am. The pictures of Gerald and Sebastian are propped up by my copy of The Prophet.

I'm ready to work.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Between-the-music days

My days are filled with the preparation and recovery of music time.

I've had some great gigs in the last week. First there was the night with the orchestra at the Montreal Bistro. I can't believe we sold out the place. I sold out my dream venue! There were definitely some musical hitches, but it was still an amazing and dreamy night. We played the Toronto Street Festival on Sunday. The music gets stronger each time we perform.

And now I'm getting ready to go to Nashville. Two weeks of singing and writing and learning and networking and God knows what else. I've never done anything like this before. I'm incredibly excited, but if honesty shines through, I will have to admit that I'm slightly terrified as well.

I know the next few weeks will affect me tremendously. I promise myself to be open to whatever challenges, changes, and experiences come before me.