Friday, December 29, 2006

Bangladeshi Christmas Dinner

I sang tonight in a fundraising concert that followed a Bangladeshi Christmas Dinner.

I hooked up with a member of this group a few months ago when I last sang at All Saints Church. This group was holding regular Christian music concerts to help fund rural schools in Bangladesh. I'm always ready to use my talents to help underprivileged children, especially in the area of education, so I said I would sing in the next concert. And as it worked out, it was in this short time that we're back in Toronto.

We gathered at 6pm for a traditional Bangladeshi meal, full of curries and rice pudding. Sooo good. Then the whole crowd moved into the sanctuary of All Saints for the concert. There were only 2 other performers besides me, so we all had a fair amount of time to fill.

"Nueva Trova" is the choir from a local Spanish congregation. The 9-member-group sang traditional songs and hymns in Spanish, accompanied by guitars, tambourine and a rain stick. Robert Baidya, one of the night's organizers and our fabulous chef, entertained us with traditional Bangladeshi songs and instruments. The performances were intriguing because of the different sounds and languages, but the most captivating part was how sincere everyone was in their desire to praise God through music.

I did 2 15-minute sets. The first was all gospel music, and I accompanied myself on guitar. I wanted to throw in some originals, so I did "Infinitely More" and "I Call Out Your Name". Gerald joined me for the second set, which was all Christmas. We did "Twas in the Moon of Wintertime" with djembe, and "Welcome to Bethlehem" with dueling guitars. He also accompanied me for "The Joseph Carol" and "Mary, Did You Know" - our Holy Couple set!

The acoustics are so beautiful in All Saints that we did everything unplugged. The sound obviously carried well, because the feedback was very very positive. I was even invited to sing at another church, which we can hopefully work out on one of our return trips.

I had so many gigs cancel on me this Christmas season. For a while, I was very frustrated by the whole situation. But tonight was something good. It was a little reminder that God's plan in still in place. I will continue to say, "Yes, Lord."

Thursday, December 28, 2006

The Rockettes!

Tonight, Gerald and I enjoyed one of our Christmas gifts – tickets to the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, featuring the Rockettes!

I’m a huge sucker for music theatre. A well-choreographed song and dance number just does me in, so once the show started, I was grinning and giggling like a child. And tonight, I officially fell in love with the Rockettes! You hear about them. You make fun of them (who hasn’t made a kick-line with their friends?) But until you see them in person, you just can’t appreciate what a strong performing team they are. I love the kick-line and, cliché though it may be, my favourite was the March of the Wooden Soldiers. So simple and charming!

But here’s the thing: We’re watching the show, and it truly was all about glitter and bright colours and shopping in New York. Santa was our emcee for the evening, and at one point, he announced that if he didn’t get out with the toys, Christmas wouldn’t happen. Well, I’m a huge Santa fan, but I know for a fact that Santa does not dictate the arrival of Christmas. As I’m watching it, I’m thinking, “This is what’s wrong with Christmas. We see these shows that teach us that Christmas is all about toys and shopping.”

But, boy, was I wrong.

I’d heard about the Nativity at the end of the show, but I truly had no idea what was coming...

They introduce the scene by acknowledging that this story is the true reason why we celebrate Christmas. They quote Isaiah’s prediction of the coming of the Christ child. (Yes, the Biblical Isaiah.) Then they tell the story about the census, the traveling, and the night of Jesus’s birth. There is no dancing, no tap shoes, no dialogue. It is sensitive and respectful, and truly stageworthy. The costumes are beautiful, but still restrained, and the lighting makes use of shadow and scrims. There is one flashy, yet completely appropriate piece of staging: the shepherds have real sheep, and the kings have real camels! (Yes, on stage!)

At the end of the scene, all the characters are on stage for the “living nativity”. A voice-over reads the poem “One Solitary Life”. The pit-singers burst into “Hark the Herald Angel Sing”. The woman next to me starts to sing along. I reach up to wipe the tears from my eyes. (I’ve been doing this since Isaiah).

And that’s how they end the show.

No kick-lines. No curtain call. No final bows.

Just a baby in a manger.

You can’t tell me this isn’t ministry. This show attracts thousands and thousands of people a year, and each of those people is given the chance to hear the Gospel story. I just sat there, amazed at this bold move. I know that money and audience numbers determine what goes into a show like this, but they could have ended with a huge song-and-dance "holiday" number. In our politically charged era, they make no bones about the fact that this is a Christmas show, and that Jesus is the reason for Christmas.

A few weeks ago, a Toronto judge received public flack for ordering the removal of a Christmas tree from the lobby of a provincial court. She deemed it to be a “religious symbol” that might offend non-Christians. Well, if she’s really worried about offending non-Christians, she should march right down to the theatre and protest the Rockettes, because every night, this Christmas, they are telling the true story of Christmas to thousands of people...

... and I'm so glad they are!

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Merry Christmas!

It's so good to be home for Christmas!

Yesterday morning, I attended our 4th-Sunday-in-Advent service. Last night, I attended our family worship service, where Gerald and I, accompanied by Esther and Michelle on harmonies, performed "Welcome to Bethlehem". At midnight, I attended our late service to hear Dad's Christmas sermon.

This morning, Gerald and I got up early to attend the Christmas morning service and perform "Mary, Did you Know".

And this afternoon and tonight, we gathered with family, and with friends who have become family, to eat, drink, chat, laugh, and just celebrate being together on this most blessed of days.

In his sermon last night, Dad referenced one of my favourite Christmas songs, "The Christmas Traveler", performed by the Irish Rovers. The quote is this:

A kingdom for the loving, He has come to lead us to.
The Son of Man is living now. Can you feel it too?
I scarcely can believe my ears. The joy is in my heart,
For God has heard His people's need, and gave a brand new start.

In a year that is seemly full of endings for us - Dad's retirement, leaving Canada, selling our house - what a blessing to know that God is always full of brand new starts!


Wednesday, December 13, 2006

A long day with no theme.

Tonight’s blog will probably be short and full of typos as I’m dropping-tired.

I had a gorgeous and luxurious day. Today, I received my birthday gift from Gerald - a day at a spa! And not just any day, but a day full of special Chocolate and Peppermint treatments! I won’t bore you with the details (even though there was nothing boring about it!), but I must share this one image: I started the day with a soak in the jacuzzi, which is outdoors! The sun was blazing down, and the water was so hot the steam was billowing into the cool air, yet it was so mild that I could sit outside after to dry off. And all I can think is, "This is MID-DECEMBER???" Heaven!

Tonight, I attended a Gordon Mote concert at St Paul Community Church. Gordon is always great when you see his 2-song set in the Gaither concert, but a solo show is a real treat. He played songs off his new Christmas album, and was joined on vocals by his wife, Kimberly, and friend, Angie. The harmonies were gorgeous, and it was lovely to hear the different voices come in on the solos. I picked up the album last week, and the songs are great. It’s a nice mix of simple piano/vocal songs, and fully ramped uptempo stuff. Gordon also did his "Mary Had A Little Lamb" bit, where he demonstrates the way different churches play the same song. Very funny, and if you watch the audience closely, you can tell who goes to what church!

We’ve decided it’s time to head home for Christmas! We’re ready for Mom’s gingersnaps, Aunt Florence’s cherry cake, and Sebastian’s wild and crazy lovin’!

Tonight was our last late-night Walfart shopping spree, pickin up water and snacks for the road. Tomorrow is all about planning our drive, arranging a rent payment for January first, paying our electric bill, and making sure the house-sitter knows the code for the laundry room.

Sing it!

I’ll be home for Christmas...You can plan on me....Please have snow and mistletoe... I love that jacuzzi...

Time to pray!

Today, I received notice that my application for an American work visa has finally been submitted. It's taken much longer than originally planned, but we have finally collected all the info we can, it's been all properly arranged, and it's now out of my hands!

Now, all I can do it trust in God. (So much easier to say than do!) We're praying that my application will be judged fairly, and that it will be quickly and smoothly approved. If you're the praying kind, we would love your support on this...

Tonight, I started reading a new book, and following verse was printed just inside the title page:

25"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? 26Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?
(Matthew 6, NIV)

Isn't funny how God always knows just the right thing to say?

Monday, December 11, 2006

Walk Thru Bethlehem

First of all - Happy Nashville Anniversary to us! It's been one month since we left Toronto to start our Nashville adventure! Whoo-hoo! A lot has happened, and we're just loving every day of being here.

But yesterday, I was homesick!

10 years ago, Dad came to me, and several other people in the parish, with an idea: What if we told the story of the Nativity in the churchyard, outside... in December! He had this idea that we would put stages up, each with a different scene from the Christmas story, and the audience would walk through and see each scene, ending with the Holy Family. I was brought on as co-writer and director, sets were built, 50 actors and singers were cast, and the first staging of THE REAL CHRISTMAS STORY magically appeared. Now, 10 years later, we have performed that play for over 5000 audience members, and the 2 years it appeared on Vision TV, it played for an audience of over 60,000 people. All of this, from my Dad.

Yesterday was this year’s show. We’ve all been praying for good weather, and in the morning, Dad called to tell me it was 2C and sunny - just perfect. I got an update last night, and even today, they’re continuing to send me stories of actors who pushed through illness to take part, and audience members who have come each of the 10 years.

I’m so thrilled that this ministry has been a source of joy for so many people. I hope it continues long after we’re gone from the parish. But for this weekend, it all just makes me a little homesick, and wishing I was there to say, “Welcome to Bethlehem!”.

So, today, I decided to do some Christmasy stuff to lift my spirits. I had seen signs for something called “Walk Thru Bethlehem”, and thought this would be the right choice.

It takes place each year at Woodmont Christian Church, and, like our play, it is put on by the church to reach out into the community at large. It runs 1:00pm - 7:00pm, and you can go at any time to ‘walk thru’. When I arrived there were literally hundreds of people lined up right around the parking lot. It was a warm night (10C after dark!), which was a blessing cause the wait was about 40 minutes. The big difference between this and our show is that this is NOT a play. It is an event, a happening, a truly interactive experience.

Every once in a while, a Centurion soldier would walk past to keep the line in order. I heard parents whispering warnings to their children that the soldiers were looking for little boys under the age of 2, so they’d better behave. (Don’t know if that’s really in the Christmas spirit...) As the line snaked around, I noticed they had a large wood fire burning on the little hill by the building. I thought, “How nice and charming. It will keep people warm.” But this fire wasn’t for us; it was for the shepherds. How do I know this? Because next thing I saw was the sheep! That’s right - sheep! Half a dozen sheep, roaming the hillside. Actually, they were tethered on, but in the dark, you couldn’t see that, and they just looked like they were roaming. Crazy! There were kids all over the hill, petting the sheep and getting close to the fire. Every once in a while, a light would shine from one of the lower roofs on the building, and an angel would appear to the shepherds. A recorded voice-over would read the angel’s announcement from the Bible, and the angel would stand out there in blazing white glory. It was so awesome!

The event proper was inside. When you arrived at the door, the first thing you did was register for the census. Everyone had to fill out a census card with the number of people in your family and from whence you had traveled. Then, we were greeted by a citizen of Bethlehem who told us the political climate of the day, and how excited they all were that the census had brought us here. He invited us to wander freely in Bethlehem and to enjoy our time here. At this point, I still didn’t know it wasn’t a play, so I was all geared up for a good show. I had no idea what awaited me...

Around the corner, we saw the grain and fish vendors from the market. I thought, “O dear, is this whole thing going to be something we just look at and walk past?”. Then, they offered us samples of nuts, and dates, and fish. What???

A huge door opened up, and we entered the marketplace of Bethlehem. And I’m serious - We were in Bethlehem, first century. The floors had been covered in layers of mulch, so you felt the earth under your feet. The walls and ceilings were draped in burlap and cloth. Every where you looked, you saw a beautiful detail that spun you back in time. And everything was interactive!

First, I saw the Village Oven, where they were grinding grain with this rotating stone. You could help them make the flour and the dough, and a few steps down the line, you could taste the bread. You could watch the carpenters building house-hold items, and the sellers trying to tempt you with brass knick-knacks and ‘real gold’ jewelry. The weaver informed us that the sheep we saw outside belonged to her family, and that the shepherds were their husbands. She told how they would collect and spin the wool, and how they would die it with ginger and figs and pomegranates. She made bracelets and gave them to the children.

There was a well in the middle of the market, so water was accessible to everyone. A man with a recorder walked about playing beautiful melodies. A special room housed a storyteller who told legends to the children. There was a booth were we could “buy” doves and sheep for our sacrifices. And then, we could enter the Synagogue. It was full of artifacts, and write-ups explaining their use in worship and education. This was the only place in the market that didn’t have a mulch floor. It was covered in rich carpets.

There was a place where the children could make rag dolls, and even if you didn’t make one, they would just give you one. (Mine is blue!) I dropped by the Physician’s tent to see what they were all about. A healer asked if I had any ailments. When I mentioned I’d had a headache last week, she grabbed my hands and taught me an acupressure technique. I listened in for a bit, and whatever people mentioned was their ailment, they had an oil or herb or technique to heal it!

The Tent Maker explained how the goat wool sheets were light and airy so your tent would keep out the sun and the heat, but that when it rained, the goat wool would expand to keep out the water. The Basket Weaver was twisting reeds to make bracelets for everyone to wear. At the Food Tasting booth, we could try matzos in honey, spiced tea (amazing!) and sesame cookies.

Not a detail was missed in this market. Tables were filled to overflowing with wares and supplies. People greeted you with “Shalom”. The lighting was soft, and the pathways were crowded with people, and lined with palm trees. This was not a museum piece - Every spot was filled with the tastes and smells and sounds of a busy marketplace.

It was even appropriately messy. At the wine press, they had an huge barrel filled with grapes, and on top of the grapes was a bare-footed child, squishing the grapes with his feet. (And no, they let us taste fresh grapes, not wine.) At the Potter’s booth, you could watch him work the wheel, and then you could grab a hunk of clay and make something yourself. And then there was the Olive Press. It was 5 feet high by 3 feet wide and made of stone. There was a central tub filled with olives and a large stone that could be rolled through the olives using a large wooden handle. Three children were working the press and explaining the process. They were up to their elbows in olive oil, and the smell penetrated the air.

At this point, I chose to leave the marketplace, and go outside to the Stable. There, I saw Mary and Joseph and the baby (which I think was a doll). The Magi were there, and they would let you touch and smell the frankincense and myrrh. No free gold samples, unfortunately. And there were more animals! This time, it was sheep, goats, a long-haired ox, and ... wait for it... a camel!

What an incredible experience! It’s very different than our show, but it is truly unique, and a great way to touch on the world as Jesus may have seen it.

I felt very inspired and Christmasy at the end of the day. After the show, I bought a wreath for my car. Tis the season...

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Gaither Joy!

Tonight was awesome! Remember in September how Gerald and I ended up working Gordon Mote’s table at the Gaither concert at the ACC? Well, a few weeks ago, we realized that the Gaithers were going to be here in Nashville this week. So we wrote Gordon’s manager, offered our services, and ended up working the table at tonight’s concert!

I was so excited to see the show, and I hoped I would run into some people I knew. Our table was right next to the Speer table, so I got to have a lovely visit with Ben, Miss Mary Tom, and some of the family. Mike Allen was there, and I also got to say Hi to Reggie Smith, who helped coach me and Scott Baker for our "I’ve Just Seen Jesus" duet this summer.

Gordon was fighting a cold, so we didn’t get to see him in person, but he was in fine form on stage. Actually, the whole show was pretty incredible. Most artists did Christmas music, so that was great, and the stage was simply decorated with wreaths and trees covered in white lights. It opened with the awesome Christ Church Choir, directed by Landy Gardner, with Joy as the soloist. I’d heard great things about their choir, and I was not disappointed. It was a total star-studded evening (and I use that word with proper respect), just full of great artists. Reggie and Ladye Love did a duet, followed by sets from the Easters and the Isaacs, whom I always love! Linda Randle did a few songs, including "His Eye in On the Sparrow", which she practically owns at this point. Ben sang the SG classic, "Beautiful Star of Bethlehem". Signature Sound and GVB were absolute crowd-pleasers, and they just sounded great.

One of the true highlights was Mark Lowry! The only time I’ve really seen him as a soloist was at the Toronto taping last fall, and it seemed that he never really got a lot of air-time. But last night, he was relaxed and funny and completely entertaining. He did a solo and told some great stories, and carried a pocket of one-liners tailor-made for Bill. But the finest moment was when he sang, "Mary Did You Know". Of course, I’ve sung this song often and I just adore it, but what a treat to hear it sung by the writer himself. Actually, as he was singing, I remembered this summer, when I heard Buddy Greene, the co-writer, sing his interpretation of the song. Both men sing it very differently, but both also sing it from a deep and grounded place. Such a blessing to hear both writers sing their song within months of each other.

And here was the other highlight: Gloria was there! It is no secret that I am a huge fan of this lady and her presence and her incredible ability to recite wisdom through a simple lyric. She did a few stories and poems, and laughed as Mark told tales of their breakfasts together, and their talks of God and His wonders. It’s very clear I’m not Gloria’s only fan.

The show went very late, but the hours just flew by. At the table, we got to talk to lots of great people - long-time Gaither fans, and people attending their first Homecoming concert ever. I even had the quirky experience of meeting Wendy V, a lady who reads my blog and who once reviewed my CD. There were people who had never heard Gordon play, and people, like me, who have become recent, but devout, fans. People were quick to share stories of the effect Gordon’s music has had on them.

Such a great night of joy and blessings! And, as these concerts always are for me, it was a reminder of what I want to do, and of the high standard being set by those around me. Tonight, I am inspired... to sing... to write new songs... and to spread the Gospel through song.

Friday, December 08, 2006

NSAI Christmas Party!

I'm actually staying up late looking for a new church tonight. Not that I haven't liked the ones I've visited, but I still want to keep looking til I decide to settle on one. Put "episocopal church nashville" and "anglican church nashville" into Google to see what I'd get. There was more choice than I thought, and I think I may have found a good one to visit.

But on to the adventures of today...

This afternoon held a seemingly dull, but hugely important job. Today, we mailed my visa application back to Toronto. I dropped by ASCAP to pick up my final letter for the package, assembled my pile of documents, found a post office, and had it all sent back to Toronto. Praying it will be filed very soon! Whoo-hoo!

Tonight, we attended the NSAI Christmas Party. More whoo-hoo! They have a huge building, and it was just packed. I saw people with plates of food, but the crowd was so tight, we never actually found the tables hosting the food. Not to worry - we did find the bar!

Actually, the first person I saw was Ralph Murphy, who just wrote my letter for ASCAP! He remembered my face from this summer (people here are so good at that!), which was great cause I got to thank him in person for the letter.

The place was just crawling with people, so we grabbed a drink and just started talking to folks. We ran into some people we’d met already through the critique meeting, so that was cool. And we got to meet a few new people as well.

Don’t know how much legitimate networking was done, but we heard about some great restaurants, exchanged a few cards, and got an invitation to a songwriting party on Saturday.

All in all, a great way to spend an evening!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Gig complete!

Tonight was the night of our first Nashville gig at BCC.

We arrived at the church at 5:00 tonight for a pre-service rehearsal. But, of course, most people were late and rehearsal didn’t actually start til 5:30. Still, we got to run through everything once, so that helped. Gerald and I had taken time to rehearse during the day, so we felt well prepared. But as we ran through things, my mic was still not working! I mean, it may have been working for those in the audience, but I couldn’t hear a thing. Not one single note! Not only is this disorienting when you’re on stage, but it also meant that I couldn’t tell if my harmonies were fitting in with the key of the song. I had complained about this all the night before, and really didn’t want to complain again, but I also didn’t want to be making ugly sounds into the mic. So after rehearsal, I made one more request for my mic to be turned up. I crossed my fingers...

The kids attending the service started to gather around 6:00 for pizza and basketball and just hanging out. Such a great place for them to gather! A few minutes before the service, the music and ministry team gathered for prayer. We then moved backstage where we waited for a music countdown before going on stage. I was so nervous. Singing with a band like this is something I never really do. It’s much more rockstar than my normal kind of music. I felt miles outside my comfort zone. Standing backstage, I took a minute to pray silently, and what I mostly prayed for was to remember that I was not there for the band or the music or the sound. I was there for God. I was there to serve God and to bring His children closer to Him through worship. I prayed that focus would replace nerves, and that everything I did tonight would be in service to Him.

When we got out on stage, our first song was uptempo, and the kids stood up and started singing along right away. That was a great response, and it filled the room with energy. “So Good to Me” is actually a duet, so when we hit my solo verse, I started to sing, and I could actually hear myself! Yay! I sang out, and it felt good. Now that I could hear myself, I felt tonnes more relaxed and the rest of the set went very quickly. I played tambourine, sang harmonies, and even did a nice little ad-lib here and there.

Gerald had a wicked guitar solo coming up on one of the songs. When his time came, I was so excited, I turned around to watch him. But nothing came out of his guitar! Now that my mic was working, his wasn’t! That gorgeous solo was lost in the barrage of sound! Arg! They hooked him back up for the rest of the set, but it was disappointing that no one got to hear his solo in the service.

After the service, we said our thank-yous and headed out. The night before, we had seen a house with lots of Christmas lights in the distance. Since it was dark now, we decided we would drive around to try and find this mystery house... but you would not believe what we found!

Mom, get ready for this: We found a small little street where each and every house was completely covered in Christmas lights! I don’t mean a few wreaths in the windows and a string of lights in the bushes, I mean all-out-North-Pole-freaking-Christmas-lights! I don’t know if they have a local Christmas lights competition or what, but this was truly and wonderfully insane!

Each and every house on the street was all lit up from lawn to chimney. There were wreaths, Santas, candy canes and gingerbread. One lawn had a vintage near-life-sized Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. One had lights in the shape of a family ice-skating, and another shaped like a carousel. There was a huge arch with elves welcoming us to the North Pole. There were more elves throwing presents into Santa’s sack. There was Christmas music being piped into the air. There were several nativities, but the best one was all white, and larger than life! And the piece de resistance: One lawn even had a real live Santa who would greet you and give you candy canes! Seriously! They had Santa on their lawn!!!

It was so awesome! I didn’t have my camera with me, so we’re going to go back another night and try to get some photos. I only hope Santa is still there!

For people who don’t get snow, these Southerners certainly know how to do Christmas!

Our First (non-paying) Nashville Gig!

I haven’t had a chance to actually get to the computer in the last few days, and now I have a tonne of catching up to do. Lots has been happening...

Sunday morning, I decided to go back to last week’s church, BCC. It was such a unique experience that I wanted Gerald to check it out. Also, I’d exchanged emails with someone from the music department, and I wanted the chance to introduce myself in person.

We decided to hit the 11:00am service - such a nice change from the earlier services I usually attend. The music was already on the go when we got there, and the band was even bigger than last week. This church is in a time of transition and, like St. John’s, they are looking for a new preacher. They’ve narrowed down their selection, and this Sunday, one of those short-listed came to preach. He continued in their 8-week preaching theme of “Break Free”, and spoke about breaking free from the self-destructive labels we put on ourselves. He based his sermon on the story of Peter. When Jesus renamed Peter, “the Rock”, Jesus was not just saying that Peter was a rock now, but that Peter would continue to develop into a stronger character who would provide strength and stability to those around him. This preacher challenged us to open ourselves up to God, and to allow God to take away our negative names, and replace them with names of strength, love, and power.

After the service, we started talking to people, and I was lucky enough to speak to Anna, the person who had emailed me. Well, as we’re chatting about the church and all its programs, the assistant music director comes up to Anna and announces he’s in trouble for the youth service Wednesday - He’s without a guitar player and a harmony singer. Gerald and I sort of looked at each other, and very shyly piped up, “Um, we do that”. Next thing we know, we’re exchanging emails and marking a rehearsal time into my datebook.

(As a side note: Yes, this is non-paying. BCC has a roster of volunteer musicians, and we’re not able to accept any paying work without a work visa.)

Later that night, we received an email containing charts and lyrics for the music for Wednesday. We’re thinking, “This is cool. It’s only 4 songs, and it’s a good chance to jump into the music program two feet first.” Then we open the charts... They’re all in the Nashville Number System! That’s that thing I mentioned that Gerald is learning in his guitar lessons where all the chords are represented by numbers instead of letters. But notice I said “learning”, not, “he’s-learned-it-and-it’s-second-nature” So, we both put in some significant time figuring out how to translate the charts and then rewriting them into letters.

In the midst of all this, we still had a bunch of errands to do. Yesterday took us all around, but the best part was a visit to NSAI. We were gifted a few mugs as a welcome-to-Nashville present, and then we decided to use the computers to print off the lyrics for Wednesday. We discovered that the member lounge is a great place to meet other people, and almost lost the whole afternoon to chatting and socializing. And Gerald had a wonderful moment where another songwriter remembered his song from the critique meeting last week and exclaimed, “That was the best song of the whole night!”. Yes, my husband blushed!

Later that night, we had dinner with our great friend, Joel. It was a great chance to catch up and try out a fabulous new restaurant (well, new for us), but it was also an important meeting as Joel is my visa sponsor, and this brings us one step closer to filing the package. I also need a letter from ASCAP, and today, I brought my package to their offices to get that final letter. Then it’s back to Toronto for the final polish and filing.(Sounds like we're giving it a pedicure!) It’s months later than I wanted it to be, and this may keep us in Toronto longer this winter, but I’m so impressed with how it’s looking, and I’m so anxious to have it sent in. Praying like crazy over it. If you’ve got an extra prayer, I know a good use for it...

So, after all that visa stuff, errands, and trying to use our community’s fitness centre (I’m working out every second day!), we still had to spend lots of time practicing these songs. Let’s not forget: Neither one of us had ever heard either of these 4 songs before. Gerald has never read numbers charts before, and I’m okay at harmonies, but listening to recordings and having to pick harmonies out is a pretty daunting task. (I’m no Monika!)

This afternoon, Gerald had a guitar lesson at 4, so he got his teacher to look over the charts to see if we had them right. (Almost perfect!) After the lesson, we jumped in the car and raced over for the 5:00 rehearsal.

BCC’s youth service is held in a funky-shaped portable building called the Onion. Every Wednesday night, approximately 50 high-schoolers gather for an one-hour worship service. They have social time before, and then a full service with music, prayers, and a message. Tonight’s rehearsal was for the band and tech. There were 8 of us in total, and a full sound team made up of young people. We spent a lot of time working out the sound. The acoustics in the room are terrible, but the team worked hard to find a balance. We spent several hours working on the songs, and ended with a final run-through of the set. There’s one other harmony singer who’s done all the songs before, so that makes it a little easier.

We were a little nervous going in, but everyone was very cool and supportive, so we had a lot of fun. We’ve kept tomorrow quiet so we can rehearse a little more. Going to get a good night’s sleep so I have all those pretty notes in my throat!

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Accidents and Accusations.

Whoo-hoo!!! What a night! After a week of shopping and making phone calls and trying to find a cheap desk, we decided to treat ourselves to a great night out - Tonight, we saw the Dixie Chicks in concert!

What an amazing show! It took place at the Gaylord Entertainment Centre, which is like our ACC. It wasn’t sold out, but it was pretty full. (The Chicks actually did sell out Toronto, and I think it was for 2 shows.) And the crowd that was there was loving it. I think this was their first concert in Nashville since the infamous show-down. They’ve called it their “Accidents and Accusations Tour”, and it was a real homecoming night.

The opening act was local singer-songwriter, Pete Yorn. He had such challenge in playing this huge stage, already full of the Chicks equipment, in this cavernous space, with only a four-piece band. But the crowd loved him, he had great songs, and his band really rocked out. Gerald picked up his CDs after the show.

The Chicks came on the stage just after 9:00pm, and the crowd went insane! They were backed up by a 9-piece band, which at different times included strings and organ. And everyone in the band was a monster (aka: incredibly brilliant player). You could tell they were having a great time with the music and the vibe of the crowd.

They opened with stuff off the new album, which we picked up last week. All the songs on the album are co-written with all three members of the band, plus one other writer. Their songs have such gorgeous melodies, and the crowd joined in on most songs. After a rocking start, they brought us close to tears with Landslide - such a stunning arrangement. And they did my personal favourite, White Trash Wedding. It’s such a weird little song, and I was really hoping they’d play it. They did an instrumental song too, which was great for showing off the skills of the band members.

When we got there, I realized I was about to see my first country music concert, but after the show started, it was clear that these Chicks are total rock stars. The crowd was wild for them, and they played it up every chance they got. Nathalie Maines is just visceral on stage - she’s all energy and voice and body. Real masterclass on how to play for a crowd that size.

The concert ended about 11:15pm. After the show, we wandered down Broadway and visited one of the honkeytonks (the name for the local country bars). They had a great band, so we boogied down for a few songs, and then headed off for late night eats at the Sunset Grill - a trendy Yorkville-type place that offers an after-midnight menu.

I’m so glad we went to the concert. First off, it was just a killer show with great music and exciting performances. But secondly, it gave me ideas for music and melodies and arrangements and performances. What more can I ask from a show?

Friday, December 01, 2006

NSAI - Nashville!

Okay, I know some of you will be thinking, "What took you so long???", but today, we finally visited our NSAI office here in Nashville.

I had a short visit there this summer, so I was sort of familiar with the building and some of the services they offer that can’t be offered at our Toronto chapter. For example, we get some use of the building during business hours. There are rooms that can be booked for co-writing sessions, and a lounge with computers, a phone, and a library of songwriting books.

NSAI is running a huge song contest, so part of our visit today was so Gerald could submit songs to the contest. (They’re mostly looking for country songs, so I decided not to enter anything.) The prizes are many and awesome, as is the competition - literally thousands of songs have been entered! Gerald submitted "Comin’ Home" and "All Her Flowers Are Wild" (with me and Monika on background vocals!). All Her Flowers is my favourite song Gerald has ever written, so I’m thrilled that he entered that one. Fingers crossed! xxxxx

Later, in the evening, we returned back to the office for our first Nashville NSAI meeting. When we got there, we were greeted by the membership co-ordinator, who greeted me by name - she remembered me from this summer! Very impressive...

Tonight’s meeting was a Christmas Critique Night. People could submit any songs for a critique, but Christmas songs took the priority. The meetings are run quite differently from the Toronto chapter. At home, the general structure of a meeting starts with a guest speaker, or a songwriting lesson, lead by one of the group’s co-ordinators. Then we have critiques, where you either play your song live or on CD, and then everyone in the room can give feedback.

In Nashville, not all the meetings involve song critiques. Sometimes, the meetings are solely for pitching songs to publishers. Or, the whole meeting may be devoted to a speaker or pro-teacher. Because of the large number of attendees (30-50 a meeting), songs can only be played on CD, and you must be a member to have your song critiqued. (Guests are welcome to come and watch the meetings.) If there’s a crowd, like tonight, they may only listen to half of your song. And who is ‘they’? The critiques are only given by industry professionals. There are a lot of groups in the city where you can go to give and receive group feedback. But NSAI only gives professional critiques. And again, because of the large numbers, you’d be there all night if you had everyone commenting on every song. Our panel tonight was the husband-wife team of Patty Way and Damon Medic of Quarter Moon Music.

Gerald submitted a new song called "Santa Smells Like Uncle Ron". He wrote the lyric over the summer, and when he found out tonight was focusing on Christmas, he whipped up a tune and laid down a quick demo. It’s a fun and irreverent look at a childhood memory, and Gerald got lots of laughs and some great feedback.

I submitted "Welcome To Bethlehem", using the new demo we did just before we left Toronto. They were a little taken aback by my "unusual point of view", but they both really liked it! They said it would be a difficult pitch (which I already knew) because of its odd style. But they also thought it was well written and fun. My favourite part was when they called it "weird". Made me smile!

I felt very inspired after the meeting, and I have stayed up very late writing something new. Actually, I started one song, got very frustrated with it, and moved on to a second song. I’ve completed a lyric for it, but I’ll have to look at it again in the morning to see if it’s actually worth keeping.