Monday, December 31, 2007

The 12 Blogs of Christmas - Day 6

We're in pre-party mode, so I'm writing a little earlier tonight. And it's going to be a quiet party, because...

One of the main concerns with Gerald's illness last night was his voice. Not only do we have lots of social engagements over the next week, but we were booked for an hour-long New Year's Eve concert this afternoon. Well, as soon as we woke up this morning, we knew we were in trouble. Gerald had no voice! He could whisper and speak softly, but there were no beautiful tenor notes to be found. We'd worked out the entire program so that we could share the solos and do lots of songs with harmony. And now, most of that had to be scrapped!

I grabbed our song list, and tried to figure out which of Gerald's songs I could sing by myself. Then, I found a website that has free Christmas sheet music, including guitar chords, so I printed off a bunch of songs that we both knew. Finally, I planned long segues that could fill in any extra time.

After a very quick rehearsal, we loaded up the car and took off for Mississauga. We arrived and started in good time, but the day continued to be a comedy of errors. Our favourite was the assistant program director who, fifteen minutes into the show, arrived with a dead mic attached to a ghetto blaster. The audience made it very clear that they could hear me just fine, yet she insisted on doing a nearly-ten minute sound check with this contraption. In the end, it was a no-sound check, and I just used my theatre training to project to the room.

Given our last minute reprogramming, we both felt the show went well. We ended with "Auld Lang Syne", and it was great. People held hands and sang with huge voices and hearts. But then, the highlight of the day: The program director announced that one of the residents wanted to sing. This old, old black man stood up and sang "Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus". It was awesome. His voice was low and rich and filled with a lifetime. When he was finished with the song, he prayed over the group. It was so powerful and wonderful. We spoke to him after and thanked him for his song and his prayer. On the way out to the car, Gerald and I turned to each other, and almost in the same breath said, "It was worth it all just to be there for that".

So tonight, my sicky husband and I are sticking close to home. Mom and Dad will host a small party, including my aunt and uncle from Newfoundland. So to all:

Take a cab if you need one!

Don't make resolutions you know you can't keep!

and HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!!!!

The 12 Blogs of Christmas - Day 5

We started the morning as the music leaders for St. John's West. This church was one of the first to welcome me and my music when I decided to go "all-Gospel, all-the-time", and they are always the first to invite us to visit whenever we return home. We haven't been there since last spring, so it was a real homecoming today - lots of hugs, lots of hellos, lots of how's-it-goings.

It's always my job to choose the music for these Sundays. I usually try to choose songs that fit in closely with the Bible readings and the preaching, but today, we mostly just sang great Christmas carols and hymns. We did "Coventry Carol" for the Gospel processional (today is the Slaying of the Innocents), and Gerald lead us on the djembe. We also used djembe for "Twas in the Moon of Wintertime", and people played along on the shakers and drums I'd put in the pews. Our anthem was our duet version of "My Heart is the Manger", which is quickly becoming our signature Christmas song.

We did have a postlude planned, but there was so much chatting and visiting to be done, that the music had to take a rest. People were very interested in our life in Nashville and new CD, and it was great to hear about the church's recent pageant and other community efforts.

We had very little turnaround time for our afternoon service. Billings Court Manor is a seniors residence with a vibrant Christian community. Their weekly non-denominational service brings out 50-70 people, including residents and families. They had a volunteer to play piano for the hymns, so we were brought in for special music. We had several duets planned, but by midday, Gerald's throat started to give out on him, so we did some last minute switching around.

We did "Welcome to Bethlehem", with dueling guitars and me on vocals. Gerald played djembe and I sang "Twas in the Moon", and we did the duet of "My Heart is the Manger", with Gerald relying heavily on the mic for his solo verse.

The whole service was light and wonderful. Staff members read the lessons, and the entire congregation sang out on the hymns. After the final prayer, tea and sweets encouraged chatting and fellowship.

But my fellow was looking worse for wear. We've been surrounded by Christmas colds, and now Gerald seems to be getting his. We had plans to go out tonight, but we had to cancel them. The whole night became about warm blankets and cups of tea.

It's been snowing just the tiniest and prettiest bit tonight. Just before coming to write, I looked out the front window. This house faces directly onto a cross-street. The entire neighbourhood is quiet and white. No cars have driven through the fresh snow, so even the street is a perfect sheet of white. I can't imagine Christmas any other way. I'm starting to feel the urge to go back to Nashville, but I'm so glad we were here for all this.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

The 12 Blogs of Christmas - Day 4

It's actually just past midnight, and I must be off to bed soon. Tomorrow will come very early and will, in all likelihood, run very late.

Today was, as promised, all about music and family. My aunt and uncle are visiting from Newfoundland - their first Christmas visit ever to Toronto! They're staying at my cousin and family's house for now, and then spending New Year's here. Today, we drove out to have lunch with them, my cousins, and the four awesome children.

It was just so good and so grounding and so full of joy! There's nothing better than kids at Christmas. We chatted and laughed and the time flew by far too quickly.

Tonight, Gerald and I rehearsed for our upcoming gigs. Tomorrow, we have a morning service in Toronto and an afternoon one in Burlington. The morning is a big commitment as we are the entire music team for the prelude, hymns, postlude, and all liturgical music. We've chosen lots of carols, with a few originals for special music.

Monday is a totally different gig - a concert of jazz, popular, and Christmas standards. We'll do some of the Christmas music we've been performing lately, but we also had to add in some other music, so tonight was all about choosing songs, building a program, and laying down quick arrangements. I'm happy with our selections, so it should all be good.

But first, sleep!

Saturday, December 29, 2007

The 12 Blogs of Christmas - Day 3

Today felt like a bit of a nothing day. I ran errands and tried to get stuff done, but it never really felt like I was accomplishing much. My car was seizing a bit on the highway last weekend, so I took into Canadian Tire this morning. Four hours and $200 later, we still don't know what's wrong with it, but it "should be okay now".

The rest of the day progressed in a similar, though less expensive, fashion. We tried rehearsing, but there were too many distractions. We were supposed to go to a party, and a stomach ache prevented it. We wanted to take the dogs for a walk, but torrential rains kept us inside. See what I mean? Just couldn't get a thing accomplished!

So after that kind of day, the best thing to do is curl up and watch a movie, and our choice was "The Nativity Story". We hadn't seen it yet, so this was, obviously, a great time for viewing. I get a little tired of low budget Christian films where characters wear bathrobes and have bad English accents. Happily, this was no such project!

What I really loved was the the way it showed the hardships of living in Year 0000. No detail is spared. From the abusive tax collectors to the roadside crucifixions, we see a vivid portrait of a world that desperately needed a Saviour. The acting was outstanding, the visuals were striking, and even in a community so different from anything you'd find in North America, the relationships were still endearing and identifiable.

Tomorrow is all about music and family. After the oddness of today, I'm looking forward to it.

Friday, December 28, 2007

The 12 Blogs of Christmas - Day 2

Today, we have been continuing to celebrate the gift of relaxation. The weather outside was frightful, but the fire and Christmas cookies were so delightful!

Actually, I did a fair bit of work today in preparation for the weekend. On Sunday, we have 2 church services at 2 different churches, and Monday afternoon, we're doing a New Year's Eve concert at a seniors centre. Gerald and I are in good shape for each, but we still need to do final rehearsals, final song choices, and after our beautiful days of relaxation, it's a little tough to wrap our heads around performing again this weekend.

This afternoon, I had a brand new experience: My first long-distance co-write! I can't remember if I mentioned this earlier, but I'm participating in a 'challenge' from Song U, where they pair you up with another writer from a different part of the country, or even the world, and you have to write a song together. The tricky part, of course, is that you must write over the phone, on the computer, whatever - just not face to face.

I'd seen Kara's profile on the Song U website, so I was happy when we were paired up. We both have free long distance plans, and I have slower internet right now, so we decided to meet over the phone. We chatted briefly last week, and scheduled our first real writing session for today.

At 1pm, my phone rang, and we started to chat. But to back it up a bit, before 1pm, I was getting nervous. I've done very little co-writing, and to be honest, it's mostly been with Gerald. I was nervous about doing it over the phone with someone I never get to see in person, because I'm a big fan of body language, and without seeing her, how could I tell her honest reactions to my ideas? Also, what if I couldn't think of any ideas? Or what if I got controlling? Or what if I froze? Arg!

I took a deep breath, said a quick prayer, asking for peace and openness, and picked up the phone.

We spent the first large chunk of time just getting to know each other, chatting about families and Christmas and music and such. We completely clicked. We could have talked for hours! Eventually, we got comfortable enough to share our ideas, and we decided to work with Kara's hook.

We brainstormed about the hook - What caused the original image? What did you think of when you found the hook? What do I think of when I hear it? What excites us about this idea?

Next, we started to get practical with it - What is the main focus of the song? What do we want the chorus to say? What about the verses? Do we need a bridge? What about a prechorus?

Before long, we were ready to get off the phone and start writing on our own for a bit. In a very short time, we had chosen an idea, a structure, and a musical vibe. We knew the main theme of the song, and we'd determined the number of lines per section. We broke up the writing - Kara verse 1, me verse 2 - and scheduled our next phone session.

Obviously, nothing is written in stone (pardon the pun!). We may change the structure, the vibe, whatever. We're each going to write "our" pieces over the next few days, and start emailing them back and forth with our own suggestions. And as every writer knows, the song will probably step forward with thoughts and suggestions of its own.

But I'm excited by this challenge, and proud of myself for taking it on. Now, my goal is to have fun, be open to the process, and, hopefully, complete a great song!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The 12 Blogs of Christmas - Day 1

Why "The 12 Blogs of Christmas"? Probably from my love of all things Christmas, and probably from my frustration with our media-and-mall-based Christmas celebrations.

For those who follow the church calendar, you know that December 25 is not the end of the Christmas season - it's just the beginning. What follows are the infamous "12 Days". They end on January 6 with Epiphany, a.k.a. the arrival of the 3 wise guys. In British traditions, this is also a time of visiting friends, sharing time with family, burning yule logs, and other festive merriments.

So, I'm going to write every day for the next 12 days, sometimes to talk about what I'm up to, and sometimes, just for the festive merriment of it all!

Our Christmas Eve and Christmas Day celebrations were all just fantastic! Christmas Eve afternoon, Gerald and I did our last Victorian Carolling gig of the season. It was a mini-concert in a seniors home. The crowd wasn't as boisterous as some, but you could tell they had a deep appreciation for the music, and we felt very embraced by them.

At 6:15pm, we arrived back at St. John's Weston to prepare for the first of our 2 Christmas Eve services. Both services were the same, which meant we only had to practice one set of songs, but with the carolling gig, it still made for a long day of singing.

The first service was packed to capacity. I opened things with "O Holy Night", verses one and three, accompanied by piano. I felt very good about it, and was surprised by the spontaneous round of applause. The entire service just flowed from there with great congregational singing and lots of positive energy. Dad preached a marvelous sermon about finding meaning in the physical symbols of Christmas. As the final part of the message, Gerald and I sang "My Heart is the Manger". Gerald wrote this song after hearing Dad's Christmas sermon last year, so it was only fitting to do it this year. We worked it up into a duet, and I think it went really well.

The church was full of candles. Not only did they have 3 white tapers in tall candelabras on the end of each pew, but they also had sconces, also with 3 white tapers, lining the walls of the sanctuary. More candles decorated the choir stalls and the altar area. The Christmas tree was lit with white mini-lights. The creche was light with a small spotlight. Near the end of the service, each person in attendance was given a taper, they turned out all the lights, and we sang 'Silent Night'. Stunning!

In between services, we had a little rest, and got to chat with some of the choir members. At 10 o'clock, we did it all over again. The crowd was much smaller this time, but I think the whole service was actually better - Perhaps because it was our second time out, or perhaps because we were actually getting closer to the day, maybe even the actual minute, that God came to Earth.

(Yes, I know academics believe Jesus was born in the spring, but I'm having a Christmas moment here, people!)

Christmas Day was wonderful! We gathered with friends and family, some who had travelled from as far as New Brunswick to be here. We ate incredible food, shared hearty laughs, and gave generous hugs.

And today, Boxing Day, has been a self-appointed day of rest and relaxation. No shopping. No noise. Just quiet chats, hours of reading, and opening each and every box of chocolates we got for Christmas!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Carol Service

It's actually much later than the time clock will show on this post. It's been a long day, and I'm exhausted, and tomorrow is even longer... but this morning was just wonderful, and I really want to have a record of it, so here goes...

We all know Dad is retired, but those of us who know him well knew that he wouldn't actually stop working. For the last few months, he has been working an interim position at a small church in Weston (West Toronto). They've been without permanent clergy for some time now, and they've all just fallen in love with Dad and his creative approach to ministry. Once we knew he'd be there for Christmas, we asked if we could sing, and we were booked for their Christmas Carol Service, and both Christmas Eve services.

The music was chosen weeks ago, so I felt very prepared, but this morning nearly stressed me out completely. First, we were late leaving the house. Then, we had horrific rain, which made it a very tense, and extra long, highway drive. We didn't arrive at the church until 30 minutes before the worship time, and in that time, we had to find our places, tune the guitar, practice with the organist, do a sound check ourselves, and get ourselves ready and presentable. And, of course, because it was our first visit, we had to meet everybody too. It was just way too much in way too little time. Finally, I sat in the pew, and said a quick prayer for God to give me peace, and to take control of the music... and the service began.

St. John's Weston is a truly beautiful little church. It could be in a movie, it's just so pretty. The congregation is small but vibrant. Dad had told us how they had welcomed him, and we felt that this morning. It wasn't just that people were friendly - They had a genuine interest in who we were and what we were all about. We just loved being there!

The service was the traditional Christmas Carol Service of readings, hymns, and special music. We opened with "Once in Royal David's City" and I did the acapella-verse-one solo, followed by the choral procession. My first full solo was "Soon and Very Soon". I was a little nervous going in to this one, party due to the craziness of the morning, and partly because I had very little (read: "almost no") rehearsal with the organist. But it actually went really well. I repeated the first verse at the end, and asked the congregation to sing along. It was great! They all sang and clapped, and the whole thing just made me feel very comfortable and confident.

Next, I did "The Joseph Carol", and the congregation sang on the chorus. Gerald and I did "The Stable Bare" with him on guitar, me on vocals, and our last song was "Sing Me a Song", with Gerald on djembe. The rest of the music was choral selections and congregational carols. Each song was in response to a specific Bible reading, and the whole service just flowed beautifully.

At the end of the service, one of the parishioners led the dismissal, and this is what she said:

"Our worship has ended. Our service has just begun.
Go in peace to love and serve the Lord."

I just love this! I had goosebumps when she said it!

We stayed for the coffee hour, and I think every person in the congregation stayed too. What a great group of people. We did lots of chatting, and even found a few Gaither fans! This was also our first public opportunity to sell the new CD, and it was very successful. This just thrilled us, especially given the smaller size of the congregation, because it meant that people were really excited by what we did in the service.

Tomorrow, I've booked a carolling gig for us in the afternoon (sort of regretting that now, but I'm sure it will be great). Then we'll do 2 services in the evening. The music load is a little lighter, but it's still going to be a long day with lots of singing. Must get some sleep so I can enjoy it all.

But speaking of "enjoying", we've just been loving our time home! Here are a few Christmas traditions and cool Canadian things we've done so far:

- Shopping at Canadian Tire - the best store ever!
- Experiencing a true winter storm.
- Swiss Chalet quarter-chicken-dark-with-fries.
- The $1 breakfast at IKEA. (no IKEA in Tennessee!)
- Victorian Christmas Carolling, especially our night at Centennial Gardens.
- Making Christmas cookies with Mom, using Nana's recipes.
- Watching Dante, our Nashville puppy, fall in love with snow.
- Mom's homemade Tourtiere.
- Trying to figure out how to seat 14 people for Christmas dinner in the new house.

Just loving every minute of it! Now... must sleep!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Snow Day!

Today was supposed to be a very busy day - a church service in the morning, and a 2 hour carolling gig in the afternoon, both in different parts of town (which in Toronto means - very far apart!).

But none of it happened, because we had a Snow Day!

Yesterday, they started warning people that the snow was a'coming, and you were best to cancel your plans and stay at home. They were predicting the snowiest snow storm in sixty years, and they were right.

The service was cancelled on Saturday, and I got a call early today postponing the carolling, which meant - Snow Day!

A completely free to day to read and rest and play! And it was awesome!

There is nothing like a snow storm. It brings out dual Canadian pleasures - We love to cuddle by the fire and drink eggnog, but there's also nothing like bundling up and getting outside in the snow. I felt very happy that I'd left my winter coat here last year, and very frustrated that I'd left my lovely pink snow boots back in Nashville last week.

Today was the kind of weather where practicality wins out over vanity. The longest coat, the thickest gloves, the heaviest, most waterproof boots you can find. In this weather, Warm is beautiful. As you shovel the snow, your legs get cold and your back gets sweaty. Your finely coiffed hair sticks to your face, and your nose drips unceremoniously. Your cheeks tingle, and your back starts to ache.

But the beauty of the day is unsurpassed. Everything is clean - the air, the snow, the street. And it's somehow warmer than you thought it would be. The world is quiet, and peace seems closer than ever. Unexpected delights fill your day - like seeing a community of birds gather for warmth in the hedge, or watching the puppies playing together in the snow. Snow drifts provide sculpture, and the sunlight makes the whole thing sparkle.

On our third time clearing the driveway, I turned to Mom and said, "I'm so glad we were here for this." She just smiled and said, "I know you are!".

Nothing beats a snow day!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

THE CDs ARE DONE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I can't believe it! I have them! I have the CDs!!!

I was told I'd have them by Friday, maybe Thursday. But this afternoon, I checked my email, and there was a quick note saying my CDs were ready. It was rush hour, but Gerald and I jumped in the car anyways. The ride took twice as long as normal, and we were running late, so we used our Nashville cell phone to call the office to tell them we were on our way and please don't go home yet! (I don't even want to know how much that call cost!) But we arrived and the CDs were there, and now, I have them at home with me.

I can't even tell you how exciting and overwhelming it has been. We, the family, had already planned a dinner out to tonight so we could celebrate my birthday together, and it was well-planned, because we were all in the mood to celebrate.

As soon as we got home, I gave the first CD to Mom and Dad, and we put it on. I'm so happy with it! It's even better than I had originally dreamed!

We pulled out the hundred life goals list, and a red pen. In 2000, I saw a show on goal setting that inspired me to write a list of 100 Life Goals. Each year since then, I choose 2 or 3 goals to accomplish each year. As each goal is reached, we make a little ceremony around signing the list. I check it off with a red pen and record the date, and we all have a little cheer. Tonight, I checked off, "Record a solo CD". This is the 21st goal I've accomplished on this list! Awesome!!!

And yes, gentle reader, I did record another CD before this one. And yes, it was a solo CD. But it was different. When I recorded, "It Is Well With My Soul", Gospel music was more of a serious artistic hobby than a life pursuit. I always intended this particular goal to reflect the time when I would record a true "artist" CD, with music that reflected me and all my passions and all the things I want to say with my art and my life. Does this CD say all the things I ever want to say? Not at all. (I can't fit it all on one CD!) But it definitely shows what I want my life to be about - I want people to get excited about Jesus. I want them to feel God's all-encompassing love and grace. And I want people to know that faith is always the best choice.

I know that this CD only opens the doors to more work: bookings, radio promo, product tables, and website revamps. But tonight, I am only celebrating and praising! This is such a great accomplishment for me and my family (yes, my family - there's no way I could have done this alone), and I am full of praise to God for calling and trusting me with His amazing work!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

CDs and Carolling

I don't think we've stopped since we arrived - literally!

Friday was supposed to be our day of rest and recovery, but we actually had to spend part of the day preparing for the weekend - We were kicking off the season with three Victorian Christmas Carolling gigs. Saturday started with a quartet at a senior's home. We had no rehearsal time, and we didn't know all the singers in the group, so it was a little scary going in. Upon arriving, we found out we were part of their open house, and it ended up being a mini-concert. Moments of fright, but mostly okay. Saturday night was much more relaxed. Just me and Gerald doing background music during the cocktail hour of a small office party. Very calm, great people, fun gig.

Sunday was one of my favourite gigs all year - Centennial Gardens in Etobicoke. I think this is our third year there, maybe our fourth? We were in the conservatories, singing amongst the tropical plants, fountains, and Christmas flower displays, while families sipped cider, munched cookies, and waited for their turn on the sleigh rides. Just gorgeous, and the people were incredible. We did an entire set of children's requests. Jingle Bells, anyone?

Monday, today, was graphics day. Last night, I proof-read and double-proof-read every word of text to go into the insert and tray card of my CD. I agonized over my final choice of photos, and made sure I had everyone's opinions - twice. This afternoon, Dad and I went out to Canclone, a small, family-run company. They did my first CD, and they've done work for many of my friends, and I just love them. We sat with the graphic designer for almost two hours, fiddling with fonts and making everything look fantastic. I had originally planned to get the whole manufacturing job done here, but it's just not practical. So, I'm getting a short run of 150, so I'll have CDs for our Christmas gigs, and then I'll get the rest done in Nashville. I'll have the master and the graphics done already, so it will all be pretty simple.

Finally, we finished the graphics, signed the appropriate paperwork, and I had to let go of my baby. For months now, I have nurtured and caressed every part of this project, and now, it's time to let it go off to the plant and go through that final step of manufacturing. I feel a little nervous, because I still need to see the discs and touch them and listen to them to make sure it's all correct and good. But mostly, I feel an incredible relief. It's almost done, and that final step is out of my hands. I've made a CD, and by Friday, I'll be able to look at in my hand. I'm starting to feel so calm. The work is almost done. I can't believe we've come this far...

Friday, December 07, 2007

Safe in Canada!

We're safe. We're home. We're all in one piece, including the car.

(I'm not faking the time on this one!)

Monday, December 03, 2007

Gateway of Hope

Happy New Year!

For those who may not celebrate the church year, this is the first Sunday in Advent, which is the start of the church year. Christmas is getting closer all the time!

I've changed the time on this posting so it still fits Dec 2. My nights have been getting later and later as I try to get everything done before heading home this week. I've finally chosen my photos, and tonight, Gerald and I confirmed the song order. I'm continuing to book new gigs for Toronto, as well as working out details of the gigs we have.

The songs go in to be mastered tomorrow. We'll receive a disc on Monday or Tuesday and, hopefully, it will be perfect and we can submit it and have it ready-to-go on Wednesday.

We have gigs booked for this weekend, so we really need to drive Thursday. Oh, and I am working this week too. Crazy!

And in the midst of all that, we decided to do a concert tonight. My friend, Janelle, from the Christian Women of Entertainment group, asked if we would sing at her church for a Christmas concert tonight. Each year, they do a concert to support single mothers and widows within their community. How could we resist that?

Gateway of Hope is a small, friendly, contemporary church in Lebanon, TN. (Pronounced LEH-beh-nin, with a drawl.) The concert was well laid out, with a mix of performers. Each person did one or 2 songs, and they were interspersed with very short verses from the Biblical Christmas stories.

We had chosen my song, "Welcome to Bethlehem" and Gerald's song, "My Heart is the Manger".

Well, literally 5 minutes before we're supposed to go on stage, Gerald turns to me and says, "I can't remember the lyrics to my song. We have to do something else." I just about fell off my chair. Oh, and we weren't in a green room somewhere. We were in the middle of the audience, while Janelle was singing "O, Holy Night".

He said, "I think I can do 'Hallelujah, I Remember'." Um, you mean that song I've never sung? I just looked at him and begged him to remember the lyrics. I don't quite know how I thought that would work, but I was in a panic. Finally, I said, "Let's just get through my song, and then see what happens."

So we get up and do "Welcome to Bethlehem", and it's awesome! I sang and we both played guitar. We sounded great, people clapped along, and the response was wonderful. I looked at Gerald, praying that he'd remembered the song.

Nope. He starts explaining to the audience that he's having a forgetful moment, that he would like to do a different song. Ironically called, "Hallelujah, I Remember". They had a great laugh over that one.

Now, I've heard this song a few times, and when Monika was here, they started working out harmonies, but I haven't actually ever sung the song myself. Talk about trial by fire! He started the song, and I grabbed the mic and started groovin' along. I figured even if no notes came out, at least I'd look involved.

When the chorus came, I started singing, and somehow it all started to come out okay. I improvised a bit throughout the song, and got all the tight chorus harmonies. And we ended together, which is always the most important part.

We got back to our seats and I was shaking! I whispered to Gerald, "That was great, but let's never do it again!".

I'm so glad God is in control so I don't have to be!

Saturday, December 01, 2007

The mixes are done!

Back in the studio again today to put the finishing touches on the final 4 songs. We had a long list of possible tweaks, but Aaron was able to make a few quick changes that seemed to lock almost everything in place. I re-sang about 3 lines from 2 songs, and it was done! I can't believe we've come so far, so quickly!

While we were working, Michael Sykes (producer extraordinaire) dropped by, and Aaron asked him to listen to "Moving Up To Gloryland". He really liked it, which was very encouraging.

We'll live with the mixes this weekend, and determine a song order for the CD. Then, Aaron will send the songs out to be mastered on Monday.

This just feels amazing!

Once I choose the song order, my next big job is photos and graphics. Everything is all lined up for manufacturing - I just need to get all the pieces together to submit to them.

I'm just exhausted tonight. I would love to take a day off tomorrow, but I'm working Saturday, and singing in a concert on Sunday. Also, having a little birthday thing tomorrow night, so that will be cool.

Relaxed a little tonight by watching one of the vintage Speer Family videos. They are amazing! So vibrant and joyful. And, I think I may have found a song for my next record...

Friday, November 30, 2007

We're so close!

I can't believe we're so close to having these CDs actually in our hands. I can almost taste it. I know that's a cliche, but it's true. I can feel the shrink wrap between my fingers, and I can feel my nails struggling to rip it open. In just a few weeks, that will be reality!

Today was our final day in the studio. (Actually, we still have some more work to do, so we'll be back in again tomorrow.) We've spent the last few days listening to the mixes. We listened on my laptop, Gerald's laptop, with headphones, without headphones, my stereo, and the rental car. (Don't know if I've mentioned the rental car, but that's a whole other story!) I also sent it around to our "trusted few" for listening. The parents provided our "consumer research" ears. Monika and Brent were our studio references. And Allison and Brian provided studio-plus-genre experience. Overall, the response was good, but there were things that needed tweaking.

I was a little stressed going in today. We're hitting that "past the point of no return" moment. Soon, the CDs will be made, and I won't be able to make any further changes. The perfectionist side of me is freaking out a little. But I'm coming to terms with the fact that this will not be a "perfect" album, nor should it be. Who makes a perfect album? Everyone has told me that next year, I'll listen to it, and wish I done some things differently. It happens to all CDs and all musicians. But that's where learning and growing as an artist comes into play. If I didn't want to get better with each project, then I'd really be in trouble.

So I'm coming to terms with the fact that this record will be many things, and the last thing it needs to be is perfect. Actually, I think we're going to look back on this and realized that we've done a number of things right. One thing I was very clear about from the start was the idea of a "signature sound" - even with a range of songs, I wanted a cohesive sound and identity to the record, and I think we've achieved that. I also wanted to create new music, and we've definitely done that. We have seven new songs, and the three classics have very unique arrangements. I wrote a list of Purposes early on in the process, reasons why I wanted to make the CD. I've been checking in with that list on a regular basis, and I think we've been sticking pretty close to it. I also wrote a list of Goals, and those are definitely happening, bit by bit.

So, today was all about tweaking and fixing. We did a little bit of re-recording, but not much, just a word here and there. I got a disc when we left, and listened to it tonight, and here's the cool part - Tonight, I enjoyed my music. I wasn't just listening for my vocal glitches or funny sounds to tweak. I started listening for that, and after a while it dawned on me, "I'm enjoying this music!" It was such an exciting moment!

Tuesday, Brian gave me a disc of my photos, so tonight I imported them into my computer. ("onto" my computer? I'm so techno-dumb!) Anyways, as each photo imported, it would flick on the screen for just a second. The effect was a like a film. I wanted to see how the style of the music fit with the style of the photos, so I turned on "Real Big Fan". It was awesome! The effect was like a music video, with my photos flashing and the music playing like a soundtrack.

The big dilemma now is which photo location to use. The Ryman reflects the elegance of the music, yet the mural near Monell's expresses the joyful side of the record.

Still so much work to do, but it's all just feeling so good!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Happy Birthday to Me!

Today was an amazing birthday!

We woke up to beautiful weather, which meant we could actually have our photo shoot! We decided to meet at 1:00 to get the best light, which meant Gerald and I could have a nice, slow morning. It also meant that I could be home to get all my birthday calls from Canada. I've been horribly homesick since last night, but at least we'll be home next week, so that's not too bad.

We loaded up the car with my pile of outfits, and met Brian and Allison Speer at their house. Brian is a great photographer, and they're both such cool people - I knew we were in for a great day. We raided Allison's closet for a few more items, and took off downtown.

I was excited because we were all on the same page with regards to styling the photos: fun, elegant clothing with cool architectural backdrops. Our first location was the back alley of the Ryman. We love this spot and all it's history, so it was wonderful to spend time back there. For the uninitiated, when the Ryman was first built, it didn't have enough dressing rooms, so the performers would spend time in the back alley, just hanging out, or running back and forth from Tootsies, a now legendary bar. When you walk back there, you can feel the spirits of Patsy and Johnny and Elvis and all the rest. It's just awesome!

For those shots, I wore the Edwardian opera coat I got for Christmas years ago (thanks, Mom and Dad!), with jeans and boots. The contrast of the antique velvet coat with the rough brick of the alley was really cool. Brian is a relaxed photographer, which made me feel very open. And Allison stayed close at hand as stylist, which made me feel very relaxed. (Didn't have to worry about rumpled clothes or my hair doing weird things.) It was also very cool to see Brian and Allison work as a team. They think the same thoughts and anticipate the other's next move. So inspiring to see!

Our second location was a painted mural near Monell's. It's on the side of a galvanized metal wall, and it's a city scape done in bright blocks of colour. I actually commented on it the last time we visited Monell's, as I loved the colours and the energy. We tried a bunch of different outfits against this backdrop, complimenting and contrasting the bright colours of the wall. Some of my favourite set-ups were with a long white vintage coat, and a bright pink sweater.

The whole day was just so much fun. I felt gorgeous and open and creative - all great things to feel on a photo shoot. We all joked and laughed and had a great time together. After getting over 500 shots, we headed back to the house to take a look at things. The photos are gorgeous! And I'm not saying that just cause it's me. I know I can take a bad photo. But these are seriously gorgeous! The hard part will be choosing only a few for the album.

Gerald and I headed home around suppertime for a little rest with the puppies. After a little while, we headed out for my birthday dinner - sushi! We had the 2-foot-long "Love Boat for 2". It had over 60 pieces of sushi. Outrageously good!

What a fantastic birthday! Getting older rocks!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Big Picture

Well, no photo shoot yet again. More rain, more thunder, so no shooting outside. We've postponed the shoot til tomorrow, which is supposed to be beautiful and sunny.

"But wait - Tomorrow's your birthday!"

Yay! Yes, it is my birthday! Thank you for remembering!

Tomorrow is my big day, and I'm so excited about it. Sunday was the official start of Birthday Week, and we'll keep celebrating right through til Saturday. I had planned to keep tomorrow totally open, but the CD must come first right now. And really, how awesome is it to be spending my birthday getting photos taken, by Allison and Brian Speer, for my new CD?

It really got me thinking about this past year.

Last year this time: We had an empty apartment. We had to pay a-dollar-a-minute on my Canadian cell phone for my birthday call from home. We barely knew anyone in Nashville. We had just sold our house in Toronto. We had no jobs, no visas, and no back-up plan.

In the past year: We received visas. We moved and settled into a different country. We moved Mom and Dad into their new city. We adopted a new furry baby. We wrote a slew of new songs. We tried fried turkey, fried biscuits and fried Snickers bars. We attended NSAI Song Camps and NQC. We performed at the Bluebird, Indiefest, and onstage with the Speers. We bought furniture. We received interested from publishers. We made a whole new community of friends.

And in this moment in time: I'm working for Ben Speer. Gerald is co-writing with pro-writers on "The Row". I'm making a CD that is surpassing my own expectations. I have a second possible job lined up for next year. People I knew for years through TV and arena concerts are now friends and colleagues. Gerald and I are making a business plan for the next stage of my ministry, as well as making plans for his first CD. We are also in the early stages of writing two books.

Without a doubt, this has been the most dynamic and exciting year of my life. Anthony Robbins says that people overestimate what they can do in one year, and underestimate what they can do in three. When I look back at the last 12 months, I am just amazed at all that has happened. I couldn't always see it in the moment, but I guess that's why days like this are so important - So we can step back and see the big picture, and just be grateful for it all!

So Happy Birthday to everyone, whether today's your day or not!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The listening begins...

I got seven of the ten mixes yesterday. What that means is this: The recording part is done, and the next step is for Aaron to mix all the pieces together - choose the best takes, tune the 'off' notes, put the correct volumes on each instrument - to make the best possible version of each song.

I set myself up in the living room with no noise, a scented candle, and a cup of hot chocolate this afternoon. I wanted to be very calm and relaxed for my first listen.

Overall, I think it all sounds great, but I also know I'm having trouble being objective. The tracks sound awesome. The new clarinet part is wonderful. And the background vocals are just perfect.

The trouble is listening to myself! I listen to it, and I think it probably sounds good, but all I keep thinking is, "I can't tell if it sounds good or bad - It just sounds like me!".

My plan is to get my 'trusted few' to take a listen and get their thoughts. Meanwhile, I'm going to listen to it on as many different sound systems as possible. It's one thing for it to sound great on a two-thousand-dollar set of speakers, but most people listen to music in their car, on their laptops, or on the CD player they got for Christmas five years ago. I want it to sound good all time!

Thursday, November 22, 2007


I forgot to write yesterday that we had to postpone the photo shoot. We want to shoot outside, and well, that's not so easy in the middle of a thunder storm. Actually, we've been having some real Newfoundland weather lately. Warmer that Newfoundland, but lots of RDF - rain, drizzle, and last week, we actually had fog. Not mist. Fog. I couldn't see the houses across the street. Where I'm from, that's called fog.

We're getting ready to go over to our friend's house for our first ever American Thanksgiving celebration. Last year, we were on our own, and we went to the only restaurant that was open - Shoney's. I feel we'll be in much better hands this year. We're going to have fried turkey, so that should be ... interesting.

I know I did this on our Thanksgiving, but in the spirit of the day, here are the things for which I'm thankful:

- For Gerald, my partner in all things good and true.
- For Mom and Dad, who love and support me unconditionally.
- For Sandy and Gerry, who took me into their family without reserve.
- For all our friends in Toronto, and our new friends here in Nashville.
- For the CD, and all the dreams that are coming true right now.
- For Sebastian and Dante, and their new friendship.
- For the chance to live here in Nashville and be a part of the musical community.
- For family across the country.
- For our home, our car, and having all our basic needs fulfilled.
- For my new job with Ben, and my second new job that's right around the corner.
- For the courage to risk it all to fight for the dream.
- And finally, for a God who knows me completely, and still loves me completely.


Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Saxophone Session

I went to the studio this afternoon to watch saxophonist, Mark Douthit, add some special sounds to "Real Big Fan". This was one of those days that I wish Mom and Dad lived closer to us. Sax is Dad's favourite instrument, and I know he would have loved being at the session.

Again, Mark worked without a chart, and just improvised his way through 3 full passes of the song. He would occasionally redo a lick, but generally, things were just one-offs. He did 2 passes using a tenor sax, and one using the soprano. Aaron had two mics in the booth - one directly in front of the instrument, and one in the room to catch the natural reverb, kind of like recording the ambiance on set. Everything sounded warm and present.

I think Aaron is leaning towards the tenor sound for the final mix. It just suits the overall feel of the song a little better.

Johnny Minick was at the studio when I got there. He and Aaron had just recorded Mills-Brothers-style harmonies for "Moving Up to Gloryland". They sound great, and with the clarinet in there too - it's just awesome! Johnny told me how much he's enjoying my project, and, given his history in the industry, I'm taking that as high praise.

So, this is the last official session! All the big stuff is recorded! It's amazing that it's come together so quickly. We'll have one more chance to do a few clean-ups on one or two vocal sections. After that, it's mixing, mastering, graphics, and manufacturing. Aaron will do the mixing, and I'm going to go with a local mastering house. (Mastering is that final touch, like a good coat of varnish. It makes sure that all the songs are the same volume, the spacing between the songs is correct when you're playing the CD as a whole, it puts the songs in the proper order, etc.)

I also think I'm going to get the graphics and manufacturing done in Canada. It will probably cost the same, and it will work much better with our travel schedule.

My photo shoot is Wednesday, so that's my next focus. Tomorrow will be the day I pull out all my clothes, decide I truly have nothing to wear, and take a panicked trip down to Ross and Target!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Gerald played the Bluebird!

Gerald has recently started co-writing with Tom Manning. Tom is best known around town for his Tuesday night songwriting workshop, and at one point, he also had a publishing deal with the late, great Buddy Killen.

Well, tonight, Tom was booked to play in the early show at the Bluebird. When Gerald and I said we'd love to come and see the show, Tom told Gerald to come prepared to sing a song!

This is a common thing to see in Nashville. Someone in the round will give up one of their songs to let a promising songwriter friend come up and do a song. It's just one more sign of the friendly and generous atmosphere here in this city.

Gerald has written 70, yes seven-zero, new songs since moving here, so choosing just one is always an issue. He settled on a really new one, "Whiskey and Dragonflies". I love this song - it's very cool with a Tom Waites feel.

The whole round was fantastic. Mersaidee Soules, the host, and Lisa McCallum both performed in the round before us at Tin Pan North in Toronto, so that was very cool. Both women are great performers with killer voices. Trent Jeffcoat rounded out the group with a great voice and fun songs. He had a gorgeous ballad called "I Let Her" which is just waiting to get cut. Tom's songs were hilarious, my favourite being "Prenup", and yes, it's actually about getting a prenup.

Gerald stepped in about three-quarters through the show, and he just nailed it! Yes, I'm biased, but I'm also a performer, and he nailed it! His guitar playing was spot on, his vocals were strong and flexible, and his entire performance was committed and passionate. Even his stage presence entering and exiting the round was great. The audience gave him a terrific response, and several people stopped him after the show to pass on their compliments.

I was just so proud of him! My only role for the night was to look pretty and support my husband, and I couldn't have been happier with it! It's been so amazing to see him creating all these fantastic songs. But then to see him play them in public, and get such a strong response, well, that's just awesome!

It's just so satisfying to get these moments of confirmation - We're in the right place. We're doing the right stuff. We're on the right path.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

More BGVs, and a Clarinet

Today was long and incredible.

I was up early to take Dante to the vet (it's his 'special day'), and I worked for Ben in the morning.

Early afternoon, I headed over to the studio to watch 2 sessions. The first to arrive was clarinet player extraordinaire, John Jorgenson. (John is also a great, Django-style guitar player. He's so well known for it, that he's endorsed several guitars through ad campaigns, and there's actually a guitar model named for him!) The moment John heard what we were doing musically, he locked into the style. He did everything by ear - no charts or lead sheets. Aaron recorded the clarinet on an RCA "ribbon" mic, which was very old and cool looking. It traps the sound using a vibrating ribbon inside the mic, and apparently, this is the mic of choice for this style of playing.

For "Moving Up To Gloryland", he listened and played along with the little fills that are replacing the traditional vocal bass leads. On "Do You Wanna Be My Neighbour", he just played all out in a Dixieland, big band style. If we were playing live, that's what all the musicians would do, and this way Aaron can have lots of choice and just piece together the parts that work perfectly. As soon as I heard what John was doing, I knew I wanted him on "Wedding at Cana", and luckily, Aaron felt the same way. It sounded so good! It's amazing how that one instrument just lifted all the tracks to a new level. John was a very cool guy too, so the whole session was very fun and inspiring.

While waiting for the next session, I listened to a few near-ready mixes - "Shepherd of the Hills", "Sin Ain't Nothing", and "Real Big Fan". Things are sounding great! I know it sounds weird when I say this, but it's sounding like a real CD! You know, not just something you'd record in your basement, but a real CD like you'd buy in a store. It's so exciting to hear it all coming together!

Soon, our BGV singers arrived: Reggie and Ladye Love Smith. I first knew them through the Gaither stuff, and then through the school. And here's the cool (some might say 'geeky') part: Last year, before moving to Nashville, I wrote out my dream team of who I wanted for my CD. Now some people, like Aaron and Johnny, didn't make the list because, well, I just didn't know enough about their talents. But guess who I had on my list for background singers? Reggie and Ladye Love! How cool is that??? I just love their work, and I really felt they'd be a good fit for my voice and this music, and it actually came true today!

They arrived in a whirlwind, and once the music started, all that energy went into the song. And at work, they are truly amazing. As soon as each song started, they would just start humming notes, and choosing who would sing what line. They speak in that "we're-married-and-we-work-together-all-the-time" shorthand. It was just impressive to see how quickly the parts were formed. Even on the the first pass, things would be almost perfect. And they spoke in numbers too - "You sing the 5 and I'll sing the 9." Crazy!

We started with "At The Cross". Aaron joined them on baritone, so we had a good choral fullness on the harmonies. Next we moved on to "Neighbour". It became really clear that this would sound good with just Ladye singing 2 parts, and it developed into an Andrew Sisters type thing. Some of the intervals were really tricky, and this probably took the longest of all the songs. ("longest" being relative, as they work so quickly!) It was very cool to see Reggie and Aaron working with Ladye to work out the parts and get the phrasing perfect. And they loved the song, which thrilled me to no end! Ladye asked to take the lyric home, she loved it so much! Smiling, happy me!

We discussed adding stuff to "Faith Will Take You Farther" and "In Less Than a Moment", but decided, for various reasons, that they were better just as they are. In listening to "Wedding at Cana" earlier, we decided the harmonies needed a little beefing up. Monika did great work on it, but as the mix has developed, her beautiful breathy vocals were floating too far above the rest of the track. So we quickly laid down more parts for it, and it all sounded great in the end.

Next week, Aaron is bringing in a saxophone player for another project, and he'll get him to add a little something to "Real Big Fan". On Wednesday, I'm having my photos done. I'm also starting to collect my lyrics, credits, thank you's, etc, for the liner notes.

Oh, and I think I've decided on a title for the CD: "Real Big Fan". It pretty much says all I want to say!

Friday, November 16, 2007

BCC Songwriter Night

Two days ago, I got an email from Laurie Kerr at BCC Church. They'd had a cancellation in their line-up for their songwriter night, and they offered me a one song guest spot. The plan was to fill the empty chair with several writers doing one song each. They requested an uptempo, so I grabbed Gerald to accompany me on "Point of the Song".

The show was in the "Onion", the fancy-shaped portable in the back of the property. This is the same place where Gerald and I played for their youth worship, almost one year ago! (Wow, how did that happen?) The stage was set with candles for a nice intimate feel.

The crowd was small but appreciative. I did my song near the end, and they still had space, so Gerald did a new song, "Hallelujah, I Remember". Both songs went really well, and got a good response from the crowd. This was the first time Gerald performed Hallelujah, and I can't wait to add harmonies to it.

We realized tonight that it's been ages since we've played out like that, what with the CD and all. It felt good, even though doing one song is more like a warm up than a performance. I think Gerald wants to get back to doing songwriter nights on a regular basis. He is just overflowing with new songs, and they really need to be played and heard.

I'm really working hard right now to coordinate the CD and Christmas. We're booking lots of stuff in Toronto - church services, Victorian carolling, and possibly a full concert. That in and of itself is a lot of work, but on top of that, I'm also trying to organize the final steps of the CD - mastering, graphics, and manufacturing. The BGVs and mixing are all happening in the next few days, so we'll be ready for that final stuff soon.

The tricky part in all this is to schedule things so that we have CDs to bring home with us at Christmas. No easy feat! I'm like the guy on Ed Sullivan with all the plates.

Trying to take time to rest and be still, and celebrate family moments. This month, Gerald and I are celebrating 5 years since we started dating. Can't believe it's been that long! And I can't believe we've done so much together in that time! Feeling so blessed to have him in my life.

Also taking time to rest because I have a photo shoot coming up, and no one wants to buy the CD of a tired looking Gospel singer!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Vocals - Day 3

I woke up this morning, grateful for a good night's sleep, excited about the day, but also nervous. Today was our "big sing" day.

As part of my relaxing morning, I took the puppies for a walk. I said it was to help relax them before a day alone (a friend came to visit them late afternoon), but in actuality, the walk was truly relaxing for me. The weather was very Newfoundland - grey sky, a little haze, a hint of rain - but the air was warm and humid instead of cool and damp.

I left these 3 particular songs til today for very specific reasons. They are, in my opinion, the hardest ones to sing, so I wanted as much time as possible to work on them. I also wanted to be very comfortable in the studio and with Aaron when it came time to sing them. And, as you'll see, I'm glad I waited.

I wanted to start with Daryl Williams' new song, "In Less Than A Moment". Daryl gave me a demo CD with a dozen songs. They were all great, but when I heard this one, I started to cry. When we lost Steve, I was left with so many unanswered questions. Death at any time can be confusing, but I think a suicide is the worst. There's no one to explain what happened or why it happened, and I just couldn't wrap my head around why God would have allowed this to happen. I finally came to the conclusion that I will never get the answers in this lifetime, but, when I get to Heaven, I will get all the answers I need. Well, that's exactly what Daryl's song is about. I couldn't believe it when I heard it. I knew I had to sing it. Partly for my own needs, but mostly because I know there are people out there who will need to hear this song.

So, as you can imagine, singing it has been an emotional experience. Vocally, it's a style that's very familiar to me, so that hasn't been difficult. But I wanted to rehearse it so that I could sing it with strength and confidence. I scheduled it early in the day so that I'd be open and relaxed to get all the low notes in the verses.

Well, we started the first take, and by the time we hit the final chorus, I started to cry. And not the pretty Demi-Moore-in-Ghost tears either. Those awful tears that take away your stomach. I was so embarassed. We did another take, and I couldn't even make it to the end. It's been so long since I've gone to that emotional place. I was happy to be singing about this great message of hope, but the emotion was just overwhelming. Remembering my grief felt awful, and imagining the joy of finally seeing Jesus was more than I could bear. Gerald came into the studio and hugged me and talked me through. I was so embarassed to be, what I deemed, unprofessional. But I was also reminded that this is part of taking great artistic risks. Sometimes, it brings you to places that are raw and scary. Aaron was also incredibly encouraging, reminding me that pitches can be fixed, and emotion is the most important thing in a performance. We did one more pass, and then punched in a few chosen lines.

At that point, I was just exhausted. We didn't listen to any of what I'd just done. Gerald and I just took off for a very long lunch, and Aaron worked on the song without us.

The break was good. Gerald and I laughed a lot, and we came back in great moods to take on the next big sing: Gerald's song, "Real Big Fan". Gerald often performs this live as a blues-rock-gospel number, and I just love it! But it's not in my style, so we've given in a big band type of feel. The lyric is incredible, so that was paramount in my performance. But I also wanted to give it a real jazz feel in tone and phrasing. Gerald was a great coach for this. We had practiced it a lot, and this gave us a full palette for when we started recording. It was completely fun to sing! I think it turned out well, and I also can't wait to do it live.

We ended with Lee Roy Abernathy's "Sin Ain't Nothin' But The Blues". I looove this song. I first heard it in Jack Clark's theory class, and as soon as we sang it, and thought, "I need to record this!". I put a lot of work into this one. I studied and practiced my phrasing, and worked on the lyric. I even spent all day Sunday listening to John Lee Hooker as homework and inspiration. Well, it paid off! Three takes and we were done! I had a lot of fun with it, and I think it's going to sound awesome.

All 10 vocals done! We'll still have a clean-up day, but the bulk of my singing work is done. Finally, I can start listening to other songs! (I've been avoiding other music almost entirely! I've only listened to my tracks, or a few selected pieces of 'homework'.) Next week, the rest of the BGVs will get done. Aaron and his Dad, Johnny, are going to do the harmonies on "Moving Up To Gloryland". They haven't done them all yet, but they did lay down a sample for me. It sounds incredible! When I heard it, I thought, "Wow, it's all sounding like a real CD!". Yes, I'm being geeky, but it's all so exciting.

Dreams are coming true every day!

Monday, November 12, 2007

A Bounty of Baptisms...

My morning began with a far-too-early rise at 6:00AM. Today was a full day of singing, and it all started with an 8am call at Church of the Redeemer. Jenna (our music director) was away this weekend, so we were lead by Dave Durham, who was also a guest the first time I sang there. Jenna had sent us a songlist, and I knew the hymns, but I was really unsure about the praise choruses. So, that meant sightreading a bunch of songs in a short, early-morning rehearsal. On top of that, Dave turned to me and asked if I could do alto harmony on everything. Alto! I haven't read an alto part in years, much less finding parts by ear. So, I already knew I'd be outside my comfort zone, but that was that, so off we went.

The team actually ended up working really well together. We had keyboard, guitar, bass, and 3 part vocal harmony. I had a solo on one of the Communion songs. The first service was, well, good but a little loose (I think that's typical of most churches!). But by the second service, we were tight and some stuff just felt great. We got positive feedback from the congregation, and that's always a blessing.

Here's where the day starts getting interesting: At the second service this morning, we had a baptism. It was a little baby girl, who grabbed the Pastor Thomas's beard while she was getting the water poured on her head. We all answered the questions about "Do you promise to support this child in her life in Christ?". (paraphrasing, but you get the point) All very powerful and good.

This afternoon, I attended an adult baptism in Franklin. A friend of mine, who had been baptized as a child, had now decided to rededicate herself to Jesus through a full immersion baptism. About 30 people gathered very casually in this huge Baptist church. The worship area was a huge room with chairs and a stage, and it smelled oddly like a school gym. That's when I noticed that the hardwood floor was actually a basketball court. I have no idea what this means, but this might just be the church for Gerald!

The baptistry was 2 stories up and opened up into the main room like a balcony. The side facing us was clear plexiglass so we could all see the actual immersion.

I had volunteered to sing. There was no sound system to use, so I brought a guitar, and I sang my arrangement of "Jesus Loves Me". It went very well, and everyone seemed very pleased.

Side note: I got compliments from several people, which was lovely, but the coolest moment was when a gentlemen, who claimed to be an "old Southern Gospel singer", came up to me. It was Buck Rambo! Of the Rambos! Crazy!

There were 3 people lined up for baptism - 2 adults and one child. As each person came forward, they spoke a few words about what brought them to this decision. Pastor Stan was very casual, but also very sincere in performing the actual baptism. As each person took the plunge, we actually saw them go under the water, and then that priceless expression as they emerged, changed forever.

So, tonight, I'm thinking about baptisms - adult versus baby, immersion versus sprinkling. I've decided that I love them all, and for lots of different reasons.

I love baby baptisms, because it brings together a group of people to raise and support a child in their life in Christ. The parents choose God-parents - trusted friends who will be a spiritual and loving team for their child. The baptism is done in front of the entire church community, and we are all asked to pledge our support in raising this child in Christ. In some services, we are also given the opportunity to renew our baptismal vows aloud. In the end, we welcome the child into our community of faith. It's always powerful, and always full of joy.

And I've also realized that I love adult baptisms. I love hearing the stories of why people are making this decision. Perhaps they have just come to Jesus. Perhaps they were raised in the church, but they've strayed, and this baptism is a sign of their recommitment to Christ. Either way, this is a life-changing decision that, like a marriage, they have chosen to confirm in a public and holy way. I love seeing the full event of an entire body going under the water, and seeing them come up again, cleansed and renewed. And again, it is powerful, and full of joy.

And I also love that we serve a God who will take our commitment at any point in our lives! Never too early. Never too late.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Vocals - Day 2

My nerves were much less active today than my first vocal day, but still, I started the day with excitement and just a few jitters.

I've been trying to keep these mornings open and relaxed. Lots of time for a slow warm-up, a good breakfast, and lots of breathing and stretching. I also try to get in some good quality time with the puppies - it makes me laugh, which is a great warm-up, and it reminds me that love and simplicity are essential in life and music.

The goal today was to record the vocals for 3 songs. All three of today's selections have a similar vibe, which meant I wouldn't have to completely change gears between each song.

We started with the Cathedral's classic, "Movin' Up To Gloryland". I love this song, and I've been singing it to myself for months now. When I was trying to focus the sound and feel of this project, this was the first song that clicked for me. When I started to sing it to myself, it fell into a natural groove that just screamed, "Mix it all with jazz!". I know this will be a risky choice in some ways - It's a very traditional quartet song, and for some audience members, that means it should only ever be sung by a quartet. But I love it, and I believe the test of a great song is it can bend without breaking.

This part of the recording actually went by pretty quickly. We did 3 full takes, and then came back and fixed up a few little things. We then did a 4th take, just trying some crazier stuff for fun - different phrasings, playing with grace notes, etc. Aaron cut a rough vocal on the spot, and it sounded great.

We moved on to a new Joel Lindsey and Wayne Haun song called, "Faith Will Take You Farther". This is a very fun song, but to be honest, it was one of the hardest songs for me to lock into. I think I was treating it too seriously, and just not having enough fun with it. In the end, I found inspiration in the character actresses of the 1930's musicals, and it all fell into place. My rehearsal process will remain private, but let's just say I had a visit from Lina Lamont...

We took several passes at this one. I think what we got is really good, but we may go back and revisit a few lines on another day.

Finally, we ended with "Do You Wanna Be My Neighbour in Gloryland" - our unofficial Song of the Week! We have the single take from Monday, but we still did 3 full takes and a few single lines. It's such a fun song to sing! I think this one turned out really well, and I can't wait for people to hear it.

We now have 7 songs done, 3 to go. The next vocal day is Tuesday, and that will be the 3 biggest songs vocally. After that, it's BGVs and mixing. While all that's happening, I need to take care of photos and graphics. Then, it's mastering, manufacturing, and finally, carting 1000 CDs into my living room! It all seems so simple when I put it that way...

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Canaan pitch!

Tonight was the ever-awesome Christian writer night at NSAI, and this was the most exciting kind of night they have:
Pitch to Publisher.

Our publisher tonight was songwriter, Dave Clark, of Canaan Music. I've heard Dave speak several times at Write About Jesus and Stamps-Baxter. And I actually look at his photo several times a week - he sang with the Speers for several years, and he's in several of the older publicity photos.

Tonight started in the typical Pitch to Publisher fashion - Twice as many people show up for the meeting, and we all have to allow extra time to find parking. Each writer brings a demo on CD, plus 2 lyric sheets. We check in, find a seat, and start to pray! I've now decided to start calling these nights Pitch and Pray. Just seems more appropriate...

So, my song was "Do You Wanna Be My Neighbour in Gloryland". We've had the track for weeks, and I did that single take yesterday with Aaron. My turn came up near the end of the night. I really enjoyed listening to everyone's songs, cause there was some truly great stuff, but my stomach was just in knots waiting for my song to play. I prayed early in the evening, "God, do what you want with this song." It didn't stop all my nerves, but it changed it from fear to excitement.

Arg! I gotta start with the results, cause it's just too good - He took my song!!!!

When they read out the title, it got a really happy reaction from the room. For every song, they would only play a verse and a chorus. My song starts with the chorus. As the vocals started, I could see Dave reading the lyric and smiling. He got a few nice expressions of surprise as the melody moved. And then just as the last note of the chorus landed, he said, "I'll take it.". He didn't even listen to the verse! It was so fast and awesome! He called it very "cutable", and asked me a little about what artists I listen to. After the whole thing, I introduced myself properly, and we got to talk about the Speers a little.

I'm still just so excited and a little in shock! Yes, I love that song, and I think it's probably the most solid song I've written to date. But it's still just so exciting to get this reaction from non-friends. We always assume our friends will like things at least a little, so this is very awesome to get this reaction from someone who's just about the music and not about pleasing me.

So, what happens next? Dave takes the song back to Canaan Music, and he'll try to get it cut. I don't know if they'll do a new demo, or who will get the pitch, or anything! All I know is that I song of mine is being considered by Canaan Music, and I'm one step closer to my first Nashville cut! Whoo-hoo!!!!

Monday, November 05, 2007

BGVs - Monika's Day

BGVs is studio code for BackGround Vocals, and even though we're still not finished my vocals, we've just had our first day of BGV recording. For those new to the party: Monika and I have been singing together for over 15 years. We met in Mendlessohn Youth Choir back in Toronto, went on to sing together at St. John's Church. Since then, we've sung together in concerts, recitals, Victorian Carolling, and as anthem singers for a Raptors game. I haven't done any important project or show that hasn't involved Moni, and today, I got the privilege of having her gorgeous harmonies on my new CD!

Monika is a skilled session singer, so she was in her element today. Last week, we chose and recorded 3 songs that we knew she'd sound great on - Abide With Me, Wedding at Cana, and Shepherd of the Hills. I sent her the rough vocals so she'd have a chance to be prepared, and we spent time with all 3 songs over the weekend. There is nothing better than singing with Moni!

We went in this morning, with a full day planned in the studio, but Moni was so quick and professional, that we were done in just a few hours. We had worked out 2 lines of harmony for each song, but in the end, we just used one line on most songs. It all sounds so pretty!

I also took a few minutes to record one take of "Do You Want to Be My Neighbour in Gloryland". Tomorrow night, NSAI is having Christian Pitch to Publisher, and that's the song I want to pitch. That was very simple to do, and I think it will serve me well tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Vocals - Day 1

Exhausted, but happy!

What a fantastic day! As I wrote last night, I was so nervous going into today. I woke up in good time for a long warm-up and a relaxing morning with Gerald and the puppies. I felt good, and we were on the way in time to be at the studio for noon.

Aaron has a great studio on the upper floor of his house, and that's where we're doing all the vocals. The studio area itself feels very cool and relaxed, but you also have the buzz of family life below, which is just invigorating. Nothing relaxes the voice more than laughing at a baby's smiling face.

We started with Wedding at Cana. This is the song I've been singing the longest, so I figured I'd be most comfortable with it. Aaron's goal was to get 3 great passes at each song, and then punch in any lines or phrases that needed another take. On the first try, I was okay, but a little tense. But as things went along, my confidence increased, and my creativity opened up. Aaron also told me we could come back another day and redo any lines, etc, I didn't like, so that took off the self-imposed-be-perfect pressure too. I really started to enjoy the songs, and I was dancing along as I sang. Very happy we weren't shooting video!

Aaron is cutting on Logic Pro 8 (I think I have that right?), so he could just start cutting right then and there. Within a few minutes of recording that song, we had a version of the vocal. I got so excited! It all sounded so good! I've done a lot of recording where other people were in control, and I was never happy with the way the vocals sounded. I know we can never get a true sense of the sound of our own voices, but most times in the past, when I'd hear my voice recorded, I'd think it sounded thinner, weaker, than I thought it should sound. Well, when I heard the first song yesterday, I was just so impressed. Even in that rough version, I could hear myself coming through - my personality, my emotion, my voice. It just made me feel so good about it all, and I felt very confident going into the next song.

Next, we did Abide With Me. Gerald figured this would be an easy one, but I know it would be tricky. It's a deceptively difficult sing. Long phrases. Finicky, century-old lyric. This one actually took some work. We did some rephrasing, which was admittedly difficult for me at first. After all, I've been singing the song for almost a year. My muscles know when to breathe and when to switch notes. To change all that on the fly was challenging, to say the least. Some verses we actually took line by line. But in the end, it just sounded so beautiful. Very happy with it!

This brought us to the 3 hour mark, which was pretty good timing. Gerald and I took a little break to grab a bite and clear our minds. Gerald was on call the whole day as my objective ears and personal director. He and Aaron actually made a good team in bringing me to the best places musically and emotionally.

The first song after the break was Shepherd of the Hills, a new song by Joel Lindsey and (blanking on the co-writer's name right now). This was the easiest song of the day. Three takes and done. As I was listening to Aaron put together the track, I thought, "This is a song that I would have sung any time.". For those who've known me a long time, you'll understand it when you hear it. I would have chosen this song when I was 16 or 25 or 30-whatever. It's so lyrical and poetic, and I can't wait to hear Monika's harmonies on it.

Things were going so well that we decided to try a 4th song - At The Cross. Although this is in lots of hymnals, it's still a very new song for me. Gerald describes the arrangement as 'folk-jazz', and I'd been practicing it with a smooth, Eva Cassidy-type feel. But as I sang it, Aaron and Gerald both encouraged me to take a stronger, more soulful approach to it. (Ironically, a different Eva Cassidy feel!) This is the only song were weren't able to hear back right away, but I think it's going to sound great.

All in all, what a fantastic day! The more we work on this music, on these songs, the more confident and excited I feel about the whole project.

I'm quite vocally tired tonight. I didn't push it, but since I was so sick a few weeks ago, I just don't have my full endurance yet. We've decided to postpone our second vocal day til next week. That will be cool though. Now that I know how we're approaching things, this just gives me more time to work on the texts and experiment with different sounds.

Oh, and we're going to do something cool with the background vocals. Monika is coming Wednesday for a week, and she's going to do some of the songs. But then, we're going to have all male BGVs on one song, and alto-tenor-bass on another, and girl trio on another, and so on. This mix will give each song a unique feel, and it actually reminds me how Gordon Mote did his last album. (Don't Let Me Miss the Glory - fantastic!). It's the kind of thing that musical people will get, and non-musical people might not catch, but they'll feel the effects.

Yes, exhausted, but happy!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Vocals tomorrow...

I've been blog-quiet lately, but I guess that's sort of reflected my real vocal life.

Recording the tracks was amazing, but the next day, I felt exhausted. I hoped I was just tired, til I woke up Friday with a sore throat, runny nose, coughing, and aches and pains. I felt terrible! And it just went on and on for days. I eventually started to feel less pain and more energy, but my throat was still pretty messed up. I started keeping quiet as much as possible,

But, of course, in the "when it rains, it pours" phase of life, the last 3 weeks have also been busy with my new job - working for Ben Speer! Don't get me wrong - I have ZERO complaints about working for Ben. It's just awesome! First off, I get to spend my days talking to people about the Stamps-Baxter school, which I love! (the "talking" part being the only drawback - hard to keep quiet while talking!). Second, I'm getting to learn a lot about how to run a ministry, from the business side. I'm also learning a lot about the history of Southern Gospel music, through the history of the Speers. And third, I get to spend time with a living legend in SG music. One day, we're out for lunch, and an Elvis song comes on. Ben leans over and says, "Brock and I sang the harmonies on this one." Yes, with Elvis! For the next 20 minutes, I get the story of how Ben, the man I'm having lunch with, got to sing with Elvis Presley. Ladies and gentleman, welcome to my new job!

But back to the voice - I just tried not to speak at all for the first week. The second week, I started doing small vocalises (vocal exercises) each day. Simple stuff, like lip trills and humming. All this time, I kept listening to the tracks. I was given rough cuts the day of recording so I could have practice tracks. Even if I couldn't sing out loud, I kept listening so I could learn the tempo and the dynamics and the nuances of each song. Actually, this is probably a good exercise for every singer. You never really hear the song when you're singing along. Just stop singing, and listen to it. The more I listened, the more I fell in love with each track. They just sound amazing!

Now, it's my turn.

Not that I haven't been involved from the beginning, but the next few sessions are my responsibility - The Vocals!

Of course, I'm nervous! Did you think I wouldn't be? I've recorded before, but as I've stated many times, this is just so far above and beyond anything I've done. So, yes, nerves are definitely present. Twice this weekend, I've gone to drive somewhere I know, like the grocery store, and gone in the totally wrong direction! Yes, a little nervous.

But I'm also very excited! All the other stuff is great, and it's wonderful to see it all come together, but this is my arena now. This is what I'm good at - singing, song interpretation, having fun in the music, being emotionally open while I'm singing, delivering a message, making these songs my own.

Am I bragging by saying this? Maybe. But I also know I need to say it out loud, because, like all artists, I also have those nasty critic voices in my head ready to tell me I'm not good enough, not pretty enough, not talented enough. You artists know what I'm talking about. You can get a standing ovation from a thousand screaming fans, and that nasty critic voice will cut through the din with a quiet, but powerful, 'You don't deserve it".

The first time I did a solo recital, I was terrified. An opera singer at my church told me, "Remember, you love to do this!".

So that's what I'm doing tonight and in my prep time tomorrow: I'm remembering I LOVE to do this, I CAN do this, and I'm GOOD at doing this!

*deep breath* I'm also praying, and focusing on God. I went to church this morning, and it's left me grounded and inspired. I've had so many people, here and home, tell me they're praying for me, and that just gives me huge amounts of strength.

I'll remember those prayers, think of that love, know that I'm talented, and recognize the Savior who's brought me here.

And tomorrow, when those nasty fears threaten to rear their ugly heads, I'll remember David, grab 5 stones, put my sights on God, and run like crazy towards that giant.

But first ... tea, and a good night's sleep!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

CD Tracking Day

I just read the comments left on yesterday's blog. Thank you so much for all your prayers. Let's just say, I think they worked!

Today was such a tremendous experience. I am completely exhausted tonight in body, soul, and voice, so please excuse me if any of my descriptions seem a little blurry!

Our session took place at Hilltop Studios, just north of Nashville. We arrived just before 10am for the first of our three 3 hour sessions. There was us, Aaron (producer and percussion), Steve (engineer), Doug (steel), Mark (bass), Jeremy (electric guitar), Joel (acoustic guitar), and Johnny (piano, accordion, and Aaron's dad). All the musicians have amazing resumes, and their skills and creativity were an absolute blessing. At the risk of sounding corny, it's truly an honour to have people of this caliber on the album. All the musicians were in the main part of the studio, and I was in a very tiny isolation booth down the hallway. It had a small, deep-set window in the wall, which made me feel like a museum exhibit.

Our goal was to get the instrumental tracks recorded for all 10 songs. Aaron had charts done up for each song in that infamous Nashville number system. Instead of notes and lyrics, each song now looked like a page-long math equation written in black marker. The musicians would look at the math equation and listen to our rough demos of the song. Most of the time, they wouldn't listen to the whole song, just bits and pieces of it. Then they futzed around with things for a few minutes. They'd establish the tempo and the groove. They'd make sure everyone was in agreement with the chart. They'd figure out who played what instrument in what place (some players played multiple instruments).

Then we'd just do it. We'd all go through the entire piece, and almost like magic, the whole thing would come out as one, beautiful, musical song. (I would sing along, but that was just as a guideline for the band.) Once or twice we did a second take, but for the most part, that was it. After that take, individual instrumentalists would go back in to tweek small sections. It was so fast! On one song, we did the first full run, and I realized the key was a little too high for me. So we did another take in another key, and the band didn't even need to rehearse it. We just gave a down beat and did it all over again. The skills of these players is just amazing!

And it all sounded so good too. One of the things I really want on the album is a 'signature sound". (No, not the quartet, though that could be an interesting project...) You know how when you listen to Ray Charles, he can be doing jazz or blues or country, yet it all sounds like Ray Charles? Well, I want that feel. Not specifically Ray Charles, but I want each song to sound like "Allison Lynn". It's an eclectic group of songs, so I want the whole album to have a cohesive presence when it's all finished. And I think today went a long way in establishing that sound.

So, what are some of the songs? We started with "Wedding at Cana". It sounded incredible! Aaron made a few chord changes, but I really like it all. It was amazing to hear my little song put together in this way, and it got a good response from some of the musicians, so that was uber-cool and satisfying. The other songs of mine were "Abide With Me" and "Do You Wanna Be My Neighbour in Gloryland". "Abide" has a very different feel, but I really like it. "Neighbour" was incredible, maybe my favourite song of the day. It's like Aaron was able to transcribe the band in my head onto paper.

I did Gerald's "Real Big Fan", and that was awesome. It's really different than Gerald's version. My version is very jazz, very cool. We also did a beautiful folk-jazz version of the hymn, "At the Cross".

I did 2 Lee Roy Abernathy songs, 2 Joel Lindsey songs, and one Daryl Williams song. Everything turned out so great. It's definitely Southern Gospel meets jazz, but it's got some other great sounds in there too, like swing, and music theatre, and folk, and, if I have to admit it, I guess the steel guitar puts a little country twang in there too.

At the end of the night, Steve gave me a rough cut of all the instrumental tracks. My job is now to take this disc and practice, practice, practice. Some time in the next few weeks, I'll meet up with Aaron and we'll record my vocals.

Everything went so well today, and it was great to see the players getting excited by the music too. It's amazing to see things finally coming together. I'm getting a real sense of how the whole project will sound and feel and even look. I'm more excited than ever!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The CD starts tomorrow!!!!!!!!

Okay, not quite accurate, but tomorrow is our first studio day, and I am freaking-out-excited!!!

Lots of work has lead us to this 'starting' place - choosing a producer, writing songs, finding other songs, thinking about arrangements and grooves and packaging and everything! I finalized my song choices a few weeks ago, and I'm really happy with the whole set. I think they'll be great on the CD, but they'll also pull together to make a great show too.

Gerald and I met with Aaron tonight to go over the arrangements for each song. He has the charts done up, and we basically decided on keys, tempo, and groove. The session players will all be great, so I want to be open to everyone else's creativity too.

I'm keeping very quiet tonight, for I know I'll be singing for hours on end tomorrow. I'll be doing what's known as a 'scratch' vocal. It's really just a guideline for the musicians, and we'll probably throw out most of what I sing. The main goal tomorrow is to get the instrumental tracks for each of the ten songs. We'll start at 10am, and do three 3-hour sessions in the studio.

I'm sure tomorrow night at this time, I'll be exhausted. I've been so nervous about the whole thing, but tonight, I'm just really excited about it all. I was afraid that maybe I wasn't ready for this, but tonight reminded me that I'm actually very prepared for everything. Gerald reminded me that this is just one in a long line of steps I've been taking, all leading to this place.

This afternoon, I found myself surprised, yet again, that I'm here in Nashville, and working with these great people, and recording this album. Gerald says these things never really surprise him, but I can't help it. When I think of where I was in my life 3, 5, or even 10 years ago, I never saw myself here in this place and doing these things. But I'm so grateful for all of it!

Must sleep so the vocal cords are happy in the morning!

By the way, I never think much about the title of this blog, but this truly is an "Adventure"!

Sunday, October 07, 2007



Tomorrow is the official holiday, but my family usually celebrates on the Sunday. This afternoon, my Mom will serve a turkey dinner for 8. Now that we're away, it's actually the smallest crowd they've hosted in years.

These are the hard moments of living here in Nashville. It's times like this that I just get homesick. I would love to be home today, but with the CD recording starting this Wednesday, plus starting 2 new part-time jobs this week, it was just too much to go home right now. It's a 12 hour drive without breaks, so popping home for the weekend is just out of the question.

*sigh* Just missing home right now, but I do want to make a list of things for which I am thankful:

- Knowing a God who always chooses love over judgement, and forgiveness over failure.
- Gerald, my partner in all things good and true.
- Mom and Dad, who continue to teach me about love, marriage, and friendship.
- My puppies, Sebastian and Dante, who bring me happiness and love.
- Monika, and a friendship not dimmed by distance.
- All those back home who believe in me and Gerald and keep us in prayer.
- All my extended family, who are awesome and loving.
- My apartment, my car, food for dinner, and all other practical blessings.
- The opportunity to live here in Nashville and follow our dreams.
- New friends that I have made in the last few months.
- 2 new part-time jobs!
- The opportunity and resources to make this CD.
- My creative talents, and the chance to use them to serve the Lord.


Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Paula Stefanovich at NSAI

I am loving Christian writer's night at NSAI! First off, it's just always a great place to meet people and see a familiar face. Secondly, it's always a smaller group, so you get more interactive time with the guests. But thirdly, unlike most Christian music workshops in the city, NSAI has been bringing in a bunch of Southern Gospel people, which is awesome!

Tonight's guest speaker was songwriter Paula Stefanovich, who is best known for her Hoppers' hit, "Jerusalem". I also saw Paula perform at NQC, where she brought the house down at an afternoon showcase. The guest speaker night's are arranged in an interview format, and then webcast for NSAI members.

Paula is sweet and charming, but when she talks about writing songs for the church, she is intense and passionate. She believes very strongly in writing songs that the church congregation can sing. She does write for the choir, but believes that in Heaven, we're all going to be part of the choir, so we might as well all get to sing along now.

They played some of her songs, which were all great, and then she turned to the keyboard and sang a new song called "Gospel To The World". It's an awesome lyric which talks about all the earthly things Jesus left behind - the silver to Judas, His mother to the apostles - but He also left the Gospel to the World. So good!

I left tonight so inspired! It was a small crowd, but I think everyone was moved by Paula's commitment to great songs that can really serve the church and its people. It reminded me to keep things simple, scriptural, and singable.

Once things get settled with the recording process, I'm looking forward to finding some quiet writing time again... and it's good to be craving that!

Friday, September 28, 2007

Happy Anniversary!

Congratulation, Mom and Dad, on your 39th wedding anniversary!

Thanks for the inspiration!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Cafe Forte

It's the first time I've been able to go to Cafe Forte in ages. Between Mom and Dad's visit, and then NQC, my Mondays have just had a different focus. CF has gotten away from having 2 different performers with a break for networking, and I don't know how well it's working for them. Tonight's feature was a guest speaker, and, unfortunately, there wasn't a great turnout.

James Gardner spoke about dealing with fear as an artist, and how you can release that fear through prayer. It was a good night, and several people stuck around after to receive private prayer.

For me, the real benefit of tonight was reconnecting with some great people! I truly believe in the mission of Cafe Forte and the desire to create a community to support and encourage Christian artists. It was great to see everyone and touch that energy again.

I'm really interested in bringing some of the Christian DIVAs here to Nashville for a few joint gigs. I spoke to the Cafe Forte organizers tonight about booking us for some time next year, and got the green light. Actually, here's what I got: "Of course. This place (Cafe Forte) is your home!"

For a homesick girl from Canada, these words were a blessing in my ear!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Gerald and his busy guitar...

I got a panicked call from Tara a few days ago asking if I played piano. Had to give a big "No" on that one. She explained that her accompanist had cancelled for a gig on Saturday, so I recommended my personal accompanist: Gerald!

Tara had been asked to lead the morning worship session for a prayer conference. She sent Gerald the charts for the singalong portion, and since Tara and I sing in the same key, it was easy to rehearse at home. We arrived at the church 7:30 AM (yes, as in Arg, Morning!) for a last minute run through.

It was a great time. Tara and Gerald sounded great together, and as the half hour progressed, the crowd rubbed the sleep out of their eyes and joined in the singing. Gerald also underscored the woman leading the prayers. She was a passionate speaker, and the whole thing was very powerful.

I often worry that churches down here will do things differently than I'm used to: people won't know the hymns I know, they'll pray differently, I'll be asked to speak in tongues, etc. But watching Tara today reminded me: This is something I know how to do. Okay, I've never spoken in tongues. But I can choose songs and lead worship. I know how to teach an 'unknown' song. And praying is just praying, even if we each use different words.

When we got home, we opened the mail box to see our Bluebird results letters! (We knew they were our results letters because I recognized my writing on the SASEs!) I didn't get in, but I'm okay with that. They're looking for 'songwriters', and I'm much more a performer. Also, I've heard they're not keen on Christian music. Don't know if that's true or not, but truth be told, Christian music is all I've got!

But Gerald got in! Whoo-hoo! I totally knew he would! He'll play 3 songs at their Sunday Songwriter Night. And here's the kicker: He's booked for June, 2008! Knowing Gerald, he'll have another 40 new songs by then. 2008! Mark it on your calendars!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

CWE starts a new season!

Since February, I've been loving my nights with CWE (Christian Women of Entertainment), so I was really excited about tonight. To remind, this is the night when a group of women gather in a non-smoking venue to share their original songs. I planned on doing a few Allison 'classics', but Gerald and I also worked up an arrangement of our newest co-write, "Fear Knocked, Faith Answered". This is the song we pitched to the Booth Brothers this summer. They didn't take it, but we won't judge them for that!

Kimberlee, the organizer of CWE, has been away all summer, so this is the first night we've had since the spring. We got to Edgehill early for soundcheck, but it took a while for people to arrive.

Well, at the risk of sounding negative, I saw some very unChristian behavior tonight. Kimberlee had booked a small but full line-up for the night, but as of 7:00, several girls hadn't even shown up. One new girl arrived, but when she saw the small crowd, she gathered up her group of friends, and left! Didn't even say, "Thanks, but no thanks". She just snuck out when she thought we weren't looking.

"Commitment" was the first big word I learned as a child, and I'm still shocked when people act this way.

Well, the joke was on them, because I honestly think that this was the best CWE night we've ever had. An impromptu program developed, including a few songs by Gerald - the first man to ever sing at a Christian WOMEN of Entertainment event! Most girls in the crowd could sing, so we had a night of spontaneous performances. Elayna borrowed Gerald's guitar, and sounded great. Kimberlee and Aricka sang acapella, and it was powerful. Amanda finished the night with a medley of praise choruses - no better way to end things!

What I loved about tonight was not just the range of gorgeous voices, but the truly generous spirit that filled the room. It was truly singing for God, and not for ourselves or our fame. I'm grateful that I found this group of women, and I can't wait til next month!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

CD update: Song pitch and a cool guest artist...

The hunt for great songs for my CD continued tonight. I've settled on several of my and Gerald's songs, I have a great one from Daryl Williams, and a few classic Lee Roy Abernathy tunes. But I have a few spots that I still can't finalize. I need to keep in mind that these songs will not only represent me and my ministry, but they will also be the backbone of all my concerts, at least til I make a second CD like this.

I asked Joel Lindsey if he had any extra songs he'd be willing to pitch to an indie artist, and being a generous soul, he said Yes!

But here's the really cool part: Instead of just sending a disc, we met at Brentwood-Benson publishing, and had an in-person pitch session! How awesome is that?

I told Joel what I wanted, and played him a few of the already chosen songs. We then listened to at least a dozen demos. They were all great, but not necessarily a good fit for my voice and what I need for the album. I took 7 songs home with me, but there's 2 in particular that are jumping out at me. One is lyrical and I can totally hear Monika on the harmonies.

Oh, here's the other uber-cool thing about the CD: Monika is flying down to Nashville to record harmonies for me! What a complete dream come true! We've been singing together forever, and it just makes so much sense to have her on this project. Now, we just have to pray that I can get my vocals done in time for her trip!

Monday, September 17, 2007

Bluebird Auditions

I awoke to total darkness this morning, and by the time I got in my car, the sky was a blazing pink sunrise. I will never become a morning person, but I will admit that this morning was a treat. Newfoundland is my favourite place to drive, but Kentucky at 7 am is a close second.

I was, of course, late getting to sleep after the last night of NQC, so I got up this morning after only 4 hours sleep. But I had to get back to Nashville for our Bluebird auditions. Passing the audition will get us each a spot in the Sunday writer's night. We've been well-warned that most people have to audition more than once before getting accepted, but Gerald and I are so used to auditioning that we know not to take it personally.

In order to get the audition, we spent an hour on 3 phones, trying to get through to the Bluebird on 'call in' day. We were told the auditions were Sunday the 16th at 10:30am. A letter arrived a few days later with a full page of single-spaced instructions for the audition. The biggest detail was that we couldn't perform a full song - just a verse and a chorus, one minute in total.

I knew I'd need to pick something I can play in my sleep, given that I might be half-asleep by the time I got to the audition.

We arrived at 10:25 to see a huge line-up stretching down the block outside the Bluebird. We ended up being #75 and #76. There were too many people to fit in the club at one time, so we ended up waiting outside for the first 2 hours. That was actually one of the best parts of the audition. We got to chat with lots of people, and Gerald met a potential co-writer.

Finally, the gates opened and we were allowed to sit indoors. Imagine a room full of nervous people, each one with a guitar on their lap. The rules were reiterated for us newbies, and the auditions continued. Everyone was okay, but some people were really good. Some interesting songs (or half songs!), and some great performances.

Gerald sang his song, "All Day Long", which I just love, and he always sounds so authentic when he sings it. I did "Wedding at Cana". I think it sounded good, but I also perfomed really well and make the audience laugh, so that was very satisfying. Overall, I think we represented ourselves well.

Now we just get to sit around and wait for a Pass or Fail letter. Oh yes, and we had to bring a SASE so that they can send us our letters. Crazy, huh?

In the meantime, I'm taking a few hours to rest tomorrow, and then I'm full-swing into the CD preparation. I just feel so inspired after NQC, and I don't want to lose a bit of that energy!