Saturday, March 31, 2007

Stephen Schwartz!!!!!

I had to choose an obvious title, because I never want to have trouble finding this post. Tonight was a night to remember and revisit!

We continued our Tin Pan South journey tonight by attending a show at the Bluebird Cafe. As soon as I saw the TPS schedule, I knew I had to see this show: "Nights on Broadway: The New York - Nashville Connection". Because it's the Bluebird, I needed to make a reservation weeks ago, but I couldn't get a reservation, so I was put on a waiting list, and finally got a call this Tuesday to say we could get seats, and we still had to show up an hour before curtain! And it was all worth it...

Tonight's show, held in the round, was hosted by singer, Lari White, and featured music theatre composers Amanda Green, Marcus Hummon, Mike Reid, and the completely amazing Stephen Schwartz!

Stephen Schwartz has been in my life for a long time. I grew up listening to a record of Godspell, and very early in my career, I was thrilled to play "Peggy" in a Toronto production. Most recently, I, like half of North America, fell in love with Wicked. I couldn't have been more excited for tonight's show. I've been singing "Beautiful City" and "Day by Day" all week!

I don't even know if I can find the words to tell you how amazing this show was! (yes, bad sentence structure!) Each and every song was brilliant. The songs were dynamic and funny and painful and fascinating.

Amanda has a recent Broadway hit with the musical, "High Fidelity", based on the John Cusack film. She did 2 songs from the show, plus 2 others, and they were all funny and wickedly entertaining.

Marcus did songs from "American Duet", which he's hoping will hit Broadway in the fall. One of the biggest surprises of the night (at least for me) was when he silently sat at the keyboard, and with very little introduction, started to play his non-theatre song, "God Bless the Broken Road". I love that song! I couldn't believe this was the man who created it!

Mike did some never-before-performed material, which was pretty awesome. And again, he pulled it out of the music theatre realm for a minute with his song, "I Can't Make You Love Me", as recorded by Faith Hill. Unbelievable!

Lari would sing harmonies, and tell a few stories about the Broadway scene, and she did some solos as well. She has a real ability to communicate a song.

But, of course, my favourite moments all came from Stephen. I'd never heard of his first song, which was a delightful and witty interpretation of trying to fall in love in New York City.

Next, he said he didn't want to sing a theatre piece. Instead, he wanted to do a medley of a few songs, and I knew the first tune within a few notes: "Colours of the Wind". Amazing! I'm sitting there, not six feet from Stephen Schwartz, listening to him sing his song, "Colours of the Wind". But then he switched into the second song of the medley: "When You Believe", from Disney's Prince of Egypt. Last October, when Gerald and I had our Nashville Bound concert, Esther and Monika sang this song for us, as a blessing for our adventures. I couldn't believe he sang it. I just started to cry!

Next, he did a newer cabaret song that I'd never heard of. I can't even tell you the title of it. But the song talks about having parents that hurt you and didn't love you. And it says the best way to heal that pain is to wrap you parents in love and forgiveness. It was powerful, and received the only standing ovation of the night (except for the end of the show). Looking around the audience, the tears showed that this song touched many hearts.

Stephen, of course, got the final song of the night. I was really hoping for something from Godspell, but he chose to sing something from Wicked. Couldn't really complain about that. And what did he choose? "For Good". At Dad's retirement in January, we were all brought to tears when 3 teenagers from church stood up and sang this song. The entire lyric is moving, and the chorus ends with "But because I knew you, I have been changed for good". This song would be powerful on any day, but to have people sing this to my Dad was amazing. And then tonight, with that memory still fresh in my mind, to sit 6 feet away from the writer himself, and hear him sing it...well, it was just too much. I couldn't help but burst into tears all over again.

Who knew Tin Pan South would be so emotional?

After the show, I just had to introduce myself to Stephen and say "Thank you for your songs". Gerald and I both agreed it was our favourite show this week, and we couldn't imagine any of the other shows topping it.

The whole thing was just so complete. I just feel so satisfied in every way. I don't even need a late night snack. I'm all filled up with good stuff!

Friday, March 30, 2007

Crook, Kix, and Tin Pan South

Tonight, we continued our Tin Pan South adventure with an early show at 12th and Porter. (I realized today that, if nothing else, this is a good way to check out a bunch of venues. Most won't be places for me to play, but they will be great for Gerald.)

Once again, sooo happy for the pass! There was a long line, but we were able to jump to the front. Oh, and they had free valet parking. Nashville is great for parking!

Tonight's line-up was Peter Cooper, Marshall Chapman, Tommy Womack, and Kix Brooks (of Brooks and Dunn fame).

Kix was the only familiar name to me, and he was great! You usually just hear his guitar and vocal harmonies, but he's got a strong voice, and I really enjoyed his songs.

Peter, Marshall (a blues woman!) and Tommy were all very different, but really great to watch. Again, they would just jump in on each other's songs with harmonies and guitar solos. Marshall and Tommy are great friends, and obviously great fans of each other's music. At times, it was like watching a duo. Very cool!

After the show, we were invited to visit the Gibson bus. This custom designed bus sits outside the Tin Pan venues to act like a green room for the performers. It looked like a regular high-end tour bus (which is usually pretty gorgeous anyways), but it had all sorts of guitar and music themed stuff in it. The ceiling was one long, lit up fret board. The edging on all the counters and window sills was like a keyboard. The table top looked like a Gibson guitar top. There was even a small studio/practice booth. So cool!!!

This afternoon, I met with a representative from the Eddie Crook Company. This is a group that does a lot of recording and radio promotion in the Southern Gospel industry. They found me on Shoutlife (, and invited me in for a face to face. I had my list of questions about what they do, and they wanted to find out more about my goals in the industry.

I got some good counsel and, overall, it was a very positive meeting. I've been invited back for a second meeting. I have a lot of things to figure out over the next few months - what to record, how to record, when and where to record, and then, how to start finding the right venues and showcases.

I'm going to take Easter to consider some of my options. I feel like there's a bit of a catch-22 here in Nashville. Everyone tells you to wait and record your CD in Nashville, because that's how you'll get that authentic southern sound. But the minute you get here, everyone wants you to have a CD ready to play for them and to sell at events! I am anxious to get into the studio. It's been almost 3 years since my first recording, and I have so much more to say now.

Today was a reminder to look at all my options, be wise with my resources, and stay focused on my personal goals.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Hit Men

This is such a cool week to be in Nashville! Tin Pan South is an annual songwriting festival sponsored by NSAI. It's a week of shows, 2 shows a night, in all the best venues, with all the best songwriters. Later in the week, there are 2 days of songwriting workshops, called 'Songposium', and Gerald will be taking part in that.

Tonight's show was called "The Hit Men", a title taken from a new reality show being shot about 4 of Nashville's most successful songwriters: Jeffrey Steele, Craig Wiseman, Bob DiPiero, and Tony Mullins. These guys are not only songwriting peers, they are also great friends, so the energy on stage was pretty wild. The energy outside was pretty wild too, with the line-up stretching down the side of the building, and only people with festival passes actually making it in to see the show. (Yay! We bought passes!)

Even if you've never heard of Jeffrey, Craig, Bob, or Tony, if you listen to country music, you will have heard their songs.

Every song they played was great, but the show was so much more than just the songs. The energy among the players was infectious. They would just jump in on guitar or vocal harmonies, and suddenly you were watching a band of buddies and not just solo performers.

But the highlight (and what may very well be the highlight of all Tin Pan South for me) was "Believe". The first time I heard this song, I just shook. I couldn't wait for Gerald to hear it. I've heard it a hundred times in the past year, and it never fails to move me.

Craig Wiseman co-wrote the song with Ronnie Dunn, and near the end of the show, he started to tell this story about talking to a woman from his hometown, who reminded him that all his songs come from God. As the story developed, you knew it was coming, and I was so excited.

Craig isn't the same kind of singer as Ronnie, but it didn't matter. His performance was passionate and authentic. I couldn't help but cry. You could feel God's presence in the bar. It reminded me of a speaker I heard recently who said that we are always so determined to 'invite' God into our worship, that we forget that God is already here, no matter where 'here' is. And God was definitely in the room tonight.

The rest of the show was so good, and it ended on a truly awesome note: Craig's other life-changing song, "Live Like You Were Dying". It was one of the few moments of the night when the audience really sang out and sang along.

Such a great night! Can't wait to see what else is in store this week...

Sunday, March 25, 2007

The 23rd Psalm Cafe

For months, now, I've been seeing an open mic advertised at The 23rd Psalm Cafe. It didn't seem to be part of the main-stream venue line-up, but it was obviously a Christian place, so I've been wanting to check it out. Tonight, we got our chance.

A few weeks ago, Gerald and I drove to the Cafe to play the open mic, only to find out that the paper had the days listed incorrectly, and the venue was actually closed that night. Gerald ended up speaking to the owner, Ben, on the phone, who remembered my emails, and a few days later, we had an invitation to play The 23rd Psalm Cafe.

It's a small white building and, as we suspected, it is far off the main strip. Inside, it's even smaller, and quite cluttered. The walls are covered in 8 x 10's of artists who've played there. The whole thing feels a little like a Newfoundland kitchen party: great food cooking in one corner, a stage in the other, and all sorts of people crammed into every nook and cranny, laughing and singing and telling stories. But the spirit is tremendous, and we were in for a great night of music and fellowship...

There were several other singer-songwriters, and a band from Kentucky. Gerald was second on the line-up, and he opened with "I'm a Real Big Fan" - perfect choice cause it just got everyone going. He followed with "Do You Trust the Wings God Gave You?" and "My Child is Dancing With God". Beautiful!

I was supposed to go next, but Ben decided he wanted the band to play next. So up comes this 6 piece worship/rock band, with a huge sound and great players. And all I could think was, "I have to follow this? Me? With my solo guitar and my pretty little church songs? Arg!!!"

Yes, fear swept through me. I could imagine the crowd taking their smoke break when my turn finally arrived. But then I smacked myself in the head. I reminded myself that I wasn't in competition with anyone, and that the only reason I had for writing or singing was to please God. If I could be worthy of Him, then any spot, any time, would be just fine.

As I was coming to this conclusion, a friend of mine walked into the Cafe. She came to hear me, but had gotten lost.

If I had gone on earlier, she would have missed my performance. Funny, huh?

When my turn came, I brought Gerald up to accompany me on "My Father's Arms", and then kicked him off the stage so I could do "The Wedding At Cana" and "Abide With Me".

In the end, I think we both did really well. But there was so much more to experience that night. We heard some great singer-songwriters, and met some wonderful people. Ben knows several other Christian venues, so we may be able to find some more opportunities that way.

And once again, I was reminded that God's plan is always better than the one I design myself!

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Painting Cars and Goober.

Today was filled with two truly unique events.

At Cafe Forte on Monday, we met an artist named Rachel Kice who invited us to her performance art piece this afternoon. Rachel has a friend who's a single mom, and this mom's car broke down. Obviously, as a single mom in Nashville, which has practically zero public transit, you need a car. So Rachel and friends brought the car out to Caffeine Cafe, and parked it on the side of Demonbreun. Accompanied by live music, Rachel began to paint the car with wild colours and abstract designs. Later, the car will be auctioned off and the money will go to buy the single mom a new car.

Rachel is associated with the Muzik Mafia (which isn't as subversive as it sounds. It's a music collective who does a tonne of charity work.) The Mafia has given the car a starting bid of $2000, and they are also sponsors of the event. The whole thing was pretty fun, and Rachel even had some children filling in the colours, and adding pink hearts in the 'empty' spaces!

While I was watching the car painting, I was invited to another event tonight. At 5:30, I wandered over to the Belcourt Theater, which is a local rep cinema in Hillsboro Village (an area like Toronto's Annex). I really didn't know what to expect, and when I arrived, I felt like the loner in high school. I was by myself, and everybody seemed to know everybody else.

The place was packed, so I grabbed a few snacks off the complimentary buffet, and settled into a seat. It ended up that this was the release party for a new country video by the sister act, Moore and Moore.

The song, "Find Me a Man Like Goober", was inspired by the Goober character of the Andy Griffith show. The video not only featured George "Goober" Lindsey, but a host of country music legends, such a Porter Waggoner, Little Jimmy Dickens, and Hee Haw alumni, the Hager Twins.

After they showed the video, I saw some people I knew, so I started chatting and meeting people. Before long, I was one of the last people in the place, meeting artists and folks and just having a great time. (I am so my Dad in those moments!)

I had a very different day planned - very practical, finishing my paint job on the kitchen, faxing Toronto's DVM - but this was just all awesome and fun. I think a lot of doing well in Nashville is just being open to new people and new experiences.

Monday, March 19, 2007

BCC Easter Video

A few weeks ago, I went to the Artist's Well at BCC, where I got to meet all their music and art directors. I volunteered to get involved with their music and drama areas, and today was my first opportunity.

BCC is a huge church with a 'contemporary' style of worship, basically consisting of 30 minutes of music and 30 minutes of message. One of the ways they segue the music and the message is by short videos pieces that focus on the theme of day. They show the video on the large screens in the church.

Today, they were shooting a video for Easter Sunday, and I was invited to take part.

I had to read a rather long section of Isaiah, followed by a few lines from Matthew 28 (which I love because it was read at our wedding!) They're going to shoot several people reading the passage, and then intercut us, so one person says a line, another says the next line, etc.

We just shot in an office at the church, and it went pretty quickly, but it was still pretty cool to do. We won't be here on Easter when it's shown, but they post all their videos online, so I'll be able to see it when it's done.

We shot it early, so when I was done, I wandered into Happy Hour (their name for coffee hour!), and then attended the service. Great way to spend a morning!

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Tea and Jam and Shoutlife

Last month, I joined an online community called Shoutlife. It's like the infamous myspace, but it's all Christians. I found it really easy to use, and I've just loved being on it. There's tonnes of musicians, and lots of them in Nashville, so I've been able to ask questions about the gospel music industry here.

Well, today, my Shoutlife life started to meld with my real life.

This afternoon, we got a call booking us for a gig in June. It's an all-day festival of indie Christian musicians, ranging from country to rock. And I booked it through Shoutlife!

Tonight, we attended an event called Tea and Jam, at Madison Church of Christ. It's a monthly event, with live music, free admission, and complimentary tea and sweets. We went because the 2 performers were both Shoutlife members!

When we walked in, we started meeting fellow Shoutlifers right away, which was just surreal. The space was set up cabaret-style, and was originally built as a small TV set, so it was all very cool.

Our first performer was singer-songwriter, Rachel Carrozziere. Great voice, with really good songs. Next up was Christian comedian, Marty Daniels. He told great stories, but he ended the set with his personal testimony, which was powerful.

The whole night was awesome! Yes, great entertainment and wonderful snacks. But the best part was meeting people! Here are all these people who, up til now, have only been represented by a few lines of typing and a tiny head shot on a screen. Tonight, they became living, breathing, new found friends.

Sometimes, it's a very, very small world.

Friday, March 09, 2007

More CWE!

Tonight, I was blessed to perform again with the CWE (Christian Women of Entertainment). They're committed to having a showcase once a month, so I was thrilled to be invited back.

They're always trying to find non-smoking venues, and tonight's show was at the Rutledge, which is downtown. (As a side note, the smoking regulations are terrible down here. You can actually still smoke in restaurants! It's so gross. They're trying to bring in new smoking bans. We're crossing our fingers!)

The Rutledge is a very funky, somewhat urban club, with a bar on one side, and a partially enclosed music venue on the other. Tonight's line-up contained a few of us from the February show, but mostly new performers. The thing that impressed me most was the huge variety of performers - jazz, gospel, folk, and even Christian rap. Everyone was good, and some were well above good!

I started with "The Wedding at Cana", which I introduced as my version of a Christian 'drinking' song (since we were in a bar...the song is about get the picture!). Next I did "I Call Out Your Name", followed by "Welcome to Bethlehem". Yes, a Christmas song in Lent. I told the audience, "This is the part of the show where you either go 'She's crazy' or 'She's fearless!'" Gerald joined me on stage to add his funky solo guitar part, and the song got a huge response.

I felt very comfortable on stage, and got a lot of laughs from the audience. I think my performing and improv skills are going to be an asset here. A lot of songwriters aren't performers, so if I can make people laugh, I think it will make me stand out from the crowd.

Of course, singing Christmas songs in March will also make me stand out too!

Thursday, March 08, 2007

NSAI One-on-one...

Every 6 months, as an NSAI member, I get to sit down with an NSAI staff member for a one-on-one session. Since we're so new to town, Gerald and I decided this would be a good week to do this. The point of the one-on-one is to determine where you are in your songwriting career, where you want to be, and how you're going to get there.

My session was with a girl named Jimi. My greatest fear was that I would get my one-on-one with someone who didn't know about Christian music, but Jimi actually writes CCM, and she's had some indie cuts, so it was a great match up.

First, she listened to 2 of my songs, "I am Waiting Here for You" and "Infinitely More". She gave me a little feedback that mostly involved tightening things, but overall, her response was very strong. She really liked my melodies, and that was a really pleasant surprise. I guess I think of myself as lyrics first, so it's nice to know that good things are happening with the music side of things.

Next, we discussed a 6-month-plan for me. I told her that my main focus was to be an 'artist' (as opposed to a full-time writer), and that I'd like to start co-writing with other people. She gave me lots of ideas for live venues, networking places, and tips on co-writing in Nashville.

The whole meeting was just great. I left feeling very encouraged and inspired.

Tonight, I attended the Lenten program at Church of the Redeemer. There was a meal, which was great for meeting people, but the main focus was the Bible study on the Letter to the Colossians. I was expecting a gentle, after-dinner study involving phrases like, "Paul said this..." and "The Colossians felt this...". Nope! This was like a university level discussion involving a study of myth, empire, and metanarrative. Totally not prepared for it, but I loved it. I'll definitely be back next week. (I actually need to go back. I'm still slightly confused, and I'm hoping a return trip will straighten me out!)

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Watching and learning...

Today was a good, busy day. This afternoon, I got to visit my friends Tracy and Shawn at UpTown Studios. Shawn is making a choral CD, and is in town to record the instrument tracks. (Tracey is doing the piano parts. I know both of them from Stamps-Baxter.) He'll take the tracks home where he can finish the recording with his church choir.

The studio had a great set-up, with a main room, that was surrounded by lots of smaller, isolated booths for piano, drums, guitar, etc. (The guitar player was Kevin Williams, of Gaither Homecoming fame.) The booths meant that everyone could record a take of the song at once, but then they could go back in and fix up individual parts without losing the whole take. Wish we'd had that with the big band recordings I did!

The most impressive part was watching the musicians with the charts. These are all seasoned session players, which is a very different beast than a live performance player. And all the charts were in the infamous Nashville Number System. Before each song, the players would sit quietly in a room, each looking at a single piece of paper that contained lines of numbers, with a few dashes and dots added to mark repeats, etc. They would talk through the structure, but they would never really practice anything. Then they would step into the studio, and just start to record. A few things would need to be adjusted, but basically, they would get the bulk of the song down in a few takes. Amazing!

Tonight, I attended a Christian writer's night at NSAI, where we had a guest speaker. Dan Keen is a VP with ASCAP, and he specializes in Christian music. He was really fantastic because he covered both sides of the business. He spoke in very practical terms about copyright, streams of income, and PROs. (Performing Rights Organizations, like SOCAN or ASCAP). But then he also spoke about the role of Christian writers to serve the needs of the church. He encouraged us to be very local, and to create projects specifically for our community. It was all really well balanced, and very inspiring.

From Day 1, Gerald has said that we are here to learn. Today was definitely a great day for that!

Monday, March 05, 2007

Asked back...

This morning, I continued my hunt for a home church by actually returning to a church. I attended the morning service at Church of the Redeemer. I really enjoy their worship style, which I think they call "evangelical Anglican". The service ended with "It is Well", which I ,of course, love. But they played it uptempo with a drum beat. Very cool and unexpected.

This evening, we had one of the great honours you can have as a working musician: We were asked back. It's wonderful to go and sing in a new church, but when they ask you back, well, that just means so much.

Calvary Baptist Church, where we sang last week, is starting a new Sunday evening service. It's very casual, in their Fellowship Room with the congregation sitting at tables, "cabaret" style.

I sang "I Call Out Your Name", and Gerald did one of his new ones, "Reborn". We also did a duet of "People Get Ready", which was really fun to work on.

The service was very relaxed, with a great energy. It's such a warm and welcoming congregation. This was their very first service of this kind, and I hope it's a ministry that grows and grows.

And, of course, I hope we're asked back!

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Allison & Wess & Allison.

I feel like I just made my non-Stamps-Baxter-Southern-Gospel debut!

Tonight, I attended a concert in Walling, about 2 hours from Nashville. I'm sure in the light of day, it's beautiful country out there. But getting lost and ending up on a unlit dirt road was not my finest moment. I'm a city girl - I like streets that are concrete and have signs that flash at me. But I digress...

The concert started with the Anchored Quartet. Great sound, with a strong blend. Next was my friend, Wess Adams. I met Wess and his wife, Susan, at Stamps-Baxter 2 years ago. Last year, he moved to Nashville and recorded his first CD. It was great to hear him in a full set with his own songs.

And then came the headliner: Allison Durham Speer! It was so good to see her. Allison is one of the best live performers I know. Her voice is tremendous and she makes great song choices. She has the best stories about her family, and she always throws in a good amount of theology to boot.

One song she chose tonight was "Sweet Beulah Land". I just loved hearing her voice soar on that chorus. But then she turned to me, put the mic in my face, and said, "Do you know this?"

Eep! I do know it, but I was a little freaked out, so I took the mic, Allison fed me the words, and I sang the first verse. When it came to the chorus, Allison whispered, "Take the lead" and she sang a harmony line. I couldn't believe I was singing an impromptu duet with Allison Durham Speer! At the end of the song, the audience gave us a standing ovation. I was overwhelmed....

At the end of the show, Allison got Wess, the quartet and a few friends up to sing "What a Day", and I was also invited up to join in. Again, I just felt honoured to be up on stage with this great group of performers.

After the show, so many people came up to compliment me on my voice, welcome me to Tennessee, and to tell me that they would pray for my ministry. A little girl asked me for my autograph.

Tonight was an incredible show with great talent and wonderful songs, but being invited to sing just made it over the top. Allison and Wess and Susan, have offered to give me some advice on getting in the 'loop' here in Nashville. Driving 2 hours there and back and getting lost was all pretty awful, but it was so worth it all. Tonight was incredible! It was so worth the drive!