Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Tour Ontario! - Gigs #2 & #3

Busy day!

We started off with Gig #2 - our "Southern Fried Gospel" concert! We were invited to perform a 45-minute lunchtime concert as part of the Music Mondays series. Housed in Toronto's gorgeous Church of the Holy Trinity, this series is in its 16th season, and I've been thrilled to perform there twice over the last 5 years. This marked Gerald's first time with the series, but we led music for several Holy Trinity worship services last summer.

With our "Southern Fried Gospel" theme, we wanted to do songs that reflected what we're learning and writing in Nashville right now. We did a few traditional covers, like "I Have Decided to Follow Jesus" and "Do Lord", and the rest of the program was filled with originals. We've always performed as solo artists, but we're working on our skills as a duo, so we tried several new things with our originals. While I played "Infinitely More", Gerald jammed along on the djembe. I played tambourine for "Real Big Fan". We also added djembe to "Sing Me a Song", keeping it really light to emphasize the Celtic feel of the piece. Gerald also debuted his latest song, "Never Wait Until Tomorrow", inspired by a letter written by Erma Bombeck after her cancer diagnosis.

We had a small crowd, but as the first concert of the series, we sort of expected it. But the audience was with us the whole time, and we got to chat with several people after the show.

We enjoyed a little downtown living, before heading off for a quick rest in preparation for Gig #3.

Tonight, we performed at the Moonshine Cafe in Oakville. This small venue has only been open for a year and a half, but they already have a reputation worthy of any great Nashville club. They feature live music every night of the week, and they host songwriter workshops too.

Monday's are open mic and 2 feature writers, and we, as a team, were one of the feature writers. The other was Nancy Dutra - an incredibly genuine person with beautiful songs. Gerald and I did a 30 minute set, with a mix of Gospel and country. We did some of the Gospel songs from this morning, but Gerald added in a few party songs for good measure! We finished with a duet version of "All Her Flowers are Wild", my favourite of Gerald's country songs.

All in all, the past 2 days have been a great start to our tour. We're now almost halfway through, and we've covered 2 cities and 3 completely different performance venues. Tomorrow will be rest, and starting our preparation for a very busy next weekend!

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Tour Ontario! - Gig #1

Whoo-hoo! The tour has begun!

As of today, we have officially started our Tour Ontario! It's not a 'tour' in the traditional sense, where we'll have to travel from city to city, staying in hotels and eating restaurant food. (Not that I'd complain about that!) This part of Ontario is very densely populated, so we'll be able to use my parents' house as a home base, and just 'tour' around from here. We have 7 shows in the next 8 days, in the surrounding cities of Burlington, Brampton, Oakville, and, of course, Toronto. We're doing concerts, church services, cafes, and NSAI Toronto's Tin Pan North festival. The performances are clustered around the weekends, as opposed to spread over the week, so we'll have to be aware of rest and water. But all in all, I'm very excited!

We started this morning with a church service at St. John's West Anglican Church. We always love returning to this vibrant and awesome congregation. In some ways, it was the toughest gig because we had to learn several new songs, and we couldn't just choose whatever songs we wanted to sing. Our main role, when we visit St. John's, is to lead the congregation in singing hymns and liturgical music. I'm very aware of picking songs that fit the theme of the service, and I want to choose pieces that will be easy to sing and fun for the congregation. Between myself and the church's music team, I think we had a good line-up for this morning's service of Pentecost, including one of my favourites, "Wind of Change" (F. Kaan, R. Klusmeier).

They did something different for the sermon today. St. John's supports a local food bank, so in order to put a 'human face' on the project, they invited a guest speaker. Dawn is a woman who has had a difficult life with schizophrenia. She is not always able to make ends meet, so sometimes, she has to use a food bank. She talked about bringing grocery bags to the bank, so that neighbours will just think she's been shopping. She talked about not being able to have custody of her daughter, because of her illness, and because of her poverty. But she also talked about her faith in God, and how she is never poor because she has God's richest blessings. What an amazing faith!

I had to get up and sing my solo after that, and with tears brimming in my eyes, it was no easy feat. I sang "Abide With Me", and suddenly, the words took on new meanings. "When other helpers fail, and comforts flee. Help of the Helpless! Oh, Lord, abide with me.".

After the service, we got to catch up with old friends, and enjoy the great fellowship. We basically have a standing invitation at St. John's, and have already been told to reserve a Sunday for them on our next trip home. Gladly!

Tomorrow, we have 2 shows in one day. Off for a big glass of water and some of that rest I was talking about...

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Under the cover of darkness...

I hate to start with a complaint, but I have had an ongoing battle with my allergies all week. I've been dying to plant a garden, but I literally couldn't spend the time outside. The heat and the pollen were overwhelming! So over the last 2 nights, under the cover of darkness, I broke ground and planted my garden. It's not very big - just 4 hanging baskets and 2 small beds, all pink, white, and blue - but it's so pretty! At the risk of sounding punny, I feel like I put down my own roots in Nashville this week.

My dear friend, Kimberlee, who is also the organizer of the CWE nights, had a solo show tonight. Kimberlee is an amazing singer, who recently had such severe voice problems that she had to take a complete year off from singing. She's just getting back at it, so tonight was a brave move.

A few days ago, she asked if I'd sing a few songs. I was thrilled, but given the state of my allergies, I was also a little nervous. My head, nose, and throat have been pretty awful. I decided to only do 2 songs: "The Wedding at Cana" and "Sing Me a Song". They're not necessarily easy songs, but I feel very confident with them, and sometimes, that's easier than 'easy'.

Both songs went well, and were very well received. Kimberlee did a great set with one original gospel song, and covers of some soulful R&B classics. She had a strong combo put together with keyboard, bass, and 2 harmony singers. She should definitely do more gigs with this group!

The night was wrapped up by April, another CWE alumnus. As usual, all the CWE girls chatted long after the show. I'm finding this group to be such a support for me. Not only am I getting opportunities to play, but I feel like I'm part of a real community. I may also have a new co-writer for the summer! Yay, Nashville!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Pastors, Allergies, and Joy!

Okay, a little business to start: I forgot one more good thing in my Weekend Update post. I got an letter last week inviting me to join the BCC (Bellevue Community Church) music team. Yay! It's not a weekly commitment, which is good, and they make great music. Very happy for this opportunity!

On the down side, I am completely plagued by allergies right now! They were annoying in Toronto, but there's something different in the air down here, and I've been in terrible shape for 2 days now. And yes, I am taking antihistamines! I was supposed to go hear Allison Durham Speer in concert last night, and Buddy Greene tonight (both artists that I adore!) and I couldn't make it to either show. Very frustrating!!!

But, here's the real highlight of the day: Bright and early this morning, around 8:30am, we received a phone call asking us if we could sing at noon! Don Burnett is the interim music director at Calvary Baptist Church, where we sang before Easter. He's involved with a weekly fellowship meeting for Baptist ministers, and he sometimes gets to bring in the guest musicians. Well, today, with 3-and-a-half hours notice, we were invited to come and sing for the group.

We were very excited about the possibilities, because each of these pastors could potentially invite us to sing in their church. We only had to sing 2 songs, but sometimes, that's harder than singing a full program. Those 2 songs really had to count! We rushed around getting ready, warming up, and choosing arrangements. The room we'd be visiting had no real sound system for the guitars, so we were really excited to use the new amp!

We packed up the car and headed downtown to First Baptist Church. The meeting room was small, with 25-30 pastors having lunch. After the lunch, and a few announcements, we were invited to sing. We started with "I Have Decided to Follow Jesus", with both of us on vocals and guitars. In our introduction, it was announced that I was a PK (Preacher's Kid). It wasn't until I was announcing our songs, that I realized how special this event was to me. For years, Dad went to clergy conferences and meetings, and I know how much they added to his life and ministry. Standing before these men (yes, Baptist church, all male pastors!), I recognized the importance of that community. They were gathered together to be around other men who "got it", other men who could understand the unique pressures of being in the ministry. I suddenly felt very emotional, and very humbled, to be invited into this time. I mentioned that briefly in my introduction, and we ended with our second song, "People Get Ready", a vocal duet with Gerald on guitar.

After our songs, the main speaker gave his message about 'anger'. He was a great storyteller, and spoke about the anger that seems to be infecting individuals in our society. He also spoke about the anger that many people feel towards the church, and how they, as ministers, can address these needs in their congregations. It was a wonderful talk. After the meeting, we got to speak with many of the pastors, and then had a great Italian meal downtown.

This afternoon, Gerald continued his co-writing session with Lisa, and I continued to work on the tour. We leave next Wednesday! Can't believe it's so soon! There's so much work to do, but I refuse to get overwhelmed by any of it. I was watching Oprah today (yes, big Oprah fan!) and she was talking about 'joy'. In many and various ways, she seeks to invite joy into her life. Not simply peace or contentment, but joy! I love that, and I've decided that, throughout this touring process, in everything from the booking to the driving to the performances, I will seek JOY in all I do!

(Of course, if I have a cranky day, please refer me to this entry!)

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Weekend Update

Today's title was inspired by the recent SNL retrospective! So funny!

It's been a busy weekend of small and large accomplishments, so I thought I'd do a quick summary here.

I've been invited to join the Christian DIVAs network. I know! Of course I'm a Christian diva! But in this case, DIVAs stands for Devoted Inspired Victorious Artists. This group is by-invitation only, and provides opportunities for fellowship and promotion. They have some great artists, and I'm really thankful for the opportunity.

I'm on the hunt for a producer for my CD. I really want to start recording this summer, with a release date before Christmas. I want the music to be rooted in Southern Gospel, with influences of jazz and big band. As an indie project, the producer will be a key element. On Thursday, we met with Aaron Minick, who worked on Allison Durham Speer's latest project. My meeting went well, but we still need to figure out all our options. Even though our budget is small by industry standards, it's still a lot of money for us, so we want to be wise with our choices. If you can pray for us in this process, we would really appreciate it.

But the big drama this week was the amp. Gerald is working hard to have his first CD ready within the next week or so. It's all acoustic versions of his own songs, and he's even doing all the recording himself (in our bathroom studio!) He wanted an amp to add different sounds to a few songs, and he's been searching for weeks for the right one. Well, last weekend, he found the perfect amp and ordered it. The large box arrived on Wednesday afternoon, and the excitement was palpable. We dragged the box up to Gerald's writing room, opened the cardboard top, pulled out the heavy piece, and heard the sounds of ... tinkling? Yes, little glass and metal bits tinkling around inside the amp! The speaker had completely smashed out of it's place and was floating around inside the casing of the amp. Our hearts sank! Needless to say, it was not a good day.

Friday, we declared official Amp Day. We made a list of stores, grabbed a mango sweet tea for the road, and started the new search. But it really didn't take long. In the first store, Gerald saw all 3 amps that had made his short list. He got to try them all with his T5. Because he had done so much research, he noticed that 2 of the amps seemed overpriced. He questioned the prices, the staff double-checked, and dropped the prices accordingly.

Long-story-somewhat-short, we walked out with the perfect amp at a great price. It sounds incredible, and will give Gerald the final technical tool he needs to complete the CD.

As I'm writing this, I'm watching the Dove awards ceremony that we attended just a few weeks ago. I'm revamping the calender for our upcoming tour of Southern Ontario. I'm listening to Gerald co-writing upstairs. And I'm planning my songs for tonight's show. I feel so many things swirling around me, so many plans and so much energy, and I just want to be calm and focused, and enjoy every minute of it.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Cafe Forte & Rick Cua

Cafe Forte has become my favourite place to spend a Monday night. It's always great music, and you can meet some really cool people there too.

Since I've been going, the format has been a 30 minute set by one artist, 30 minutes of fellowship/networking time, and another 30 minute set by a second artist. The organizers have decided to start switching up the format so they can meet more of their ministry goals, and tonight was one of those first switch-ups.

Our feature artist tonight was Rick Cua, who has had a lengthy career as a bass player, band leader, and songwriter. He was joined by guitarist, singer-songwriter Tony Hooper. Other than visiting Rick's site this afternoon, I'd never heard of Rick or Tony, but I quickly fell in love with their music. Great melodies, great vibe, and lots of soul!

After a few songs, our host, Jeremy, grabbed the mic and started to interview Rick, and this became the format for the evening. A few great songs, and a few questions to help us learn, not just more about Rick, but more about the skills and talents needed to build a lasting career. After a while, they opened it up for questions from the floor. I asked about Rick's program of sharing free music with churches, which was really fascinating.

We had such a great night! Awesome music, and great info, and just incredible people. We even met a couple from BC who are here recording an album. I guess all musicians have to come here eventually!

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

NSAI Pitch to Publisher, and Our Bathroom Studio!

Gerald has been collecting recording equipment over the past few months with the goal of building a small home studio. He doesn't want to start producing or anything. He just wants to be able to make killer recordings at home.

So today, we recorded our first full-out song: Gerald's song, "My Heart is the Manger", which was inspired by Dad's Christmas sermon.

I've mentioned several times how much we love our new living environment - trees, clean air, and lots of birds... which is a problem with recording! There was so much noise from the birds, we had to move right into the center of the house. So, our studio is in the bathroom! Luckily, it's a big bathroom. Gerald set the mic up on the counter, and the tiles gave a lovely acoustic. A little unorthodox, but we ended up with a great recording!

Tonight was NSAI's Christian pitch to publisher night. This is when a publisher comes in to hear songs, and we all hope our song will get chosen for publishing. Many are heard, few are chosen! Gerald has had a country pitch to publisher, but I've been waiting months for Christian pitch night.

Our publisher tonight was Rick Shelton of Daywind Publishing. I felt some confidence in that Daywind's primary focus is Southern Gospel. Yay! But due to a series of mishaps, I had to enter the session with a less-than-perfect package, which shook my confidence a little. I couldn't print off my lyrics, so I had to give in a hand-written lyric sheet. And then we couldn't find the right version of my demo, so I had to bring in the version without the harmonies. Arg!

My song choice was "Welcome to Bethlehem". An odd choice, perhaps, but I've heard this is a good time to push Christmas songs, and I was hoping the harmonies would sound Southern Gospel (those harmonies that weren't on my demo!)

Because pitch nights bring out so many people, they only play a verse and a chorus, and the publisher gets to read the whole lyric. When my time came, I was nervous, but I also decided that I wouldn't take it personally if it was rejected. Well, he liked it! He said it could have "commercial appeal" in a musical, and maybe even in a children's musical. He said it's not the kind of thing he can use directly, but he gave me some names of other publishers to approach. Yay!!!

This was such a huge confirmation for me! A lot of my songs feel weird and not commercial. I know I'm not writing country radio hits, which seems to be what most people here are aiming for, and I'm not writing the big CCM or Christian rock hits either. Maybe I'll write hits someday, but the truth is, I don't really care who sings my songs - churches, choirs, Sunday schools, youth groups - don't care! I just want people to sing my songs and feel closer to God. So, tonight just let me know that there can be a viable place for my music, even the weird stuff. It was a reminder to stay open to the creative process, to write what feels true, and that "a good song is not written, it is rewritten."

This is all good! And now, to contact those publishers...