Tuesday, October 28, 2008

For dog lovers only...

Disclaimer: This post has nothing to do with Southern Gospel.

Also a disclaimer: If you are a sucker for cuteness, look out!

My Mom called last Friday with only these words - "His name is Tyler!"

This summer, our family was heartbroken when we had to put down our family dog, Desi. It was hardest on my Mom as Desi was 'her' dog.

But she's a dog lover, so we knew it was only a matter of time...

Last week, she called every day saying, "There's this one puppy at the store, and when I get a dog, I want it to be like him."

And then I got the call.

We're now thrilled to welcome 3-pound, 9-and-a-half-week-old Tyler to the family. From what I hear, he's beautiful and adorable, and has brought tonnes of joy into my family's home.

Can't wait to get back to Toronto to meet him in person...

Sunday, October 26, 2008

BCC Autumn Tea

A few months ago, a friend called asking to book me for the Bellevue Community Church Autumn Tea. BCC was one of the first churches we visited in Nashville. It's ginormous with a great music program, so of all the choices at their fingertips, I was honoured they'd ask me to sing.

The event was held this afternoon at Traveller's Rest Plantation and Museum. Sooo beautiful! The weather was stunning and the grounds and gardens are peaceful and gorgeous. We weren't in the historic house, but I think I read online that it's the oldest house open to the public in Tennessee. We were in an intimate building with high dormer ceilings and lots of windows.

And I have to start with this - the food was amazing! High tea complete with scones, jam and whipped cream (not clotted cream, but what're ya gonna do?), and the piece de resistance - a chocolate fountain! My word! I will take a chocolate fountain gig anytime!

Ladies in the church had each volunteered to decorate a table on a theme of their choosing, and the results were eclectic and beautiful. Everyone was very friendly, and our emcee, Anna, set a great tone for the event. (Anna was one of the first people we met in Nashville, so it was great to spend time with her today.)

I sang before the speaker, and I have to tell you, after all my Elijah training, the pressure was on today. I only had a 20 minute set, so I really wanted each minute to have an impact. I opened with "Neighbour", and that got a lot of smiles. Next, I did a short spoken segue into "Wedding at Cana". I rehearsed my segues and tried to be very purposeful with them. I drifted a bit from my script in small moments, but overall, I think my talking was much more focused than in my pre-Elijah days.

After "Wedding", I did my longest segue into "Abide With Me". I still kept the talking to only a minute, but I could tell it connected with people. I needed to come out of the deeply spiritual place of "Abide" to my fun ending of "Real Big Fan", so I tried a musical segue. As the "Abide" applause was dying down, I started with an acapella chorus of "How Great is Our God". BCC is a contemporary church, so I figured most people there would know it. People just listened the first time, so I sang it again, asking them to join me, and they did. It worked wonderfully! Singing as a group, even in a worshipful kind of way lifted the energy in the room, and prepared us all for a little fun. It also gave me a new kind of segue for "Real Big Fan". Instead of talking about Hollywood or my experiences with the film industry, I spoke about the greatness of God, and how important it is to focus our worship in the right place.

This was followed by guest speaker and BCC pastor's wife, Liz Perez. Liz spoke about making yourself new in Christ every day, and it was great. I think I even got a few new song ideas from it...

Overall, I couldn't be happier with the day. I sang really well, and the segues were good, and I got a great reaction from people. One of the BCC musicians not only complimented the music, but she also complimented my spoken parts as well! Yay! Several people visited the product table, and a few people asked about booking me at other events.

Can't complain about any of that!

ps - So far, I've booked 15 gigs for me and Gerald over the month of December. Whoo-hoo!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Joy FM Sharathon: Post-Blog + A Great Day

The interview was great! It was about 10 minutes long and they asked about working for Ben, Stamps-Baxter, and shape-notes. Then they asked me about "Do You Wanna Be My Neighbor in Gloryland", since that's my latest single, and I also got to plug Real Big Fan and my site. All very cool - all very good!

The rest of the day ended up being very productive as well. I'm continuing to book dates for Christmas - so far I'm up to 10, but I know we'll get more through our agent in Toronto. I also wrote my interview with Mark Bishop for SGM Radio.com. He sent me some great answers to my questions, so I think the article turned out well.

Oh, and this is very cool - I've booked a gig in Kitchener for late November, which means I'll be home for my birthday! It'll be the first time for a few years, so I'm very excited about it!

One more thing: Real Big Fan got another review! This one is very positive, and they even included a clip of "Neighbor". You can read it here.

And here's the heavy thing: We have just over a year left on our O1 Visa, which means it's time to look at renewing it. We don't know if it's best for us to renew the visa or just go ahead and get green cards, so we're meeting a lawyer next week. Getting our first visa was so much work and so very expensive, and I'm dreading doing it all over again. My stomach hurts just thinking about it. It's going to be a huge undertaking, both in finances and labour. Please pray for us, if you can.

Joy FM Sharathon: Pre-Blog

I've been invited to do an interview as part of the Joy FM Sharathon this morning at 9:05 am. We'll be doing the interview over the phone, and I've sent them some CDs for giveaways.

I don't know if they're going to stream it over the internet, but you can try listening here.

Very excited! Pray for me...

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Elijah Conference - Day 4

The last few days have been amazing, both in how quickly they've flown and in how much we've learned.

We didn't have an evening session tonight, which meant we only had the day to finish all the work we'd started. The focus landed squarely on performance coaching. Every time I would start taking notes on some one's performance, the topic would always swing back around to segues - finding them, tweaking them, rehearsing them. It has definitely been the focus of the performance training part of the conference. Because we're all in active ministry, it's like we all took prerequisite courses before class - everyone here knows music, how to breathe properly, and the basics of putting on a show. The lessons here have been advanced and specific, and I think we've all felt stretched by it.

The conference has provided lunch each day, and it's been lovely to sit outside in the fall-ish weather and learn more about each other's lives and ministries. Today, I sat with a quartet singer who has a brilliant mind for marketing and for bringing Gospel music into nontraditional venues. I'm always excited about singing Gospel music in unexpected places, so I just drank in as much info as I could get. Definitely got some new ideas popping around in my brain...

Our one guest lecturer today was the always wonderful, Jack Clark. Jack was my theory teacher my first year at Stamps-Baxter, and he's just brilliant. He spoke to us about the Nashville Number System. I needed this. Lately, there are many times when we step into a church and the music director hands us a chart in 'numbers'. Saying, "We don't get that - we're Canadian." will only last for so long. The class was good, but the real test will be looking at some charts and seeing if my eyes cross.

We finished with more performance training, an impromptu quartet performance of "Hide Thou Me", and lots of prayer. The goodbyes were long and lingering. A group of us had dinner and chatted some more. Business cards and CDs were exchanged. Conversations starting with "we should do ____ together some time" flew between friends.

I'm tired and inspired...

Friday, October 17, 2008

Elijah Conference - Day 3

My in-laws arrived this afternoon, and the party's still going on out in the living room, so I'm seeking a quiet space to write tonight.

We're all realizing that the Elijah Conference is only the beginning. This is just a starting point, and the real work will begin on Monday when we need to look at ourselves, our art, our ministries and decide: How am I going to make all of this better and more effective for spreading the Gospel?

A few people had to leave early last night, so Allison decided to repeat her work with me to show them what we did. I started by singing the first half of "Real Big Fan" in the 'old' way. I was, of course, much less nervous this time, but much more self-conscious because I've now learned a better way to do the song. She stopped me after the first chorus and explained what we worked on, and then I did the second verse to the end in the 'new' style. Reworking physicality is so trying! You get used to singing with certain movements and gestures. Singing the song without them, or having to do something totally different, really throws you off your center. I am now totally confused about my right elbow. I'm not kidding. My right elbow and I have a lot of work to do.

The focus today was definitely on performance training. We've been doing work on segues all week, and this has been a lot of the work in performance training as well. People have great stories, and Allison has a real gift for distilling the essence of a story, matching it with an eternal and Biblical truth, and putting all that together in a way that leads right into a song.

One of our guest speakers was unable to come today, so Brian Speer gave an impromptu lesson on sound systems - what you need and how to use it. So much of it was over my head. I know how to hold a mic and I know when I hear what I like, but other than that, I just know nothing. I think I'll need to grab Brian sometime and say, "Please start from the beginning..."

Our second guest speaker was Rebecca Irwin who spoke about "Starting a Non-profit Ministry". The whole non-profit thing does interest me. Stamps-Baxter is non-profit, so I get to see some of the benefits firsthand there. But with the legal status of our visa, we're not allowed to form a business, so we wouldn't be able to start this until we got green cards (I think?). But Rebecca was very passionate and entertaining, and at least I have someone to talk to when and if we decide to go that way.

We had a surprise guest in Pastor Sam from Missouri (I'm sorry Pastor Sam - I can't remember your last name). He spoke about his ministry, and his thoughts on being a minister of the Gospel. Then he and Johnny Minick spoke about being "annointed" - what that means, how to best use it, how to keep yourself filled and ready to serve. Very inspiring...

There are incredible voices and talents here at the Conference. There are awesome hearts and generous spirits. There are great friends, and great friends-to-be. We ended the day with a talk on humour and planning a show, and ended up on stage for a group picture. There was so much laughing and good-natured joking that it should have been easy to get a beautiful happy picture.

One more good night's sleep ... one more long intense day ...

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Elijah Conference - Day 2

It's late as I'm writing, and I need to find a way to calm my brain if I'm ever going to get a good night's sleep. Tomorrow starts early, and today's activities have left my imagination on fire.

Today was Minick Day at the Elijah Conference. Our first guest speaker was Johnny Minick, who spoke on "The Pastor's Perspective". His talk was so rich and dense that he easily could have go on all afternoon. I thought he would speak about the practicalities of working with pastors, but what he really focused on was the pastor's perspective on how to approach a music ministry. He has so much wisdom, and his words really expressed the need to take on the mantle of ministry with the proper intention, attitude, and authority.

This afternoon, Aaron Minick spoke about "Producing an Independent CD". Since Aaron did my project, I knew everything he said, but he still gave an awesome, detailed talk. It lead into a great discussion as well, which was cool. There are just so many different ways to make a record, and it was great to hear other people's approaches and ideas.

We continued with some of Allison's newer-style teaching today, but we also did a lot of performance training. We only have four days together, and I know Allison would really like to have everyone sing twice. Everyone in this group has a professional ministry which is either full or part-time. Most people have CDs, and most are touring. Because of all this, the level of performance training is much higher and much more focused than it can ever be at Stamps-Baxter. Allison is being tough on us, and it's awesome.

When 9pm hit tonight, most people wanted to keep going, so Allison, Brian, and all the staff stuck around for another hour ... and I volunteered to sing. I'd spent the day wishing I'd get picked and dreading getting picked, but at that point I was just too tired to be too nervous anymore. Besides, if I didn't go tonight, I feared I'd get picked first thing in the morning.

(Side note: Dante has curled up tight next to me and has fallen asleep with his little head tucked under my arm. Very cute, but very awkward for typing!)

I decided to go big and sing "Real Big Fan" for my critique. I was talking to Wess Adams today, and we both agreed that even though we perform a lot and we've both worked with Allison a lot, there's still a special kind of nervousness that happens in her class. Maybe it's because of all the talent in the room. Or maybe it's because you know you're about to placed in 'student' role, and that your precious, personal work is about to be critiqued. Either way, I had the nerves throughout my song. But I didn't fall off the stage, so that's always a good night.

When I finished singing, Allison walked up on stage and I said, "You can be tough with me". And I meant it. I'm not in this course to be babied and praised. I have people in my life who will tell me I'm beautiful and talented and ready to change the world, and I love them. But I'm at the Elijah Conference to stretch and grow, and that always involves a little pain.

She spent almost the next hour working on my voice and my physicality in very specific ways. It was very challenging, but amazing too. By the end, I actually felt a little out of sorts. We all have physical gestures we do at specific parts of a song, and certain vocal moments which become a part of our performance. In the critique, we adjusted several of these all at once. I shouldn't say 'several'. It was really just two or three changes all together, but they were significant and specific enough that they made a distinct difference in how I presented the song. It was great work to do, but it'll take a great deal of focused rehearsal before some of these things really start feeling natural. Allison was very positive about my music and my artistry, so that was very encouraging. I got great feedback from some of my peers, so that was also very affirming.

Today has just been awesome. The classes and training are so amazing, and in the gaps, we get to spend time laughing and joking and snacking and laughing again. Today, Johnny encouraged us to spend time with like-minded Gospel artists who will 'stir up' our excitement about ministry. I'm in the right place...

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Elijah Conference - Day 1

My day started at 6:30 am, having to hit Smyrna by 8:00 am. What is it with Christians always starting things so early?

Today was the first day of the very intense Elijah Conference. I knew it would be a challenge, and I haven't been disappointed. We have a good group of artists, with a decent mix of soloists and groups. The core of the conference is Allison's teaching, but we also get a couple of guest lectures each day. Today, we had a great talk from Les Butler on radio and media, and another from Kathi Mathis on booking. Took lots of notes. Much to learn.

I've studied with Allison for a few years now. I've been on stage, singing for her and getting critiqued, and I've spent hours listening to her thoughts and theories on great performance skills, but this is something all together different. She's really raising the bar, and taking a whole new twist on how we present the Gospel. Implementing these concepts will require an entire reworking of life performances, booking, product, marketing ... everything. But I think if I can do some of these things, it's really going to be an awesome experience - for me and for my audiences.

Today was a bit of a shorter day - just 8am to 6pm. We broke for supper, and a group of us spent the hour laughing and eating and catching up (there are some Stamps-Baxter people here). Then, we wandered back to River of Life for a Wednesday night service, lead by Johnny Minick. (a much more enjoyable experience than my first visit to River of Life!)

I'm still doing a lot of booking for December, so I'm going to touch on that tonight, but I really need to spend some time processing the day. Brian asked me if I was enjoying it, and I really didn't know how to answer it. I'm enjoying seeing everyone and hearing people sing, but the work is hard and intense. I'm loving it, but I don't know if "enjoying" is the best word to use.

"Enjoying" is a cup of tea with a scone. This is a double espresso with an extra crunchy biscotti. You know what I mean?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Elijah starts tomorrow!

Sleep must be my priority right now, but I also need to write a quick bit to keep track of all that's happening right now.

Big priority: The Elijah Conference starts tomorrow! I've been practicing and prepping and doing my homework. Yes, my homework. We'll be working a lot on segues this week, so we've all been asked to prepare stories, jokes, and Bible references on different themes. I've packed my bag with a Bible, a concordance, CD tracks, extra pens, business cards, and energy drinks.

I finished my "Thinking as a Songwriter" course today. Definitely the most work-heavy course thus far, but very, very good.

I've been doing Christmas booking in the past week. So far, I have six church gigs booked, and I just found out we already have several bookings for seniors homes (these are done through an agent). It's going to be a busy season.

I've arranged an interview with singer-songwriter Mark Bishop for next month's SGM Radio article. Big fan!

In the 'quiet' moments, I've been trying to pay bills, update our SOCAN info, keep up on Shoutlife, book dates for January, work for Ben, have some quiet family time, and prep for a visit from the in-laws this Friday.

It's going to be an intense week. If you're praying kind, please raise one up for us.

And now, on to that sleep...

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Elijah, Redeemer, and back to the Cafe Classroom...

I got a call last night from Brian Speer asking if I'd come in today to help them prepare for next week's Elijah Conference. I was up bright and early to head over to their house, and was greeted by a great pile of swag. Between the three of us (I made some phone calls last week), we've collected piles of free goodies for next week's artists. My job today was helping Allison type out her notes for her teaching. So basically, I spent four hours sitting across from Allison, hearing her theories on live performance and communicating the Gospel. Her teaching for the Elijah Conference will be based on her Stamps-Baxter teaching, but it's going to go so much further and so much deeper. She's really developed some theories and techniques that go far beyond anything I've studied in other performance coaching seminars. I'm kind of glad I got the preview, cause it's going to take a while to wrap my head around all this. It's real mind-shifting stuff. Next week is going to be great, but interesting...

Gerald and I have been booked to lead worship for the Redeemer Women's Retreat in November, so we met today with Jenna to go over some song ideas and get some charts. Jenna is not just a great worship leader, but she also has a great feel for what this congregation needs. Most of these songs are new for Gerald, so it was a great chance to him to hear them played well. We hammered out three great sets, played them through to make sure everything is cohesive, and got a bit of information about the sound set-up. I think it's going to be a great event, and I think we'll be in good shape for it.

Right after that meeting, Gerald had his mentoring session with Steve Leslie. Steve is an uber-accomplished writer, with cuts by Reba McEntire and George Straight. He and Gerald are meeting once a week to work towards Gerald getting a publishing deal. This is definitely an example of the right student finding the right teacher.

While that was going on, I headed over to the Green Hills Starbucks for a little more Cafe Classroom time. One of my Song U courses (Thinking Like a Songwriter) has a rather lengthy assignment that involves going to a cafe, observing a couple, making up a backstory for them, making up an issue for them to have to resolve, sketching out a song about it, and finally, writing the lyric. For some people, this might be fairly easy, but I never write songs about couples in crisis. It's a country style lyric, and I usually write happy-Southern-Gospel-heaven-praising-hymn-like kinds of songs.

I found my couple quickly, and with my background in theatre, writing characters and a backstory were easy, but I choked when it came time to write the lyric. I suddenly felt I had this huge moat to leap. I found my hook, and eventually came up with a fairly solid lyric, but it was definitely a challenge. I felt just outside my comfort zone. This has been the most work-heavy class I've taken, and probably because of this exercise, the most challenging one too.

When we got home tonight, Gerald took a look at my lyric and gave me some feedback and suggestions. He was gentle because he knew it was my first attempt at a storytelling, non-churchy kind of song, but he also gave me some good, solid feedback, which I appreciated. It's nice to have your own in-house song critique service...

Friday, October 03, 2008

Cafe Classroom

Gerald had a cowrite this afternoon with Rebekah Long. Rebekah's main claim to fame is that she works with me in Ben's office, but in addition, she and her twin, Lizzy, are killer bluegrass musicians. (They did that awesome show with Earl Scruggs and Little Roy Lewis at Stamps-Baxter this summer.) Gerald and Rebekah are working on a signature song for the act, so after dropping him off for the session, I settled into the warm funky atmosphere of an East Nashville cafe.

I spent several happy hours sipping on fluffy caffeinated beverages, tapping away on my pink laptop. I've really been enjoying all the time I've had lately for creative pursuits, including my Song U classes. They've been great for inspiring and encouraging my writing. In light of that, I'd decided to work towards their certification program. There's no extra cost, which is kind of nice. Basically, you can receive certificates in Lyrics or in Commercial Songs. Each has a list of required courses and accomplishments. When you complete these, the moderators will confirm everything and award you the certificate. In a small way, the certificate will be cool. But really, I know I work better when I have a clear goal in mind, so the promise of a certificate will help motivate me to be vigilant in my studies.

At the cafe, I completed two lessons. One was for my "Thinking as a Songwriter" class. I've been away from writing for a couple of months now, so I figured this would be a good choice for inspiring me. I knew it was the right class today when one of the exercises started with, "Visit a cafe and observe ... " My other current class is "Lyrical Contrast". It's starting simple, but I think it'll pick up.

After a few hours of latte bliss, Gerald and Rebekah called me to come over and hear the song. It's sounding really good, and I can't wait to hear it with the whole band.

I also got an email today that our SGM Radio articles are up. You can read my interview with Mitchel Jon here. I've been a fan of Mitchel's since Three Bridges, so it was really cool to learn more about him, his writing, and his influences.

Tomorrow, we're recording a worktape for another songwriter, and I also have to catch-up on my email. I'm horribly behind - I have at least 30 I need to answer. It's been great having some relaxing time lately though, and I refuse to punish myself for enjoying it!

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Song U Feedback Class

I did it - I did my first Song U feedback class!

On Tuesday, Gerald and I recorded a worktape for "Point of the Song". We've performed this song several times, but we both feel it's not quite 'there' yet. We did a clean vocal/guitar recording in our 'upstairs studio.' Next, I posted the song on Song U. To keep with Song U's campus theme, each student has a 'locker' where you can keep mp3s and lyrics. To share your songs with teachers or other students, you load them into your 'backpack'. The backpack is private and can only be shared when you send someone the appropriate link. We all have a webpage too, and you can put songs from your locker on your page as well.

You can visit my page here. It has songs, current news, and an 'interview' about my songwriting loves and goals. (Wow, I seem uber quote-happy tonight!)

I was nervous about doing the online class, not because of the song, but because of the whole online thingy. I'm not very tech-savvy, and I had images of disconnecting myself just when my turn came up. I went online this afternoon just to view the 'classroom', and it looked so cool!

At ten to seven, I went back to the classroom for class. There's a space where you can type your comments, and another space where you read everyone's comments in a running dialogue. The main part of the screen shows everyone's backpacks. When you click on a backpack and then click on a song title, you can listen to the song while also reading the lyric and the backstory.

No one can see each other in the classroom (go to school in your pjs!), but there is a microphone. Sue would talk on the mic to give everyone feedback, and we would all post our comments as needed. Before the class, I shared the mic with another student so we could introduce ourselves. (Basically, you use the mic on your computer and take turns pressing a button that gives you the cyber conch.) He's a children's pastor in Knoxville and visits Nashville often, so we may all hook up some time.

We heard six songs all together. They were all very different, which made for an entertaining hour. Sue had very positive feedback on our song, and gave the constructive criticism we were hoping to hear.

It was all kind of exciting and cool. I will definitely do this class again, and when I get really brave, I'll move on to the Advanced Writers Class.