Sunday, December 28, 2008

Winds of Change?

This morning, we sang at St. Christopher's Church here in Burlington. It was nice to be so close to home on an early morning! It's been wet and mild all weekend, and this morning, the wind was whipping through the trees. A lone discarded Christmas tree rolled off the snow and down the street. Sad sight...

When we visit St. Christopher's, we sing during communion. Since we're still in the Christmas season, we sang "I Wonder as I Wander", "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen", and "My Heart is the Manger." We were well received, and "Heart" received lots of great feedback. More and more, I'm getting asked "Where's your Christmas album?" Maybe 2009 will be a 2 CD year?

As a change of pace, this is the Sunday where St. Christopher's asks the congregation to choose the carols. At the start of the service, the priest said "Today we'll need 4 carols for the service. What do you want to sing?" People shouted out hymnal numbers, and these were the carols we sang. Very cool idea!

As we were doing our sound check, we couldn't help but notice the odd noises in the building. We thought it might have been something in the sound system, but no - it was the steeple. Yes, the wind was so wild that the church's tall thin steeple was swaying back and forth. The whole church creaked and groaned throughout the entire service. Partway through, I actually had the thought, "If the steeple falls and the roof breaks open, we'll just keep singing."

The show must go on!

Saturday, December 27, 2008


Yes, it's still Christmas! I had a lady snap at me yesterday when I said that to her. I reminded her that we're in the 12 Days of Christmas, so we're still in the Christmas season til January 6th. Her coworker piped up, "I've been telling her! I've been telling her!"

So, MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

We've had an amazing week! I'm happy to say we were able to reschedule both gigs from last week's Snow Day. It made this week a little busier, but it was also wonderful to sing for people this week. On Christmas Eve morning, we sang at a seniors home where we visited all the different floors. On one floor, we found a woman with a huge soprano voice. After we finished our songs, she asked if she could sing us a Polish carol. It was such a gift for us! On another floor, we were asked to sing in a private room that contained a woman in bed, with her husband sitting on a couch. After we left the room, we were told that she's dying, and may only have a few days left. Having had a Christmas death in our family, my heart goes out to this couple. There's just something about Christmas that makes the mix of life and death even more pronounced and poignant.

That night, we returned to St. John's Weston where we sang for both of their Christmas Eve services. We did "Twas in the Moon" with djembe as our 'special', and "My Heart is the Manger" during communion. Rev. Michelle did an awesome sermon describing the Christmas story as part of the love story between God and humanity. (I think Gerald might have a new song coming from that any day now.) We didn't leave the church until one in the morning, so it made for a long night, but we were so thrilled to be there. The services were beautiful and the people were amazing.

Christmas Day, we sang at a seniors centre in a rougher area of Toronto. I spent the first few songs trying to sing through tears. A lot of these people were in rough shape, and most of them were alone in their rooms. Earlier in the day, I was feeling cranky for having to leave my family for a few hours on Christmas Day, but once we got there, I was so thankful that God had brought us there. In a wonderful twist of irony, we were given a parking pass for the day. They didn't have a "musician pass", so we were given a "spiritual pass". If they only knew ...

The rest of the day was wonderfully Christmasy - lots of food, smiling children, piles of snow, puppies chewing wrapping paper, lots of food (it deserves the second mention!). We sang again yesterday, which also felt wonderful, and today, we enjoyed a lovely day off. We won't be here for Mom's birthday next month, so we celebrated tonight with fresh lobsters. Such a treat!

I can't believe we'll be back in Nashville this time next week! Where has this month gone?

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Carol Service Day

(I'm dating this for Sunday, but Sunday went waaaay too late, so I'm writing the next day!)

Today was our day for Carol Services. I'm actually a huge fan of Carol Services. I love the mix of readings and music, storytelling and symbolism.

We started the day by driving through near-snow-storm conditions to St. John's Weston in Toronto. Dad had an interim there last year, and we were invited back this year for their Carol and Christmas Eve services. I would call this morning's service more of an Advent Carol Service. The readings ranged from Creation through Christmas, with a strong emphasis on the world's preparation for the coming of Jesus. We sang three songs - "I Wonder as I Wander", "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen", and "Welcome to Bethlehem". I was a little hesitant about doing "Welcome". I didn't know if it would be seen as too fun, or even too irreverent. Wow, was I wrong! People loved it! We got more compliments on that anything else. I actually had a very proud moment when someone asked if Gerald wrote it. High praise, indeed!

St. John's Weston is a stunning little church with a dynamic, multicultural congregation. They're a lot of fun, and very spiritual. Tonight, we sang at Dad's new interim, St. George's Church in Guelph (lots of driving today!) and in terms of church size, it couldn't have been more different. Where St. John's looks packed with 100 people, St. George's seats hundreds and hundreds. It's a gorgeous old church with stained glass, carved wood, marble floors, and restored vintage paintings. The similarity is a wonderful and dynamic congregation.

Tonight's service was a beautiful traditional English-style Christmas Carol Service. They started with the church in darkness, and the servers had a wonderful, extended candle-lighting ceremony that gradually lit the entire sanctuary. The readings also started with Creation, but focused more on the actual Christmas story. There were lots of great hymns, and the choir sang the wonderful Willcocks descants (choir people will know what I mean!). St. George's has a great choir, and they sang some beautiful pieces including one of my favourites, "Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day."

We weren't originally booked to sing at tonight's service, but when Dad found out we were free, he asked if we could come and sing during his homily. The message is always short at a Carol Service, so he told a few different Christmas stories - some funny, some poignant - to remind us that our story may be told in different ways, but that the truth is the same throughout. We sang the song "Sweet Little Jesus Boy" to relate how the Christmas story was interpreted during the Great Depression, and how those circumstances are so relevant to us today.

The entire service was so detailed and beautiful. We were very well received, and I think we may be visiting again in May.

The weather was better but not perfect tonight, so we were all very late getting home. No one was tired, so we had eggnog lattes and watched The Vicar of Dibley Christmas special. If you like Brit-coms, you must check it out. It's one of our favourites!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Official Snow Day!

Our second gig has been postponed til Monday!

SNOW DAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

First gig cancelled!

From Mom and Dad's front window, you can look down a street that stretches out for several blocks before ending in a cul-de-sac. Usually, you can see to the end of the street. Today, you can hardly see past the first house.

Yes, our first gig for today has been canceled due to 'snowmageddon' - the term coined by our weather broadcasters for this storm. Toronto is scheduled to get 20 cm of snow today. Our particular area is going to get a minimum of 30 cm, plus wind squalls, zero visibility, and a wind chill of at least -10 C.

We were up bright and early to get ready for the gig, so we've now named it Christmas Movie Day. We'll give tonight's gig a call later on to see what they're thinking. Hopefully, both events can be rescheduled for next week.

In the meantime, I wanted to share this awesome photo from the St. John's West Christmas pageant. You may recognize the 'carolers' in the lower right hand corner....

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Oh, the weather outside is frightful...

Not quite frightful yet, but the predictions aren't good.

The past few days have been stunning - gorgeous sunny cold days highlighting the picture perfect Christmas card display of snow. The family down the road has made a perfect snowman that's as tall as me, and everyone's Christmas lights look beautiful against the pure white backdrop. Walking the dogs has become a bit of an extreme sport as we slip and slide over the icy sidewalks, but I'm also hoping my 20 pound winter coat is acting as weight resistance for optimum workout value.

The weather people are freaking out tonight. They're predicting a terrible storm for tomorrow and Sunday. Of course, we have 2 gigs each tomorrow and Sunday.

Please keep us in prayer for safety on the roads and, if we lose any of our gigs to weather, please pray that we will be able to make up those financial and ministry opportunities.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Niagara Falls Winter Festival of Lights

Gerald and I are enjoying a few days off right now, and it feels great!

I really wanted to do something Christmasy that didn't involve me as part of the show, so tonight, Mom and Dad and I drove out to Niagara Falls for their Christmas light show. In my humble opinion, the Falls are definitely at their best in winter. There's a great build-up of ice and the water has to rush and crack over the huge frosty formations. Also, visiting the area in January and February gives the benefits of no crowds and great hotel deals. But I digress...

Each year, Niagara puts up a light display all along the road that goes by the Falls. On each side of the road are a variety of pictures and images made of LED lighted outlines, many of which are animated. Actually, in searching for photos, I just found a site that lists the display as one of The 7 Best Christmas Light Displays in the World. The stretch along the Falls is great, with snowpeople, Christmas villages, and RCMP on horses, but the best part of the show is around the Dufferin Islands. As you drive through the woods, you pass by a wonderful and intimate area with a narrow stretch of water and an island on your right. Along the shore are displays of natural wonders, such as a polar bear fishing, deer in the woods, life under the ocean, and a wonderful picture of Noah's Ark. As the animals come off the Ark, you realize they are all the quintessential Canadian animals - bear, moose, caribou and beavers. Each image is reflected in the water, which just heightens the romantic effect of it all. (trust me - photos don't do it justice!)

The whole thing is fun and pretty and wonderful. On the weekends, there are concerts and fireworks, but we were happy to go when it was quiet. We stopped briefly by the Falls themselves. The mist has covered the trees right by the Falls with a thick and spiky covering of icicles. Even in the dark, the rainbow still shone through the mist. Stunning!

The snow picked up on our way home. It made for treacherous driving, but Dad and I went for a late night walk when we got home, and it was great then. Should look gorgeous tomorrow...

Monday, December 15, 2008

Confessions of a Victorian Christmas Caroler

Here's the other link I mentioned last week.

Each month, I write artist interviews for, but this month, I decided to write an article about my experiences in caroling.

Here 'tis: Confessions of a Victorian Christmas Caroler

Basketball fans may recognize a familiar red face in the photo!

As of yesterday, we've now completed 13 performances since arriving here in Ontario. We added one more to the schedule today, making it a total of 25 for the month. Loving it!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

St. John's West & Centennial Park

Today was full of great music, great people, and great food!

We got up early to drive in to Toronto to play the morning service at St. John's West. At this church, we always play all the music for the service - hymns, anthem, liturgical music, etc. - but today was their pageant, which meant even more music than usual. Fifteen songs to be exact, not including a prelude and a postlude. The pageant was wonderful - kids and adults in costume, with lots of carols scattered throughout for the congregation to sing. I made the mistake of turning around to watch the Nativity scene while we all sang 'Silent Night.' I suddenly had a lump in my throat and tears welling up in my eyes, neither of which is conducive to leading a song. Yes, I'm a sucker for all things Christmas!

St. John's is always a cool and creative place to be, and everyone got really involved in the service. The congregation was invited to come to church in costume, and several people did. One woman even brought her little Jack Russell terrier in a lamb costume. So cute!

After the service, we had a bit of time in between events, so we drove downtown for lunch. We have a list of favourite restaurants we're working through this month. We found our way to Spring Rolls on Front St. where we stuffed ourselves with Tom Yum soup and Pad Thai. So good! We didn't have time to wander through St. Lawrence Market, but all the vendors were outside with their tables overflowing with Christmas gifts, antiques, and other treasures.

Late afternoon, Monika joined us for the Centennial Park Flower Show. This is like our Allan Gardens gig (and run by the same people), except it has a bit of a different feeling. Centennial is smaller and the whole event is much more intimate. We sing in the greenhouses, which are lit by candlelight and filled with incredible displays of poinsettias, handcrafted cedar garlands, and exotic plants. The people are very relaxed, and many of them remember us from year to year. And again, in between sets, we stuffed ourselves with cider and cookies. I feel some festive exercising coming on...

We knew today was going to be long and a lot of work, but it was just wonderful all around. That said, we're looking forward to a few days off. We've done 7 performances in the past 5 days! And, as is often the case, they were all different kinds of gigs requiring lots of different kinds of preparation and rehearsal. It's much more relaxed for the next little while. Looking forward to spending time with loved ones, seeing more of Toronto, and working through that restaurant list...

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Me on SoGospelNews!

I am so all over these days!

Susan Unthank wrote about my cancer wig hair cut. You can read that article here.

And, I'm now a monthly writer for the site! Each month, I'll write a little post about my music and ministry. You can read my first post here.

I have another article online this month, but this computer is giving me 'issues', so I'll have to add that link later.

By the way, 'tis the season for eggnog lattes! Bliss!

Sunday, December 07, 2008

All Saints and Allan Gardens

Long, wonderful day of singing and spirit!

I spent the morning at All Saints Anglican Church. When we lived here, I used to visit them a couple of times a year, but this is my first time back in a while.

All Saints is known as an 'outreach' church. For the most part, they are unable to fund themselves. They are supported by the larger Anglican community in Toronto. Needless to say, they can't afford much of a music program. When their priest, Jeannie, came to speak about their work at our home church, we got to talking, and that's how the relationship began.

Most people who attend All Saints wouldn't be welcomed at most churches. Let's be honest - we Christians like to say 'come just as you are', but we really prefer it if people are neat and clean and fairly well balanced before they sit beside us in the pew. I once met a woman at All Saints who told me she'd attended four churches before finding All Saints. The other churches had, in their own special ways, told her that she wasn't welcome. All Saints hugged her and loved her, and now she's there every Sunday. Why do we Christians mess that up so much?

It was great to be back there this morning, and see some of the positive changes that are happening there. There's a wonderful energy, several new faces in the pews, and lots of involvement from parishioners. As usual, the service was theologically and liturgically rich. I sang 2 songs in the service, and people were very appreciative. And as always happens at All Saints, I bring in my little offering, but I always walk away with so much more.

They always have a lunch after the service, but I had to run half a block west to get myself to Allan Gardens for the afternoon.

This is the fourth year we've sung for the Allan Gardens Christmas Flower Show. The 'show' goes on all month, but today was the opening. It is so stunning! Imagine walking from the cold, snowy streets of Toronto into 5 Victorian greenhouses filled with palm trees, water ponds, and exotic plants from around the world. It's beautiful any day of the year, but at Christmas, they fill it with every poinsettia imaginable, white mini-lights, special arrangements, and candlelight. So lovely!

Gerald, Monika, and I donned our Victorian Caroling gear and spent three hours singing our favourite Christmas carols. By the end, we'd seen old friends, met lots of happy children, had our photos taken by tourists and newspaper reporters, and had eaten more than our fair share of hot apple cider and Christmas cookies.

We've had a few gigs this past week, but somehow, this gig has become the 'official' start of our Christmas season!

Friday, December 05, 2008

St. Luke's Palermo

Last year, I visited a very old, very tiny church in Palermo, Ontario (part of Oakville, ON). I loved the look and spirit of the church, so of course, I asked if Gerald and I could sing there some time. The church changed rectors over the past year, so it was a bit of a journey working out the details, but tonight, it all came together, and we did a concert at St. Luke's Palermo.

The original plan was to do a concert to attract people to the growing parish, but along the way, we got involved with an awesome cause - the Stephen Lewis Foundation. It was decided we'd do a concert to help raise funds and awareness for the plight of those affected by AIDS and HIV in Africa. Gerald and I couldn't be more thrilled to help this awesome cause.

The weather was cold tonight, but a small crowd of us gathered in the tiny sanctuary for a great night of Gospel and Christmas music. We did some of our originals, including "My Heart is the Manger" and Gerald's new song, "The Lovely White Birds" (looove that song!). We did a fair bit of Christmas music, including "Welcome to Bethlehem" and "Twas in the Moon of Wintertime" using only voice and djembe. People loved that!! Since there were hymnals in the pews, we had some singalong carols as well. After the show, we wandered over to the parish hall for an incredible reception with cheese, pate, fresh berries, homemade Christmas cookies ... nobody does it up like church people!

The response from the audience was just awesome! They loved the songs and the harmonies and meeting me and Gerald. They practically cleared the product table. And ... we've already been booked to do another concert next December 5! (Mark your calenders!) The women's group has decided to sell tickets for the event next year so we can pack the place and really gain awareness for the cause. So excited! What an awesome night. Long time coming, but worth every moment!