Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Awesome rehearsal!

Gerald, Teri, and I met this morning to continue our hymns rehearsal.

We started with the 2 guitar songs. When Gerald and I were in Alabama earlier this month, we came up with a really cool arrangement for "Just a Closer Walk." It's got a really cool groove, and Teri is going to play a little solo near the end that's jazzy and fun. Then we worked on the classic "Give Me Jesus." I've really fallen in love with this song, and I imagined singing it with a very simply guitar arrangement. When we were rehearsing last night, Gerald started doing this cool tapping thing with the guitar. Instead of strumming or plucking the strings, he taps them with the tips of his fingers, giving them a ringing, sustained kind of sound. Add in a little piano, and the whole thing sounds so beautiful! I had chills while we were working on it. I am sooo excited about this one!

Next, Gerald got to hear what Teri and I have been working on. It was great getting to touch the songs again. We don't want to overwork them before we get in the studio, but playing them again today allowed us to settle into them a little more. We found some beautiful moments, and most of it is just so pretty and simple.

We need to book a studio day soon for the tracks, but I don't think that'll happen til after Easter. I get more and more excited each time we take another step on this project!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Silence on the Hill

Gerald and I just finished our rehearsal in preparation for tomorrow's rehearsal with Teri. Gerald is going to play "Just a Closer Walk" and "Give Me Jesus" on my new CD, so tomorrow will be a chance to share those arrangements with Teri, and see how her piano skills might fit in on those songs.

I got an upsetting email today: Music on the Hill has been cancelled. This spring will be our last season. Music on the Hill was a lunchtime concert series held at my former home church in Toronto. We started it about 8 years ago as an outreach project. My role was Artistic Director. I found, hired, and coordinated the talent, and I even kept doing the job long distance from here in Nashville. We hosted 6 concerts in the spring and 6 in the fall, and they featured a wide range of music - everything from classical to opera to jazz to world music. We had some amazing performers, and received lots of support from the arts community and the local government.

One of the things that excited me over the years was our growing audience. I remember one first season show that, due to unexpected timing, ended up being held on election day. We had less than 20 people in the audience, and I was crushed. As Dad left the show, he slipped me a note that said, "Don't worry. It will grow." Apparently, over the last year, they've been averaging a hundred people a show - a terrific number for this kind concert. I loved Music on the Hill for many reasons, but the outreach was very important to me. Many of our audience members, and even many of our performers, would never step into a church, but our concerts gave them a reason to walk through the doors and sit in the sanctuary. Who knows how God used that moment over the years?

I don't know the exact reasons why the series has been cancelled. I've been told it has to do with funding at the church. When I got the email today, my heart sank. I'm just so sad to see this happen. But I'm also really proud of the work we did. We gave opportunities to many artists, and welcomed thousands of people through the doors of our church.

And here's the real grace for today: I had my friend Deanna booked to sing in this spring's series. When she announced her wedding date for June, she told me she would also have to cancel her concert. Since Gerald and I will be in town for the wedding, we decided to take her spot. God clearly knew what was coming, because Gerald and I will now sing this June, in the last series of Music on the Hill.

Please join us if you're in the area:

Allison & Gerald will perform a concert of
original and classic Gospel and Country songs.
St. John's York Mills Church
19 Don Ridge Dr.
North York, ON
Pay-What-You-Can Admission

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Return to Harpeth Springs

One of my favourite hymns growing up sang, "The church is wherever God's people are praising..."

This morning, Gerald and I returned to Harpeth Springs Community Church to lead worship. Last week, we met in a parish hall in Pegram, but this morning, we joined the congregation in their new home - a middle school in Kingston Springs. An unexpected place to find church, but still a joyous place to worship on a Sunday morning.

There are definite challenges leading music with a small crowd in a big concrete room. The sound spreads so much and people can't hear each other singing. Everyone feels a little far away from their neighbour, especially after spending the last few weeks in a warm cozy little hall.

That said, I think we rose to the challenge. Our new sound system filled the room brilliantly, and even though we couldn't hear the voices very well, I could see lots of singing and clapping. After the service, we enjoyed fellowship and homemade goodies, and we got some wonderful feedback, so that was encouraging.

Next week will be interesting: I committed to singing at Redeemer over a month ago, so Gerald will be leading worship at Harpeth Springs by himself. It's the first time we've ever worked two different churches on one Sunday morning! There's always a new challenge when God's your boss!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

NSAI night!

Gerald and I recently re-upped our membership with NSAI, and tonight was our first meeting in ages! It felt so good to be back there, seeing a few familiar faces, and enjoying a truly unique Nashville experience.

Tonight's meeting featured NSAI membership coordinator, Sheree Spoltore, speaking on "My Hometown - Success in Your Own Backyard." Basically, the focus was on making your songwriting career work when you don't live in a major music centre like Nashville.

It was interesting timing for us. As I've already written, Gerald and I are in Decision Month. Within a few weeks, we'll decide whether we'll move back to Toronto next year, or apply for a visa extension to stay in Nashville. Our visa ends in January, and the visa is never guaranteed, so Toronto could definitely be the place. As we think about moving back there, we've realized that we wouldn't be moving back to the same Toronto we lived in 2 years ago. Not because the city has changed, but because we've changed so much. We've gained new skills and accomplishments, and if/when we move back to Toronto, we'll be living different lives than we did before.

So, it was interesting that this week's meeting focused on how to make it work outside of Nashville.

Sheree is passionate about songs and songwriters. She was one of the first people we met here, and was one of our first supporters. She is always inspiring, and tonight was no exception. She gave lots and lots of practical ideas, and everyone left the room ready to write songs and spread their music. (If you're a member, they'll have it on the webcast archive soon.) Great night!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

I Love Rehearsals!

Teri Reid and I met this morning to start rehearsing the hymns!! I was so excited and nervous - mostly excited, but I'm always a little nervous when I start something new.

Most of the songs are going to be piano driven, and a few will be guitar driven, so today we focused on the piano songs. It sounded so good!! Some of it will be kind of jazzy, and some of the songs are just going to be really, really pretty. A few are standing out already - I'm excited about "In the Garden" and "Come Thou Fount". We're doing "Take My Life" using the Mozart tune from the old red Anglican hymnal, which is the tune I grew up with. To give it a little 'lift', I wrote a little refrain to sing after each verse, and it sounded really beautiful with the piano!

Next, Gerald and I will rehearse the guitar songs, and then we'll start bringing the guitar and piano together over the next few weeks. So excited!!!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Harpeth Springs Community Church

This morning, Gerald and I lead worship at Harpeth Springs Community Church. This is a very young church community - only 9 months old, to be exact. They posted a small ad saying they were looking for "worshipers who could also lead worship", and I gave them a call.

The small, faithful congregation is currently meeting in the parish hall of a more established church, so we had a nice cozy room for worship. There were lots of kids, and the whole atmosphere was warm and friendly.

I had worked very hard to set all our lyrics on a power point thingy so they could show them on the screen. Just by using the word "thingy," you can probably tell I didn't quite know what I was doing. Well, it could have been me, or it could have been that their system wasn't Mac-compatible. Either way, when it came time for the service, the lyrics weren't showing on the screen. Gerald and the sound man started looking for other options to get the lyrics up. As things got later and later, I started to get a little nervous. What if we were messing up their entire morning? What if we were offending the entire congregation? Just as these thoughts were getting worse and worse, the pastor comes over and says, "We just love spending fellowship time before the service. As you can see, people arrive late around here, so we just hang out and get to know each other better." I relaxed completely! We eventually found some printed lyric sheets and started the service.

There was a really gentle energy throughout the whole service. People sang and were joyful, and even the kids sang out. Pastor Jim preached a wonderful message about pursuing Jesus, and we had a great time of prayer.

At the end of the service, we were asked to play a song of reflection during Communion. They did Communion a little differently than I'm used to - the elements were laid out on a side altar, and you could go up and receive them in your own time. It was neat because you really got to receive the bread and wine in a moment of stillness. It reminded me of the fact that our relationship with God is a relationship of choice - God will seek us out, but He will never force Himself on us.

After the service, we got a chance to meet most of the congregation, and the pastor and his wife took us out to lunch. As we enjoyed the Mexican buffet, Jim asked if we would consider leading worship for the next few weeks, up to and including Easter Sunday! We happily accepted, and learned more about what they want to achieve in their new church.

And here's the part where I knew God was in the mix: After the service, Jim and several members of the congregation talked and decided they wanted us back. They loved the music and the way we lead worship, but here's the kicker - they were totally impressed by how relaxed we were when the lyrics didn't work. They loved that we were calm and friendly as we worked with others to find a solution. Good thing they couldn't see my nervousness inside!

Whenever things don't go as planned, I like to say, "I had a plan for today, but apparently God's decided we're following His plan." Well, today, we really were on God's plan, and the results couldn't have been better!

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."
(Jeremiah 29:11)

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Saturday Report

Feeling like forever since I've blogged, so I really just want to give a little update. We're leading worship at Harpeth Springs Community Church tomorrow morning, and I still have lots to do tonight, so I'm going to do this in bullet points:

- The hymns CD is coming along nicely! I've axed "This is my Father's World" - love it, but it really doesn't fit my theme of 'intimate' hymns. Instead, I'm going to do "Just a Closer Walk with Thee." Gerald and I figured out a cool arrangement when we were in Alabama, so we're doing to do that instead. I start rehearsing with Teri this week. So excited!!!

- I recently interviewed four of Stamps-Baxter's international students for my SGM Radio article. I'll post a link when it's up. One of the girls found out about the school through the Canadian Homecoming DVD, and I was at that taping! God is so in the details!

- I decided to take on a Song U "Challenge" this quarter and do a "blind date" cowrite. Basically, they match you up with another writer, generally in another part of the country, and you write a song together via phone, the internet, etc. My partner just sent me some lyrics, and one of them screamed Southern Gospel, so I'm going to write a melody this week. Very excited by the challenge!

- I booked 5 gigs in the past 10 days. Whoo-hoo!

- So the big thing is this: It's Visa Decision Time. Basically, our work visa expires in January 2010. If we're going to renew, it should be in August, which means we'll need to start assembling the package next month, which means ... it's time to decide if we're going to renew the visa, or go home to Canada. Needless to say, this is huge. It's all I think about, and Gerald and I are actively discussing it every day. In short, there are great reasons on both sides of the argument. Creatively, Nashville is perfect for us, but practically speaking, Toronto is much better. There are people in Nashville who want us to stay here, and people in Toronto who want us to come home, and we love that people want us on both sides of the border, but ultimately, we need to decide what's best for us as a family.

Really, it's all I think about these days. Any other thoughts are simply distractions. Please pray for us as we truly try to seek and follow God's will for our lives.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Northside Church of the Nazarene

We're home! After a long, but safe, 6-hour drive, we're home and exhausted! I have to work tomorrow morning, but I'm way too tired to go to sleep yet.

We were up bright and early (the clock said 7 am, but my body still felt 6 am) to join Ron at Northside Church of the Nazarene. Neat story: back in the day, Dad Speer founded the main Nazarene church in the area. Speer history! I love it!

The church hosts a small congregation, but what a service! We opened with a congregational hymn, prayers, and announcements, and then it was our time. We had planned on doing four songs, but we got requests! On Friday night, Gerald was talking about his 9-11 song, "Angels in the Dust." One of the veterans showed up at church "just to hear that song," so you know Gerald had to do it. (love that song!!!) It received a great response, so it was well worth it.

At the last minute, Gerald asked if I'd sing "Shepherd of the Hills." I didn't really know if it was the right morning for it. I rehearsed it, but decided I wouldn't do it. After Gerald sang "Angels," I sat down in my pew, thinking this was a lovely way to end the set. Then Ron asked, "Are you going to to do #6?" How could I say No? After I sang it, the preacher walked up to the pulpit and said, "That last song said exactly what I want to say in my sermon." You can't tell me God's not in that!

The sermon was excellent, and after the service a group of us went to lunch. Again, we got to know several people, and I think I may have an invitation to another church in August.

What a weekend! I'm tired, but very, very happy!

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Grimes Gospel Lighthouse

Grimes Gospel Lighthouse is a small church just around the corner from Klondyke, in Dothan, Alabama. Each Saturday night, they host artists for a weekly Gospel singing. Like Klondyke, Grimes Gospel Lighthouse is a small ministry that serves a vibrant and committed group of believers. We were welcomed with open arms, and sent home with bowls full of homemade peach cobbler. One of the women brought her little black chihuahua, who sat in the pew with her, so we knew we were in the right place for us!

They open each singing with the song “The Lighthouse” and by praying over prayer cards collected throughout the week. After the prayer, we did our program. The songs from “Real Big Fan” were really well received, with people singing and clapping along, and they loved it when Gerald grabbed his guitar and we sang together.

During the offering, a gentleman from the congregation sang and played a few classic songs, and then we jumped back up to finish with a few hymns. After our last song, we all held hands and ended with prayer. It was a lovely spirit, and we got to chat with everyone present. Unfortunately, the puppy got away before I could take a picture, but trust me - he was so cute! (Yes, we totally miss our puppies right now!)

We’ve had an extra gig added on! Last night, Ron asked if we could sing in his church on Sunday morning, so he’s picking us up bright and early tomorrow morning to drive with him. Of course the time springs forward tonight, so it’s really going to early - don’t know how bright I’ll be!

Klondyke Gospel Music Center

(I didn't have internet access this weekend, so I wrote offline and I'm adjusting the dates as I post these entries now.)

It’s 4:25 Saturday afternoon, and the last 30-something hours have been a whirlwind.

Last week, Gerald and I did something we thought was brilliant. We bought a great new sound system called the Fishman SoloAmp - it’s an all-in-one system perfect for solo artists or duos. Gerald spent the last few months shopping around, and when we found a great price on Ebay last week, we snatched it up. The brilliant part was that the SoloAmp would arrive on Tuesday, and we would have this entire week to rehearse with it.

Well, you know what happens when you start putting your faith in postal stuff. First it wasn’t shipped Monday, then it wasn’t shipped Tuesday, and so on and so on. Finally, the seller told us it was shipping out THURSDAY and would arrive 8 am on FRIDAY morning!

Reason for stress: Friday (yesterday) we had to drive 6 hours for a 7 pm concert in Ozark, Alabama - at a venue where we had to provide our own sound system!

We got up early Friday morning to get ready for the day, finish packing, and prepare for the 8 am arrival of the SoloAmp. Our plan was to do a test of the system before getting in the car. At 9:23 am, a very apologetic UPS man pulled up in front of our house. After a quick unpacking and testing (it works!), we were on the road by 10:15.

Here’s the irony: When we arrived at the Klondyke Gospel Music Center, yesterday’s group, Reign Song, was still in the building. They were just there to see the show, but they had left their sound system in place, just in case we wanted to use it - we didn’t need our own system after all!

After a sound check and freshening up, we started the show. The first half of the show was just me and my tracks and testimony. The crowd loved “Neighbour” and “Wedding at Cana” and “Moving Up to Gloryland.” I had a very cool moment during “Abide With Me” - I had my eyes closed for a moment in the bridge, and when I opened my eyes for the first line of the last verse, “Hold thou thy cross before my closing eyes,” my eyes fell on the 3 white crosses at the back of the room. No one else knew what was happening, but it was one of the those moments when I really felt God moving in the music. I sang “Real Big Fan,” which I always love, and got everyone singing with “At the Cross.”

That’s when I pulled up Gerald. We did “In the Garden,” which always gets people singing. Gerald did some of his originals - “A Church Song Broke me Down,” “The Lovely White Birds,” and “A Hand-me-down Prayer.” We ended with rousing renditions of “What a Friend” and “Just a Closer Walk.”

After the show, the entire crowd made its way over to the Waffle King for a late night scoff. It was great to chat with people and learn more about their lives and community. Gerald and I stayed up very late chatting with Gina and Stacey Cooper of Reign Song (who are actually staying the whole weekend). After such a long crazy day, we also slept in very late this morning. Gerald and I had a lovely, long walk this afternoon, and the rest of the day was spent chatting and sharing music.

We’re getting ready now to sing at Grimes Gospel Lighthouse tonight. If all goes well, we’ll use our sound system and present the same show as last night. If God has another plan, well, we’ll just have to see what happens!

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Off to Alabama!

We're heading off to Alabama in the morning. We have concerts in Ozark and Dothan, and we're really excited about it all!

Tomorrow's going to be a bit tough - a six hour drive and a concert at night - so please keep us in prayer for energy and safety.

I won't have email access, but I'll be blogging each night and I'll post on Sunday.

Happy Weekend!

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Hymn Stories

My latest SoGospelNews article is up! It's called Hymn Stories and you can read it here.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Hymns CD - shortlist

I've been spending hours and hours going through hymnals and listening to suggestions, and I've come up with a shortlist of hymns for my upcoming recording. One or two may change, but here's what I'm working with right now:


  1. I Surrender All
  2. In the Garden
  3. Take my Life and Let it be - tune "Mozart"
  4. Sweet Hour of Prayer
  5. My Jesus, I Love Thee
  6. Jesus Loves Me - possible new 2nd verse by Allison + Gerald
  7. Softly and Tenderly
  8. Just as I am
  9. Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing
  10. This is my Father's World
  11. The Lord's my Shepherd - new tune by Allison
  12. Give me Jesus