Friday, July 31, 2009

Last day working for Ben Speer!

Today closed a chapter for me. It was my last day working for Ben Speer Music and Ben Speer's Stamps-Baxter School of Music.

Although I did some volunteer work at the school in 2007, I didn't officially start in my position until that fall. I was originally hired to simply answer the phones and reply to emails, but through my work with the School Administrator, Kay Honour, I was able to work on several larger projects that helped bring the school to a new level of organization and effectiveness.

I've met a lot of amazing people at the school, including staff, faculty, students, and guest artists. I've had the chance to teach Audition Technique, Performance Training, and Songwriting for Young Students. I've performed at faculty nights and scholarship concerts.

Gerald and I have big plans for Breaking Light Music in Ontario, and through the school, I've learned a lot of administrative skills that will only benefit our future plans.

My grandfather and father have always said, "You should leave a place better than the way you found it."

With that in mind, I can turn the page on this chapter, proud of the job I've done, and loving facebook for hooking me up with all my Stamps-Baxter friends.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Hymn vocals done!

Done! Finally done!

This morning, I met Teri Reid and Allison Speer to do BGVs for "Just a Closer Walk." The track is really fun, so I wanted something lively and joyful on the vocals. Allison and Teri did some rhythmic harmonies first, which were kind of a homage to the Speer Family version of the song. Then, Allison did some call-and-response harmonies, which also sound cool. I think we'll end up using all of them at different points, so each chorus has a unique sound.

This means all the vocals are now done! Allison and Brian are about to go on vacation, so mixing and mastering will continue in August, and manufacturing in September.


Wednesday, July 29, 2009

More hymn vocals!

Much, much better day in the studio! When I woke up this morning, I only had the normal amount of stiffness in my neck. After a little stretching, I felt pretty good, so I was able to do a great vocal warm-up, and then off to the studio.

As I wrote yesterday, I was very concerned about getting everything done today, but professionals that we are, everything went very smoothly!

First, Allison recorded her part for our duet on "In the Garden." She's doing the second verse, and some beautiful harmonies on the choruses. I'm so excited about how this one is shaping up. Again, everything is very simple in the instrumentation, but that's actually allowing us to be detailed with the vocal parts. Everything is going to be very beautiful and musical.

Next, I did my vocals for "Just as I am." Yesterday, this song shut me down, but not today. I had the vocal pretty much done in half an hour. Everything felt emotionally connected, and with a pain-free neck, my tone and breath support all fell into place. Yay!

Tara showed up just after one, and she did background vocals on three songs: "I Surrender All," "Sweet Hour of Prayer," and "Take My Life." So pretty! Her voice blended beautifully with mine, and her harmonies will allow those choruses to really lift.

All in all, a great day in the studio! Just one more BGV to record tomorrow, and then all the vocals are done!

Tonight, I got into full-fledged moving mode. Between the school and the CD, I really haven't had the chance to focus on the actually packing. I now have 22 boxes filled and one bag of useless stuff thrown out. I've arranged for our furniture to be donated to FAM (our sister church in East Nashville), and our friends are taking our bookshelves. A week and a half to go - the countdown begins!!!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Hymn Vocals - In the Garden

Sometime during the night, nine-and-a-half pound Dante pushed me to the edge of the bed and my head slipped off my pillow. The result: pain. Lots and lots of pain in my recently injured neck. I stretched and breathed and even took painkillers, but the pain affected the whole day.

My goal for the day was to record my vocals for the remaining songs on my hymns project. We started with "In the Garden", one of my favourites. (Isn't it everyone's favourite?) I'm actually super excited about this one - not only is it a great song, but we're turning it into a duet with me and Allison Speer! Today, I recorded my verses, and tomorrow, she'll do her part. I think it will highlight our strengths, and it's a song written about a woman's experience meeting Jesus, so it seems like a natural choice for a girl duet.

The vocals went well, but by the time we got to "Just as I am", I was feeling awful. The pain had returned. The right side of my neck was tight and aching. I did two takes and Gerald asked if I was okay. I really didn't want to admit anything was wrong, but he could hear it in my voice. I rested a bit and took another painkiller, but there was no point. My voice just wasn't at its best. I was probably aware of the pain too, which affected my focus and energy.

In the end, we decided to finish my vocals tomorrow. That puts a lot on the plate for tomorrow: my vocals, Allison's vocals, and Tara Jackson is coming in the afternoon to do BGVs (background vocals) for 5 songs. I'm already frustrated that this project is so behind schedule. For the most part, I'm dealing with the frustration, but today really got to me. Tonight, I'm taking deep breaths, resting my voice, drinking tea, and preparing for a good night's sleep.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Stamps-Baxter - The Day After Day 10

The last day of Stamps-Baxter 2009 was my last day of Stamps-Baxter for a while. To be perfectly honest, I don't know if I'll make it back next year, or even the year after that. It's too far a drive just to drop by for a few days. We'll be visiting Nashville twice a year, but those trips will probably be in March and September to line up with other industry events. I've also heard there's a quartet convention in Alberta each July. Don't know if that would be good for me or not? I guess we'll just take it one summer at a time.

That said, Friday was a bit emotional for me. Yes, there were lots of practical things to do, like collect room keys and send final thank you notes, but my main focus was just connecting with the people I care about. I chatted and visited and had my photo taken a hundred times. I hugged and shared stories, and, in truly valued moments, I had friends tell me how much they'll miss having me as part of the school.

There was an office triumph too: the new school website is up and running! It's been several months in the making, but Friday morning, the site was launched, and our first student registered online for 2010. The site looks great, but more importantly, it's going to reduce office work by half! Why didn't we come up with this a year ago?

Closing Program began at 6:30, and it was stunning. Truly, truly stunning. I've been bragging about the group singing all week, and it surpassed its reputation. They changed the format a bit this year. The show opened with about 30 minutes of the choir, then all the auditioned acts performed, and then 30 more minutes with the choir to close it out. We were able to get the entire group onstage on risers, and they looked terrific. I'm pretty finicky about choirs, but this really sounded good. From a technical point of view, the cut-offs were clean, the dynamics were clear, and the blend was great.

But from a spiritual point of view - wow! There were songs where the entire room was smiling, and songs where singers and audience alike were wiping away the tears. At one point, Ben, Mary Tom, Rosa Nell, and Faye Speer all sang together. I don't think I've seen that in my 5 years of singing school. Just before the penultimate song, we heard an old recording coming through the sound system. It was Dad Speer, giving his testimony at NQC after 50 years in Gospel music. As his passionate voice faded out, and Tracey began to play "I am His and He is Mine." There wasn't a dry eye in the house.

Backstage, there were more hugs, more photos, more "find me on Facebook!" After we cleaned up, the staff went out for food and laughs and stories. This is the stuff I'll miss...

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Stamps-Baxter - Day 9

No Day 9 for me. I woke up feeling tired and awful. I went to massage therapy which helped in some ways, but as the accident trauma was 'released', it made me feel dizzy and weak and sick to my stomach. All totally normal, but still hard to deal with.

At that point, a 60-minute commute and 8-hour work day just seemed like a bad idea. I spent the rest of the day reading, sleeping, and letting my husband take care of me.

Can't believe tomorrow is the last day for Stamps-Baxter 2009. I don't know if I'll be back next year. It'll really depend on how our summer shapes up. I'm going in early tomorrow. I don't want to miss a minute of it.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Stamps-Baxter - Day 8

Short post on a long day:

- Breakfast at Cracker Barrel. Love their apple butter!

- Spent the morning working on the car accident lawsuit. Should be finished with the property settlement soon.

- Good time in Allison's class. Only a few days left, so she's forcing everyone to step up their game.

- Auditions have been handled differently this year. They're going really well, and I'm not part of it. Both things make me very happy.

- Tara Jackson visited campus tonight. Good fun!

- Gerald worked with Sue Smith again tonight. Good session!

- Went to Steak and Shake with Tara and Brandon for late night snacks. Good times!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Stamps-Baxter - Day 7

I'm sure I'm saying this every night, but today was a long, long day. I had several errands and one appointment this morning, long before I ever made it on campus. Gerald is working with Sue Smith this week, so he came out with me as well.

Tonight was the first ever Stamps-Baxter Comedy Night. Students were invited to tell a joke or impersonate a Gospel music legend. We were worried that the students might not want to get involved, so this afternoon, I did a promo bit to tell people about the show. I took a blond wig and sprayed it black. I wore black pants and a flashy shirt. And while Allison Durham Speer was teaching vocal technique, I walked out on stage singing her signature vocal exercise into the mic.

Yes, I was Allison Durham Speer.

The crowd went nuts, and Allison just laughed and laughed. I did a few "Allison" moves, and then did a little chat up about the show. It was all very fun, and I'm pretty sure it's going to end up on YouTube soon.

The rest of the day was spent planning Comedy Night. Brandon Andrews was my co-host, and truly, he did most of the organizing (bless his heart!) We had a good number of students sign up, and when the show started, the hall was packed. To open, Brandon and I each did a song. I sang "Neighbor" and I think it went well. We then brought out the students who wanted to tell a joke. Well, partway through, Ben shows up backstage. I said, "Are you here to kick us off the stage?" and he said, "No, I'm here to tell a joke." Love it! So Ben joined in the fun, and his one line joke got one of the biggest laughs of the night.

After the musical impressions, Gerald and I did a few songs. We started with "Just a Closer Walk", and invited the crowd to sing along. Then we did "A Church Song Broke Me Down", which was great fun. Next came the big surprise of the evening. I held an envelope in my hand and said that it was time to announce the big Stamps-Baxter award, and this year's winner was ... (drumroll) ... Kay Honour! Kay is our amazing school administrator who volunteers year round for the school. Not only is she passionate about the school, and generous with her incredible business skills, she does all this work from Quesnel, BC! We crowned her with a tiara, pink feather boa, a bouquet of flowers, and a 'gold and ruby' scepter made by Allison Durham Speer. Kay is not a spotlight type of person, but we really wanted to say thank you for all the work she does. Very satisfying moment indeed.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Stamps-Baxter - Day 6

I know it's only Monday, but I'm exhausted. Last night was a late one, and I have to admit - the commute to and from Murfreesboro is stressing me out. Gerald has been working on setting up the move, which is now only 3 weeks away! Yes, that's 3 weeks today. My word! There's so much to do, and as much as I love the school, it's stressful to be away from the house 10 or more hours a day.

Today was CD recording day at Stamps-Baxter. I wasn't in the hall during the recording, but they seemed to be very deliberate about the process. Group singing has been amazing this year, so I think it's going to be a terrific CD.

Tomorrow night, Brandon Andrews and I are hosting the Comedy Night, so we spent some time working on that today. Students are invited to tell a joke, impersonate a Gospel legend, or do a celebrity lip-sync. We'll mix in a bit of music, and it should be a pretty good night. This will be the first time we've done this kind of event, so I hope it goes well.

Tonight's concert was Stephen Hill, who is always awesome. So soulful and fun. He sounded fantastic, and the students just loved him.

Must sleep. Tomorrow's a long day!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Gerald rocks the Bluebird!

(Posting a day later - very, very, very late night!)

What an amazing night! This is Gerald's 4th Bluebird appearance, and they keep getting better and better. There was such a huge crowd tonight that lots of people never even made it in the front door!

Gerald was 8th on the program, so the crowd was warmed up by the time he got on stage. We opened with "All Her Flowers are Wild", and I say 'we' because I joined him on harmonies. It went well, and the crowd really liked it. I left the stage to return to my sweet potato fries (love 'em!) and Gerald did "Modern Day Outlaw" and "The Last Payphone in the World." He sounded fantastic and the crowd really loved him.

On Sunday nights, they feature 10 new writers and finish the night with a short set by a hit writer. Tonight, in an awesome turn of events, the hit writer was Gerald's mentor and co-writer, Steve Leslie. When the host introduced Gerald, he was able to say that he writes with tonight's hit writer, which totally raised Gerald's street cred. Steve was fantastic, and totally upstaged when he brought out his 8-year-old son to play harmonica and sing a duet with him.

After the show, things got even better. Gerald got lots of great feedback, and several people wanted to write with him. We got to hang out with Steve and some other friends, and we stayed so late we closed the place.

Such an awesome night. So Nashville - so good!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Stamps-Baxter - Day 5

(Posting this the next day. Way too tired to write last night, and when I got home, Gerald had a movie ready for us. I got me a good husband!)

It's been a great week at Stamps-Baxter. I can see good friendships building between new and returning students. People are taking risks and landing on their feet. The concerts are a success, and students seem to be in all the right places at all the right times. And, of course, everyone is complaining that it's all going by too fast.

This afternoon, I was sitting in our 'office' trying to get ready for the arrival of our second week students. Rebekah pulled out her guitar and started serenading us all with bluegrass songs. Very distracting, but the best kind of distracting. These are the little things I'll miss when I go home.

At 3:30, I took on my challenge for the day - I taught Allison Durham Speer's Performance Training class. Yes, of course I was nervous! Allison sets the bar very high. I really wanted to be encouraging, but I also wanted to be honest and provide some practical, constructive criticism.

I opened the class with an open forum discussion on nervousness (seemed like a good way to deal with my own nerves.) With all that talent and experience in the room, I knew the students would have some tremendous advice to offer each other. I think it was very successful and helpful. There were some good questions raised, and lots and lots of good advice was put on the table.

Oh, and funny thing, once it all started, my nerves disappeared. I felt very calm and confident. Yay!

Then, we got people singing. I knew I wanted to do some lyrical analysis with at least one student, and my first soloist, Susan, brought up the perfect song with which to try it. She sang it nicely, but the song had a deeper message that we, the audience, just weren't getting. We worked through the first verse of the song, line by line, investigating what each line meant to her. The song was intensely personal to her, and as she looked at each line individually, she was able to add her story to the meaning of the lyric.

I then got her to sing the first verse and chorus again. Wow! What a difference! All the technical issues of pitch and posture fell into place, which was great, but the message was entirely different! Every word, every intention became so clear, and you couldn't help but be swept up in the meaning of the song. I was so proud of her! When I spoke to her after class, she told me she now wants to go through all her songs and apply that same kind of detailed work to them. Yay!

Throughout the class, I got to work with several soloists and one family group. We had some wonderful successes. There is so much talent in this school, and with just a little coaching, the singers were really able to open up and share their hearts with the audience. It was beautiful and inspiring.

I spent the rest of the day getting ready for our second week students, but I managed to get in to see a little of tonight's concert - Priority Quartet (formerly Mike LeFevre Quartet.) I had to also leave before the end (it's a 60-minute commute for me), but the show was fantastic. They have a great sound, and their arrangements are terrific. They did a quartet version of "Days of Elijah" which took the roof off the place!

Looking forward to a bit of down time this weekend. Including last week's studio days, I haven't had a day off in 12 days. Going to rest, enjoy family time, and get ready for Gerald's Sunday night Bluebird gig!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Stamps-Baxter - Day 4

Another great day on campus. The only real complaint I'm getting from staff and volunteers is "everything's done - we're bored" - *bliss*

Allison will be out of town tomorrow for a gig, so I've been asked to teach her class! Very excited! I sat in on her class with Mike today, which was great. I'm a little nervous, because Allison sets a very high standard, but I'm really looking forward to it.

Tonight was the faculty concert. No, I didn't sing. I had been told the concert was next week, so I had arranged for Gerald to come out then to accompany me. MTSU is almost an hour from our house, so I couldn't just go and pick him up. So, I'm going to try and find a time to sing next week.

The concert was good, but the highlight was the finale: Ben, Rosa Nell, and Mary Tom singing classic Speer songs with Jack Clark on piano, Rebekah Long on double bass, and Rock Slaughter on sax. Awesome!

Must sleep - I want to be well prepared for tomorrow!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Stamps-Baxter - Day 3

Today was long, but soooo good!

This morning, Gerald and I had a fantastic meeting at NSAI. We met with 2 of the main coordinators to discuss some of our Toronto plans, and possible ways we could partner with NSAI. I can't reveal any details yet, but let's just say, there was a lot of excitement on both sides.

After lunch at the Pie Wagon, we left Music Row and I headed off to Stamps-Baxter. I'm so happy to see how things are shaping up at school this year. It's been a ton of work to move the school to a new location, but for the most part, the transition has been a smooth one.

This afternoon, I joined Allison Durham Speer in her Performance Training class. One of the things Gerald and I want to do when we get back to Toronto is teach workshops. Gerald will focus primarily on songwriting, and I want to do workshops on leading worship and on 'performing' the Gospel. So for the rest of school, I'll be joining Allison in her class in a kind of assistant teacher role. Mike Allen also assists, so it'll be a fun team.

I was a little nervous going in today. Allison's class was always my favourite part of Stamps-Baxter. I know how much this means to the students; I know how much they want and need this kind of information. After each student would sing, Allison would give her feedback, but she would also invite me to give my thoughts. I tried to be encouraging, honest, and practical.

After the class, a few students made a point of thanking me for my feedback, and that was very encouraging. Allison also had some great encouragement for me, which was awesome. I really think I have the right skills to do this kind of teaching, but I also want to make sure I am well prepared before taking someone's talent in my hands. What we do as ministers of the Gospel is so valuable, and as artists, we are all so sensitive. I pray that I'm a positive force for each student I meet.

This evening, we were treated to an awesome concert by Mike and Kelly Bowling. I just love this group! Awesome songs and big-sing vocals! After they sang "The Lighthouse", they got the audience to sing the chorus acapella. Remember, this is a group that's been singing 4-part harmony all day long. Stunning. I couldn't sing along - I just had to listen and marvel. Mike and Kelly ended with Dad Speer's "I Never Shall Forget the Day", and Ben gave them a standing ovation. What a concert!

I'm really loving the group singing this year. I haven't been able to join in, but during that part of the day, I try to work where I can hear the music. It's just stunning. The CD is going to be amazing!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Stamps-Baxter - Day 2

This morning, I started my massage therapy for my neck. My massage therapist is married to a singer, so she understands the specific needs I have for my treatment. She also knows a lot about post-accident trauma, which is going to be very helpful. The treatment was good, and my treatment room was pink, so I'm totally going back.

Stamps-Baxter seems to be settling into its routine, which is good for us on staff. Many of the staff got to sit in on different events today, so that's a good sign. I want to give other staff members the chance to join in group singing, so I'm choosing to work the InfoCenter during those times. Of course, I'm also keeping the doors open so I can listen. It is so crazy beautiful.

This evening, we all gathered outside to take the group photo. After the shot had been taken, Tom Powell turned to us all and said, "You know the key," and started conducting "I am His, and He is Mine," a great old Dad Speer song. I learned my part a few years ago, so I was able to sing along. Wow. That's all I can say. Five years of singing school, and that four part harmony still gives me chills. I may need to sneak into group singing one day...

Today's concert was The Perrys! I so love them! Great songs, great vocals, and unlimited passion and conviction. When they sing, it's just amazing. It's like the tap into something deeper and bigger than the every day. And off stage, they were wonderful and gracious and happy to be supporting the school. Love them more and more!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Stamps-Baxter - Day 1

For the past 11 months, I've been working on putting this year's school together. Now, it's so well organized, that I hardly even know what's going on. I feel like I should know everything, but we have this great team of staff and volunteers, and I kind of feel like I know nothing. You know when you dream about your house, but it doesn't look like your house? It kind of feels like that.

We're still adjusting to the new venue, but other than that, we really can't complain. I spent a good deal of the day meeting new students and catching up with old friends.

I sat in on part of Allison Durham Speer's Performance Training class, and that was really good. I also moved my evening work out to the hallway so I could listen to group singing - truly glorious!

Tomorrow, I'm starting massage therapy. I'm still having problems with my neck from the accident, so I'm hoping this will help. I know too many people who have long term neck pain from a car accident, and I really want to avoid that.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Stamps-Baxter begins!

It's that time of year again - Stamps-Baxter has begun!

Today, we welcomed over 200 students and faculty from across the country and around the world for two weeks of Southern Gospel, shape notes, and just good times!

Today was Registration Day, which I call Reunion Day. When I first attended this school, I didn't realize the amazing community that exists beyond the two weeks of the school. All day long, I was sharing stories and getting hugs and being shocked at how much a preteen can grow in a year.

Even with the new venue, we're super organized this year. As a result, I don't need to pull the 12 and 14 hour days of yesteryear. At first I didn't know what to think of this, but with all Gerald and I need to do right now - lawsuit, moving, accident recovery - it'll actually be nice to have some personal time over the next few weeks.

Oh, and cool unrelated song moment: Last night, I was listening to Brandon Heath's CD in the car. When the song "London" started, I thought, "Wow, that sounds really familiar." When I checked the credits, I recognized the name of the cowriter, Chad Cates. I heard Chad sing this song at Write About Jesus in 2005! Crazy, huh? For a brief moment, I felt in the loop!

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Vocals - Day 2

More vocals, more good stuff. Today we did:

- I Surrender All
- Softly and Tenderly
- Come Thou Fount
- Give Me Jesus

There are 2 more songs I need to do, but they'll need to wait 'til after Stamps-Baxter. I'm still frustrated that the CD is so far behind the original schedule, but I'm finding peace with it. I have to keep reminding myself that we're on God's schedule now, and I'm still just so grateful that Gerald and I are here and healthy enough to even think about recording songs.

I got the online galleries from last week's photo shoot. I'm pretty sure I know which cover shot I want, but it'll be a bit tougher to choose a great group shot. Lots to choose from, so that's good!

Back to Stamps-Baxter craziness tomorrow. Registration is this Sunday, so I'll be working long, long days from now til then.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Vocals - Day 1

Recorded vocals today for the hymns CD. We did:

- Just a Closer Walk
- My Jesus, I Love Thee
- Sweet Hour of Prayer
- Take My Life

Overall, it went really well. Six songs to go tomorrow, so I'm not talking tonight. Just sipping tea and resting and cuddling the puppies.

Godspell is on GMC - fond memories...

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Whole Bunches of Stuff

So long without blogging, and way too much to put in one post. I'm getting so behind on 'ordinary stuff' - emails, blogs, newsletters - anything requiring sitting and writing and focusing for a while. Apparently, that's all part and parcel of the accident recovery process, but it doesn't stop it from being incredibly frustrating.

So, here's all the cool stuff that's happened over the past week:

- Last week, I joined GMA Canada. I don't know a whole lot about what they do, but I figure it'll be a good way to get connected to the industry when we move back home.

- Gerald and I are now the official owners of Breaking Light Music - our new music company! I'll be writing a lot about Breaking Light over the next few months. For now, let me just say that we are super excited about bringing our new Nashville skills to Ontario, and Breaking Light Music will be the vehicle for this awesome plan!

- On Friday, Gerald and I had a photo shoot for the hymns CD. Teri Reid's husband, Shannon Fontaine, did the shoot. Haven't see the photos yet, but we had a lot of fun!

- Sang at Redeemer this morning and had an amazing time. I'm really, truly, going to miss my church.

- On Tuesday and Wednesday, we're recording the hymn vocals! Feeling nervous, but excited.

- We're about to head into Stamps-Baxter overdrive! This is our final planning week. On Sunday, we'll have Registration, and then it's shape-note madness for two glorious weeks.

- My July article for SoGospelNews is all about a unique experience in gratitude. You can check it out here.

- Only 5 weeks left in Nashville before moving day. Time is about to flyyyyyyyyy!!!!!!!!

I'm going to try and do more frequent blogging. There's a lot going on right now, and I don't want to miss a thing!