Sunday, October 25, 2009

Imagine, Music & Word - Day 3

What an incredible weekend! I’ve attended a lot of music conferences, but I don’t think I’ve ever attended one that was so organic and creative.

This morning, after a little sleep and a great breakfast, I attended a workshop on blending traditional and contemporary music within a worship service. Then I gathered with my songwriting buddies from yesterday. While I was out last night, they wrote the verses and finished the song. It sounded so good! Our group consisted of keyboard, guitar, bass, me on lead vocals, and everyone else on harmony. We had a short but effective rehearsal so I could learn the verses and we could add the harmonies.

I was able to grab a little quiet time to enjoy the beauty of the day, then another quick rehearsal, and then the closing worship. Last night, people gathered in workshops to write the service. Some wrote prayers and liturgy, some planned the music and wrote a new song, and others designed the space.

This afternoon, we gathered in the main hall and sat in chairs arranged in a circle. The service opened with prayer and music, and what followed was spiritual and creative and beautiful. Every prayer and reading was detailed and special. Andrew Donaldson’s ‘musical homily’ addressed the question “What was Jesus up to?” The music was carefully planned, yet felt spontaneous and free. Our song went really well, and by the second chorus, everyone was singing along. The whole thing was so moving and beautiful - why can’t church be like this all the time? Therein lies the challenge...

It will take a while for me to recognize all the things I’ve gained from this weekend. I have new friends and new musical connections. I have a full list of resources. I’m part of a new song. I sang lots of harmony and gained a new confidence on the djembe. I had a deeply moving spiritual experience. I laughed and told stories and ate pie and laughed some more.

Good weekend, indeed.

Imagine, Music & Word - The Day After Day 2

Saturday’s blog is being written Sunday morning - you’ll find out why.

Oh, and as I write I’m also eating the ‘late night pie’ - awesome!

Saturday was a great day for the Imagine workshop. We started with a hearty breakfast in Lion’s Hall, complete with a fire roaring in the stone fireplace. The day began with a presentation by Steve Hopkins, rector of St. Christopher’s in Burlington (where Gerald and I have sung several times). He spoke and facilitated small group discussions around the topic of instigating change within a parish - how do we do it effectively, and what have we learned from our mistakes and successes? Since Gerald and I are about to be part of a change at St. John’s York Mills, I found this to be really helpful and encouraging.

For my first workshop, I chose songwriting. We talked about writing and shared songs. I did “Living Manna, Living Bread," and everyone joined in on harmonies. Up til now, I’ve only sung it as a solo, so the harmonies were a real treat. We all decided we wanted to write a song for tomorrow’s worship, so after lunch, we met again. The theme for the weekend is “Colouring Outside the Lines”, so that was the inspiration for the song. We completed the chorus, and then I had to go. Gerald and I were booked to sing at a wedding in downtown Toronto as part of a small ensemble, so I had to change out of my camping mode, put on my fancy wedding clothes, drive to Toronto, sing for 3 hours, drop off Gerald, change back to my camping mode, and drive back to Ancaster.

Apparently, I missed a great night of songs and worship planning, but when I arrived at the conference just before midnight, I was met with a great welcome. The jam session was in full swing, so I grabbed a mic and joined the party. We sang and sang and sang and sang. I did harmony and rhythm on the pop and rock stuff. When we moved into the more mellow stuff, I still did harmony, but also took the lead on “People Get Ready” and a Norah Jones song. (Yes, we’ve been jamming to every possible genre!). Around 3 am, we decided it was time to shut down the band. We closed up and headed back to the cabin, which turned into laughing and story-telling time. Around 4 am, I decided it was too late to blog, thus my mid-morning entry today.

About that time, the ladies were deciding that yes, 7:30 am would be the perfect time for their early morning walk.

Again, I respectfully declined.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Imagine, Music & Word - Day 1

I’m writing at 1:35 in the morning. I’m pretty much in the middle of nowhere, or at least it seems that way. I drove here in the dark and rain. There were deer waiting on the side of the road to jump in front of my car.

So, what does all this mean?

After supper tonight, I drove out to Ancaster to spend the weekend at the Imagine, Music and Word conference. We’re located at lovely Canterbury Hills Conference Centre, which is a camp-style conference centre. We’re all staying in cabins, and I’ve ended up in the party cabin. We have six ladies sharing one bathroom, and at 1:38am, none of us have made it to bed yet.

The evening started with an introduction to the theme “Colouring Outside the Lines” - how do we find new and innovative forms of worship. Over the weekend, creativity will be paramount.

Our evening worship started with prayer, and then a leader started playing a djembe. As the drumming continued, lots and lots of drums were brought out, and before long, everyone had a drum in their hands. We hit a rhythm as the drumming circle grew. Every minute or so, someone would walk up to the mic to read a prayer or scripture. The drumming would get softer, but the rhythm never ceased. The whole experience was organic and awesome.

After a little socializing, the jam session began. I really don’t know anyone here (just a few people I’ve met in passing), but I knew if I didn’t jump in tonight, I’d regret it. Our band topped out at 9 or 10 people, singing and playing worship songs. Then most people drifted off to bed, so we just kept going. After a while, we switched to classic pop songs. And then I realized - I still hadn’t found my cabin, much less unpacked yet.

So here I am, 1:45 in the morning, not quite in the middle of nowhere - in a warm cabin, with my bunk bed ready for me, surrounded by a wonderful group of musicians, and soon-to-be friends.

I think we’re about to have late night pie...

(After note: Late night pie didn’t happen because the ladies decided they wanted to get up at 7:00 am to take an early morning hike. I respectfully declined.)

Friday, October 23, 2009


A few weeks ago, I got a call from the rector at St. John's York Mills Church in Toronto. (St. John's was our home church for many years, and Dad's church before he retired.)

The church is going through many changes as they try to build a new kind of contemporary worship service. They invited Gerald and me, as a team, to join the music staff and be part of the music team for Sunday mornings!!

We are so crazy excited about this!

When we got back from Nashville, everyone kept saying, "Such-and-such a church is looking for a worship leader." But we have this ministry that takes us different places, so that wasn't what I was looking for. But when I got the call from St. John's, my heart was very open to the idea.

After some wonderful phone calls and meetings, Gerald and I said, "YES" this week!

We are so excited to be returning to our former home church in this new capacity! We'll be working with pianist and worship leader, Monique Ingalls, who ironically enough, just moved here after three years in Nashville!

We will sing and play at the 9:30am service on Sunday mornings, and special services like Christmas Eve. By having Sunday mornings booked, I can focus my booking efforts on concerts, women's ministries, festivals, etc.

I'll write more about this over the next few weeks. Right now, I'm finishing my packing for the weekend. I'm heading off to Ancaster for the Imagine, Music & Word conference. I don't know if I'll have internet, but I'll still blog each night and post something by Sunday.

Soooo excited!!!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

No voice - No gig - Blah

I was really hoping tonight to send you a glowing report on our performance at the Week Without Violence service from Buckhorn. Unfortunately, no can do.

A few days after arriving home from the DIVA weekend, I got that awful, telltale tickle in my throat. That yucky, something's coming, kind of feeling. By yesterday morning, I was full out terrible - sore throat, achy, no voice, blah.

Gerald made the phone call letting the organizer know we'd be unable to sing today. I made tea with honey, stayed in my pajamas all day, and grabbed a note pad and pen so I wouldn't have to talk.

These are the tough weekends of being a singer. Nothing is more frustrating that losing (even temporarily) my main source of communication and creativity.

So my weekend: Finished a great book ("The Book of Negroes" - amazing!!). Drank lots of tea. Complained about my plight on facebook. Drank more tea. Did some Bible study. Cuddled the puppies. More tea. Started a new book ("The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society"). You guessed it - tea.

Doesn't sound so bad when I put it that way.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

DIVA Weekend - Church & Concert Day

We have to be up in 5 hours to get me to the airport on time, so this is going to be short and, potentially, full of typos.

The morning started bright and early (6ish) so we could all make our way to our different churches. Tara and I sang 2 services at Highland Hope, where we sang last night. Today was Pastor Appreciation Sunday, so being PKs ourselves, Tara and I were able to share quite a bit. Tara sang "Wonder Working Power" and "Except for Grace", and I sang "Neighbour" and "At the Cross". At the second service, we had a bit more time to work with, so I added "Real Big Fan." I spoke a little about being a PK, and some of the unique things about pastors, and then Tara came out and wrapped it up with "Preach the Word." The people were awesome and very supportive. We just felt so welcomed and blessed!

In the afternoon, we did interviews with DeAnne for the Christian DIVA radio show, and then drove out to Belleville for tonight's service. This huge church does two services on Sunday nights, and we sang for the one they nickname "The Old Time Gospel Hour." DeAnne had to go home early, so Leah, Tara, and I did a 40 minute music program within the service. We did all the group numbers from last night, plus two songs each. I started with "Neighbour" and then did "Shepherd of the Hills." I guess the past few days of travel, sleeping in a strange bed, and extra rehearsals have taken their toll on my neck, because as I started singing "Shepherd", the back of my neck got really tight and stiff. It was incredibly distracting and difficult to sing, and I was half-tempted to stop the song, but I kept going. Tara and Leah said it sounded good, but it was a real struggle. It'll be good to get back to my bed and my medical treatments.

Long travel day tomorrow. Long story short - so glad I came this weekend!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

DIVA Weekend - "Redesign Your Mind"

We're back at the hotel, and we're exhausted! We all need to be up by 6:30 tomorrow morning so we can get to our morning services, so it's short blogging tonight.

Tonight, we held our first ever "Redesign Your Mind" event, and it was a great success! We had a lot of competition with other events in the area, but we still had a good crowd. Our group songs went really well, each DIVA did a great individual set, and the drama got lots of laughs.

After the show, the women all had great things to say about the night. They loved the music, and many women commented on how encouraging they found the whole thing. The church has already asked about having us back next year!

It was a lot of work, but well worth it. I'm so glad the doors opened for me to be here this weekend. Outside all the work, we're having a great time laughing and telling stories. But for tonight, it's sleep, sleep, sleep.

(Okay, we're still talking, but soon, it's sleep, sleep, sleep!)

Friday, October 09, 2009

DIVA Weekend - Rehearsal Day

Long, long day of rehearsal!

We arrived at the church around noon and spent an hour or so just organizing the space and figuring out our tech. The church is quite large with friendly staff who are excited to have us. The ladies hosting the event will also be serving dessert, so the front part of the sanctuary has been cleared and outfitted with tables and chairs.

After lunch, which was graciously provided by the church staff, we started the music rehearsal. We'll be doing 3 songs together - "Lean on Me," "Your Grace is Enough," and "Dear God," which was written by Leah and Beth. Tara took control of the musical rehearsal, assigning parts and solos. For a group of women who've never sung together (and Tara and I just met DeAnne yesterday), we actually sound really good together. It started to get really fun, so that's always a good sign.

Next, we rehearsed the drama portion of the event. It's in a talk show format where the host, Darlene Carmichael (played by moi!) interviews several Bible ladies. (I have the most wonderful pair of pink cat's eye glasses trimmed in rhinestones that I wear. Stunning!) It's a lot of script to handle with just a few hours rehearsal, and I was assigned the role of director. The goal became making everyone as comfortable as possible with the cues, blocking, and lines. I also reminded the ladies that it's better to have clear dramatic intentions than perfectly memorized lines. No one has ever been saved by a precisely memorized speech - it's better to communicate the heart of the character and her message.

Around 6pm, we were all ready to stop, so we went to Farmer's restaurant for home-cooking. Due to a waiter's mistake, I managed to go home with a free piece of pecan pie, so it was a good night all around.

Since then, we've all just been chatting and sharing stories and enjoying each other's company. Tomorrow will be long and tiring, so some sleep is in order.

It's raining tonight. I wonder if the buffalo sleep out in the rain? Just wondering...

DIVA Weekend - We're here!

Writing this from the hotel in Greenville, Illinois. I'm here with Tara Jackson, Leah Martensen, and DeAnne Arnold, and we're ready to start our DIVA weekend! Tomorrow, we'll have our first ever "Redesign Your Mind" women's event. Sunday morning, we'll all be at different churches in the area - Tara and I will do a church together - and Sunday night, Tara, Leah, and I are doing a concert together (the concert was just booked yesterday!).

This morning, we're gathering ourselves together. Our hotel is next to a buffalo farm, and when we were having breakfast, we could see the buffalo, including the babies, in the field outside the window. In a few minutes, we'll head off to the church for rehearsal. I'll write more tonight...

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Heading off to Illinois!

Within the hour, Dad and I will leave here to drive to the Buffalo airport. By tonight, I'll be in Highland, Illinois, with Tara, Leah, and DeAnne for the first ever Christian DIVAs "Redesign Your Mind" event!

When we decided to move home early, I pulled out of the event, but God had a different plan. So now my bags are stuffed with CDs, tracks, performance clothes, and neck pillows. I'm nervous about how the travel will affect my neck, which is still a daily frustration. But I'm also excited about the weekend. "Redesign Your Mind" is Saturday night, and then Sunday morning, we'll all sing in different area churches. I think Tara and I might sing at the same church, so that would be cool.

Weird, ironic thing: For the past few years, I've been in the States for Thanksgiving. Now I'm living back in Canada, and I'll still be in the States for Thanksgiving! Funny, wha?

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Puppies, All Saints, and the Moonshine Cafe

It's been a long few days. On Wednesday, Dante and Tyler got into Mom's post-surgery medication. The two spent 48 hours in puppy intensive care, and are now receiving 8 doses of medication over the course of each day. When it rains, it pours.

This morning, we returned to one of our favourite churches - All Saints Church in downtown Toronto. Jeannie gave a fantastic sermon about Job, after which we sang "Give Me Jesus." During communion we did "Living Manna, Living Bread," and post communion, we sang "A Church Song Broke Me Down." We ended with the congregational hymn, "Majesty." We're back there again next month - can't wait!

Tonight, we went to the Moonshine Cafe - Ontario's answer to the Bluebird Cafe. We played the Moonshine a few years ago, and Gerald is booked there for November 1 (mark your calender!). Tonight's round featured Nashville songwriter, Bruce Michael Miller, and Toronto writers Joe Hash, Linda M, and Annie Marleau. The whole show was fun, and it was cool to meet up with a few NSAI friends.

Now that we're home to stay, we're trying to find lots of local places where we can play our songs. Churches are the obvious place for me, but we want to find cafes and songwriter venues where Gerald can play his country stuff as well. Now that we're so close to the Moonshine, I think we'll be visiting there more often.

Three and a half days til I leave for Illinois and the DIVA event. So much to do!!