Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Lessons from a Magazine Store

We spent yesterday afternoon enjoying the sunshine in one of our favourite parts of Toronto - the Annex. For the uninitiated, the Annex is cool, vibrant, and artsy. It's the home of the Fringe theatre festival, Tafelmusick Baroque Orchestra, and rock mecca, Lee's Palace. And on any day, you can wander through countless bookstores, cafes, and tea shops to find interesting people and stimulating conversations.

One of our favourite stops is the magazine store near Bathurst. We usually stick to the music section, but yesterday, I looked to see if they had any Christian magazines - ideally, something related to Christian music. I found my titles hidden in the Literary section, and thus the lesson began.

Of the 14 titles that could be considered 'religious' or 'spiritual', only 3 contained any sort of Christian association. One was evangelical, one Catholic, and one was on sacred history, Christian and otherwise.

Now, I make no judgement on the lack of Christian content in this store. Obviously, the store owner is doing what any wise business person should do - choosing products that reflect the purchasing needs of their clientele.

But as a Christian musician working in Toronto, it does provide some insight into the community and its demographics.

Is there a need for the Gospel in the Annex? Of course - we all need the Gospel.

But the insight provided by the magazines allowed me to contemplate the following questions:

- How would the Gospel be received in this part of town?
- Would people object to the message? Be offended? Be intrigued? Not care?
- Could I use my creativity to present the Gospel in this community?
- How can I be a witness to Christ in a way that won't be seen as preachy or Bible- thumper-ish?
- Many of the other magazines in the store speak to a community that is intelligent, well-read, well-informed. How do I share the Gospel in a way that will not be seen as condescending, insulting, or cliche?

I don't have answers to these questions right now, but I do think it raises questions for all us in music ministry. If we are truly called to take the Gospel outside the walls of the church, first we need to learn about our community, and then we need to learn how we can share the Gospel in a way that will not be taken as manipulative or judgmental.

I'm not saying we change the message, but sometimes, we must be creative and open in the method.

The challenge begins...

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Palm Sunday

It's times like this that I'm sooo Anglican!

Today, we kicked off Holy Week - my favourite week of the year. It's that week when we really feel like we're walking with Jesus - into Jerusalem, through the trial, at the cross, and finally, the wonder of Easter morning!

Our Palm Sunday service started outside with a few songs lead by djembe, tambourine, and shakers. Inside the church, we were joined by the handbells for the hymns. The highlight of the service was a dramatized reading of the Passion, punctuated by a few short songs. One of the songs we did was the spiritual, "Calvary." Gerald and I actually recorded this song on my first EP, "It is Well with my Soul." We used to sing it all the time, but we haven't sung it for years! It was awesome to jump in again and rediscover the song.

Because this is such a crazy week, we decided to have an extra rehearsal today, which lead to a long, but good, afternoon. With so much 'church stuff' going on this week, I really wanted to attend the service tonight. I just needed that quiet time to sit in the pew and prepare my head and heart for this week. I needed it for my own personal spiritual journey, but also to prepare myself for leading worship throughout the week.

I feel ready. Well, as ready as anyone can ever feel...

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Book Review: "Everyone Communicates, Few Connect" by John Maxwell

I've mentioned several times how much I love "Talent is Never Enough" by John Maxwell. When I saw he had a new book coming out, I knew I wanted it, and then I was super excited to find out I could get a copy for review!

"Everyone Communicates, Few Connect" speaks to the problem many of us feel on Facebook and other online social communities. Everyone is shouting out information, but ultimately, if you don't connect with someone, who cares?

As Christian musicians, we can sing loud, send out tweets, and stick Jesus fish on our car, but if we don't connect with people, are they really going to hear our message?

John did an interesting experiment with this book. He actually posted pieces of the book online while he was writing it, and invited people to send them his feedback. Not only did he quote individual stories throughout the book, but he literally thanked every person by name in the back of the book. Don't you think all those people feel a connection to the book? Brilliant!

The book is written to help people with connecting on 3 levels: one-on-one, small groups, and in front of an audience. Obviously, I'm reading this through the eyes of a performing musician and worship leader. I feel like this book continues the work I started with the Elijah Conference a few years ago. How do I go from simply performing to actually connecting with the audience and offering something of value to them?

John starts with the principles through which we can connect with others, and taking a "it's more skill than talent" approach, leads us through the steps we can follow to help increase our ability to connect with people in both grand and intimate situations. Each chapter has a great summary and application exercises. I would recommend this book to anyone in leadership, but especially to those of us in ministry. Our message is so important, and if all we're doing is shouting at people, they may miss the message altogether.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

On Eagle's Wings

This afternoon, I sang at the funeral of a friend's husband. Years ago when I walked through my own time of grief, this friend counseled me and inspired me to lean on my faith. To be able to be there now in her time of grief was a true blessing, and one more reason why it's good to be home.

I sang "On Eagle's Wings" - a song of hope and encouragement. It's a song I love to sing, but more and more, the singing has become the secondary goal. As I prepared for today, I thought about the lessons I've been learning from John Maxwell's "Everyone Communicates - Few Connect." As much as I want to sing beautifully, my main goal today was to truly connect with those gathered in the church - to give them this message of hope and encouragement - to let them know that, wherever they are in their faith, wherever they are in their grief, that God is with them, caring for them, loving them.

After all, we can always use a little extra hope.

I hope they felt it.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

St. John's Double Header

As I mentioned a few days ago, Gerald and I were handling all the music today at St. John's. We decided to get to the church as early as we could so we could have a nice relaxing start to the service. As we were doing our sound check, I thought, "Isn't it funny that no one is setting up the screen?" Well, tech issues were in the air. The slides (which thankfully, I didn't have to prepare) were not working. The slides cover all the songs and all the prayers.

In moments like this, I'm so thankful that Gerald and I have a lot of theatre and improv experience - craziness just doesn't throw us. Instead of using the opening songs as a sing-along, we invited people to use them as songs of reflection. Our opening hymn wasn't in our current hymnal, so we made a last second switch to "Seek Ye First". We haven't done that song for at least a year, but it had the chords in the hymnal, so it was an easy choice. The offertory, "Amazing Love," was a trickier piece as it's also not in the hymnal. So, I fed the lyrics to the congregation, line by line. I invited those who know it to sing loud and help us lead, and wonderfully, it worked!

Communion became songs of reflection, and thankfully our last song, "How Great Thou Art," was in the hymnal. The response from the congregation was very positive, to both the music and our leadership. I think people respond well in an "we're all in this together" atmosphere.

This evening, we had Monika join us for the Gathering service. We opened with "Holy is the Lord," "Open the Eyes of my Heart," and "Worthy is the Lamb" (Hillsong). It was so beautiful to have Moni's harmonies with us! It always amazes me how we can choose songs, the clergy chooses the sermon, and God somehow ties it all together. By the time we closed with "They'll Know We are Christians by Our Love," we had all been blessed by a message of relationship and transformation.

I like the evening service. It's casual and challenging, and people always bring good treats to snack on!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

I first met Tinker...

... in the same way most Stamps-Baxter students met Tinker - as a school greeter in the Nashville airport. His gentle manner and Southern charm welcomed and encouraged all of us as we found ourselves in the sometimes overwhelming atmosphere of shape-notes and convention singing.

When I started to work for the school, I learned that Tinker had a true servant's heart. No job was too small, too trivial, too menial. He was a silent worker, there when you needed him. And he never missed a chance to tell a good story or enjoy a good laugh.

But here's my favourite story about Tinker: My first year at Stamps-Baxter, the school held a bluegrass festival. Students were invited to join the band to sing or play a favourite song. Shaking in my sandals, I stepped up on stage with a copy of my own song, "I Call Out Your Name." I was thrilled to sing the song with a real band of real musicians. But the highlight came when I sat down in the audience. Tinker leaned over and asked if he could have a copy of my song. I was humbled and honoured that someone would like my song enough to take it home with him.

I don't know if he ever sang the song again, but that little bit of encouragement stayed with me.

This weekend, we lost Tinker. We lost an encourager, a gentle soul, a true servant.

Heaven gained a great bass singer.

We'll miss you, my friend.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

"Making music with my friends..."

Only the Gaither fans in the crowd will recognize today's post title as a quote and not a cliche.

This week, Monique is in Ottawa enjoying Beaver Tails, so Gerald and I are in charge of musical leadership for 2 services this Sunday. Since we've been knocked out by colds over the past few weeks, I've spent the better part of this week planning all the music.

We're going to have a great Communion service in the morning with a healthy mix of hymns and praise songs. For the evening service, Monika is going to join us on vocals. She came over tonight for tea and rehearsal. We're doing lots of harmony over Gerald's guitar grooves - really looking forward to it!

Now that we're coming out from under our flu-ish cloud, it's nice to be getting stuff done. My new site is close to complete, and I've also signed up for a trial on Sonicbids to help with bookings. We still have an opening for Good Friday, if you need special music at your church that day.

Oh, and I'm reading "Everyone Communicates, Few Connect" by John Maxwell. I got it through Thomas Nelson's book review program, and I just found that it's not going to be publicly released til the end of the month. I have it before anyone else! I am so in the loop! I don't know what that loop is, but I'm in it!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Out from Under my Cold!

Last weekend, I got knocked out by a terrible cold. I still sang both services Sunday morning, but spent the rest of the day and following few days sleeping, coughing, and trying not to be too cranky.

I'm still tired and coughing, but I finally felt productive today! Here are a few cool things:

- My new site is coming along wonderfully! Can't wait to launch in a week or so.

- My new SoGospelNews article is up. "Do You Have a Maintenance or Mission Ministry?" You can read the whole thing here.

- I was recently interviewed for SGM Radio, and you can read that interview here.

- Things have come together for the Tin Pan North Christian Songwriter Night! We've booked St. John's York Mills for our venue, and all our writers are in place. Now, to sell tickets!

- Monique is away March 21, so I've been choosing music for Gerald and I to play. We're doing both services, so it'll be a fun and busy day!

And if you're in or near Toronto, here's something to think about: Our praise team will be playing our Maundy Thursday service next month, which means we're free on Good Friday. If your church is within reasonable driving distance of Toronto and you'd like special music for your Good Friday service, please leave me a comment with your contact info, or contact me via Facebook.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Spring Sally Sites

This afternoon was so sunny and warm that I actually spent an hour outside gardening! Okay, I pulled the dead plants out of the snow and put them in the composter, but still - gardening!

I've had a wonderfully productive day of booking and catching up on my long To Do list. The highlights:

- Things are moving forward on the Tin Pan North Christian Songwriter Night (Friday, May 28, 7:00pm). The venue and artists are almost confirmed!

- The last weekend of June, our awesome Grammy nominated friend Sally Barris is coming up for a weekend of gigs and hanging out. We've already booked her for church on Sunday, June 27 and the Moonshine Cafe on Monday, June 28. I'll have more details in my newsletter and on my...

- New website! I'm getting a new website! We'll be launching it some time this month! Can't wait!

Lots of good stuff happening! Feels like spring to me!

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Sing, Sing, Sing

Morning: Last baby music class of the session. Over 30 toddlers plus parents. I felt like a baby rock star.

Afternoon: Gerald and I rehearsed the songs for Sunday. Adding extra harmonies where we can.

Early Evening: Gerald, Monique, and I rehearsed the songs for Sunday. Lots of new songs for Lent.

Evening: I rehearsed with the Chorale for Sunday. Anthems and Mozart. Lots and lots of sight reading.

Night: Tired. Hungry. Happy to be making a living doing something I love!

Monday, March 01, 2010

Still waiting for my day off...

Gerald and I have decided that, with weekends being so busy, Monday is going to be our day off. I think we can definitely say we took the morning off, but not the rest of the day!

Deanna and I spent the afternoon working on our retreat music. We're still waiting for a format for the weekend, so that's slowing us down a little. But we do have the songs for the taize service, so we rehearsed those today. We'll lead the songs on guitar, and I think we'll use djembe on a few as well. Even though we're just singing in 2 parts, we've worked out upper and lower harmonies on most songs. Taize songs are usually sung with 6-8 repetitions, so we'll do a few rounds in unison, then a few with me on lower harmony, and then I'll jump back on lead so Deanna can end the song with a few rounds with a higher harmony. I think it'll add a nice dimension to the music.

I've been asked to sub in again with the Chorale at church this week. That means double rehearsals on Thursday, and double services on Sunday. Next Monday will definitely need to be a full day off!