Sunday, May 30, 2010

Tin Pan North - Hugh's Room

I'm writing this the morning after as things went late the night before.

Last night, I attended the closing night of Tin Pan North at the always awesome Hugh's Room. After such a busy week, it was great to just sit back and enjoy the great rounds.

The first round featured country artist Codie Prevost, singer-songwriter Madeline Slate, and Nashville whriter Steve Leslie.

Gerald has been working with Steve for at least year, so he was first on my list to bring up for the festival. Steve is a killer writer and an awesome guitar player. He'll have the whole audience laughing, and then break their hearts with a song like "Full-time Sinner, Some-time Saint" (a personal favourite).

Steve had my favourite line of the night: "We songwriters don't owe the truth a thing."

Codie is a great performer, and Madeline was the discovery of the night with her rooted and passionate songs.

The second round featured ASCAP VP Ralph Murphy, country artist Patricia Conroy, Nashville writer Tim Johnson, and Canadian writer Dean McTaggart.

There was a ton of mutual respect in this round, and lots of comradeship, which made the whole thing very entertaining. Great stories mixed with amazing songs for a round that ended far too quickly.

The rest of the night was peppered reports from the week's shows and cool conversations with creative people of all disciplines.

Tin Pan North is a huge undertaking, and it's been a long week. I didn't book a service for us this morning (we're playing for the Gathering service at St. John's tonight), and I'm so glad I didn't! We're exhausted today, and thankful for a few hours of down time.

Of course, tomorrow I'll need to get my car towed, but that's another story...

Friday, May 28, 2010

Tin Pan North Gospel Show

Tonight was the first ever Tin Pan North Gospel Show! Whoo-hoo!

The show was sponsored and supported by the Tin Pan North festival, but most of the organizing fell to Gerald and me. We pulled together volunteers, did some advertising, and secured a great line-up of songwriters.

We gathered at the church around 6:30 with NSAI songwriters Paul Grady and Tom McInerny and headliner Ali Matthews and her guitar player, Rick Francis.

Two of the committee members provided a sound system for us (yay!), but at the last minute, we lost our volunteer sound person (not yay).

So Gerald and Tom started working on the sound system, trying to make it all work, when Rick showed up and announced that he owns a studio and running sound is second nature to him (cue the Hallelujah Chorus!). Rick set the whole thing up, ran our sound check, and then continued to tweak and run sound the entire show, while also playing guitar for Ali. (final chord: Hal-leeeee-luu-jaaaaaaahhhhh!)

The show began, and it was awesome! We had a total of 6 people on stage, and did 4 songs each in a Nashville round style. Paul's songs were calming and folky, and Tom's songs had a dramatic twist. He also made use of the church's grand piano, adding another cool element to the show.

Gerald did a wide range of songs, including his 9-11 song "Angels in the Dust" and his original rocking version of "Real Big Fan" (as opposed to my jazzy version.) Most of my songs were written in the past year, like "Living Manna," "Brighter Happy Day," and the brand new song I debuted last night, "I Wanna Make Some Noise."

Ali and Rick were amazing together! Ali has a beautiful voice and gorgeous songs. Rick would add guitar solos, and at one point he used his pedal to loop a guitar riff and play a solo over it. If you've never seen a guitar player do this before, it's very cool and he basically ended up playing a duet with himself.

For the inaugural Gospel Show, I was very pleased with the results. The crowd was very appreciative, the players were great, and the energy in the room was wonderful! Tonight, we're exhausted, but it was so worth the effort.

Mark your calendars for next year!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Tin Pan North - Trane

After months of planning, Tin Pan North has begun!

The official start was the London show last night, and tonight we kicked it off in Toronto. Gerald and I played the early round at Trane, a neat little jazz club in the Annex. Karl Widmeyer was the third NSAI member, and Katherine Wheatley was our headliner.

Sometimes, a round can be a tedious thing, but not tonight. Karl has a great voice and cool songs, and Katherine is just awesome - wonderful songs and a gracious stage presence.

The room was mostly full, so that felt good as well.

One show down, one to go. Come join us for the Gospel Show tomorrow night!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

It's coming soon......

Just a reminder that our Tin Pan North Gospel Show is this Friday!

If you're anywhere close to the GTA, come join us for this awesome night of Christian songwriting!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

A Double St. John's Sunday

It amazes me the number of churches we sing at that are named after St. John. We currently have 3, and we've just added a fourth.

Today, we hit 2 of them.

In the morning, we sang at St. John's West in High Park. The request had come in for a service full of old Gospel hymns, so we sang "In the Garden," "Just a Closer Walk," and our own version of "How Great Thou Art." St. John's has been our friend for a long time, and it's always good to go back for a visit.

In the evening, Gerald and I were on board to lead the music for the Gathering service. Our focus was songs of comfort and encouragement, so we asked a member of the congregation to open the service with Matthew 6:25-34. We wanted to build a bit of a team for the service, so our friends Derwyn and Deanna joined us on vocals, which meant lots of great harmonies. Deanna did a solo of "All Who are Thirsty," and we were able to build the harmony from one-part to two-part and ended with 3 parts. Awesome!

There's always a little apprehension when you bring new musicians together for a performance that only has one quick rehearsal, so we went back to basics - listen, sing with sensitivity, and rely on your strengths.

In the best moments, working with other people makes you better...

Better because you bring your best to the table...
Better because you learn to offer and receive grace...
Better because you discover your own strengths and weaknesses...

It can take us outside our comfort zones, but if we can make great music, and learn a little more about ourselves, it's always worth it.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Lessons from Backwoods Barbie & the Gambler

Friday's Oprah guest was the one and only Dolly Parton. She was funny and charming and just so Dolly.

She told an amazing story about the time Elvis wanted to record "I Will Always Love You." She was over-the-moon excited, until Colonel Parker told her that Elvis wouldn't record the song unless Dolly gave them half her publishing. It had already been a hit for her, and she had decided to hold onto that song and leave it to her family.

Imagine what an amazing recording Elvis would have done of that song! We would still be downloading it today, debating its status as a 'classic.' Dolly admitted to crying for days after losing the cut, but her "no" meant that she got to keep her song. Years later, when Whitney Houston recreated "I Will Always Love You," Dolly got to celebrate full ownership of this awesome song.

Sometimes a "No" leads to a bigger "Yes."

As Dolly was singing, she brought out her friend, Kenny Rogers, for a surprise duet. When Oprah asked the secret to their great creative relationship, Kenny said something that all artists should take note of.

He said that every performer has 3 versions of themselves. There's the person the audience sees, there's the person we portray ourselves as, and there's the real us.

He said that if you really want success in the music industry, those 3 people need to be very similar. The closer those 3 people match up, the better it all seems to work.

I guess it all goes back to that word we love to throw around so much: Authentic.

Something to think about on a Friday afternoon...

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Jazzy Sunday

We decided to step outside the box a little tonight and start incorporating a little jazz into the Gathering (evening service). Gerald worked up 2 great arrangements of "Be Thou My Vision" and "People Get Ready." We met before the service for a quick rehearsal with Monique on piano and Brian on drums.

We ran the songs a few times, and then played on all the songs for the service. Drew preached on 'conversion', basing his discussion on Paul's conversion in Acts. It lead to an inspiring and challenging discussion.

After the final song, we ran our 2 jazz songs. By that time, the vibe was just right, and the songs were musical and spiritual. After the second song, one of our friends in the congregation told us how much she loves our rendition of "Give Me Jesus," so we offered to play it for her. We've never done it with drums before, but it all just flowed and felt fantastic.

There are times when the music, the message, and the worship all swirl together to take us to the next level, and it felt like we were touching on that tonight. And trust me, there's no ego in my saying that - when things get to that level, it has very little to do with us.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Choir... Jazz... Gonna be a Good Sunday!

We had a terrific rehearsal tonight! Gerald and I are going to join the Gathering service Sunday evening to sing a bit of Gospel jazz, so we ran through those songs this afternoon, and then brought them to Monique tonight. She's going to add a little piano, Brian will add a little drums... it's going to be good!

But first, the morning service will host St. Stephen's Youth Choir as our special guests. The school-aged children were part of our Advent celebrations, and it's awesome to have them back with us again. The children will join us for 2 songs, they'll do the offertory on their own, and one young girl is singing a solo. After tonight's rehearsal, we shared subs, social time, and a few good knock-knock jokes. Really looking forward to Sunday...

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

New project in the works...

I love a new project! It's like Christmas and Easter and Birthday Week all rolled into one!

Every week, Gerald and I have our Weekly Creative Meeting. That may sound like the weirdest thing ever to some people, but I assure you that it is one of the greatest things we do together. In that time, we postmortem past opportunities and dream up new ones. We make plans and celebrate our progress.

Yesterday's meeting was a kicker, and it's got us on a new project that's occupying a surprisingly large part of my brain. I'm not quite ready to lay it out here yet, but I promise I'll do that soon.

In the meantime, we're pulling together details for our upcoming performances at Tin Pan North, including our awesome Gospel Show, and also working on some cool church stuff.

I also had a great chat today with Sally Barris, who will be coming up for a weekend tour in June.

All the details for Tin Pan and Sally can be found on the Calendar of my site. More details coming soon!!!

Seriously - it's like Christmas and Halloween and Canada Day and Valentine's, all in one!

Friday, May 07, 2010

Radio Interview airing Saturday!

I started my day with a radio interview! I chatted with Jim McLachlin of UCB Canada about my new site, "Hymns in the Key of Grace," and the Tin Pan North Gospel Show.

(On a cool side note, I first met Jim when he interviewed me and Tara Jackson at NQC in 2008.)

I just found out that today's interview will air tomorrow night!

Here's the info, if you'd like to listen in:

Saturday, May 8,
some time between 7:00-8:00pm

UCB Canada 89.3 FM

It will also air online at

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Photos from AWARE Weekend

After taking a bit of much needed quiet time this week, I've finally posted my photos from the AWARE conference this past weekend!

You can find them either on the Gallery page of my Site or on my Facebook page.

Monday, May 03, 2010

One year ago today...

... Gerald and I survived our car accident.

I don't have much to say about it tonight, other than this: I am so incredibly grateful for my family, our friends, and God's faithfulness.

Carpe diem, everybody.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

AWARE Conference - Day 3

When I think back over the last 3 days, all I can say is, “Amazing.”

Deanna and decided to have some quiet time this morning. We rehearsed by the lake, and after brunch, spent some quiet time in the chapel. We wanted to be well prepared - musically and spiritually - for this afternoon’s Communion service.

The service started outside with a parade around the chapel. Ladies carried flags and banners, I played the djembe, and we all sang, “We Are Marching.” The sun was shining, the air was clear, and the whole thing was glorious!

The Communion service was a wonderful way to end the weekend. The ladies sang and praised in all the songs, the prayers were beautiful, and the sharing of the peace could have gone on for hours.

After lots of hugs and long goodbyes, Deanna and I left for Toronto. I made it home in time for a quick clean-up and then went to hear Gerald sing a little Elvis in the church’s annual Musicfest concert. He was a hit, and it was great to just sit back and be in the audience after such a busy weekend.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

AWARE Conference - Day 2

Today was a long and wonderful day with the women of AWARE. We started bright and early with a few solos as the women were entering the chapel, which lead into a joyful time of worship. These women really came here to sing! When they see a song come up on the screen that they love, we get a collective gasp of surprise, followed by joyful and boisterous singing.

This weekend has been crazy busy, so Deanna and I took a little time this morning to sit by the lake with our tea. Lovely.

Gospel artists often debate (ie: argue) about “preparation” vs “following the Spirit.” Well, today was an example of how good preparation can allow you to follow the Spirit. When I was packing my music on Friday, I decided to throw in a few charts for some of the Gospel hymns I like to sing: “Just as I am,” “He Touched Me,” “Jesus is Lord of All,” and so on. This afternoon, we gathered in the chapel for the much anticipated Taize service. We moved our instruments to the floor so we could sit on chairs and be closer to the people, the candles, and the small altar. We did a quick sound check, and as we were waiting for the service to begin, the organizers informed us that, following the service, there would be a short time of annointing. Did we have a few gentle songs we could sing during that time, perhaps something like “Just as I am”?

Why yes, yes we do.

The service was wonderful. We sang about 8 Taize choruses, and in between each one, different women would either read scripture or say a prayer. There was a gentle stillness about the whole thing. After the service proper, I took the guitar and played my collection of hymns. A few people gently sang along. I needed one more, so I played my own song, “I Call Out Your Name.”

The times in between services and worship sessions has been filled with chatting, laughing, deep breaths by the lake, and lots and lots of food! What is it about church folks and eating???

Our evening worship was awesome! They sang and danced and waved flags and it was beautiful! I wish I’d had my camera up on stage with me to take a picture of it, but a photo couldn’t have captured the beauty of the faces and the voices. After our session, Melanie spoke again and then did a short concert of her songs.

We’re all very tired tonight, but it’s a satisfied tired.