Sunday, August 29, 2010

Calvary Church

We arrived home Friday night, thankful for a safe drive and a productive trip. I can't remember the last time we worked so hard, and we weren't ready to stop yet.

Earlier this year, my friend Deanna suggested we come to her church, and this morning, it came to fruition. Calvary Church is a great church at Pape and Danforth in Toronto. From the outside, it's an old, beautiful brick church, but inside, the sanctuary is fresh and contemporary.

The church uses a rotation system for its large roster of volunteer musicians and worship leaders. This morning, Deanna lead a team that included guitar, drums, piano, bass, flute, violin, and vocals.

Gerald and I did three feature songs - "Just a Closer Walk," "Give Me Jesus," and "A Church Song Broke Me Down" (Deanna's favourite!) We also joined the team for "Blessed Be Your Name," which was very cool!

The people at Calvary Church were awesome, and we spent lots of time after the service chatting and sharing stories. After packing up, we headed over to Deanna's for a relaxing barbecue, and the unofficial start of our week off!

What was supposed to be a fairly relaxing summer has been awesome, but busy, so we're taking the next week to relax, enjoy our backyard, and just do nothing!


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Final Studio Day

I've been trying to blog at the end of the day, but today is so long, and it's far from over, so to avoid falling asleep while I write, I'm writing from the studio.

We've been here since noon, and it's now 7:43pm. We had to take a meeting this morning, so the studio had a bit of a late start. Kind of wish now we'd started it all earlier. We're still on the fourth song, and we have one more to go after this.

Not trying to complain (even though I know it sounds like I'm complaining) - I'm just tired, and we have a long drive tomorrow, so I really want to get a good night's sleep.

The recording process has been amazing. Everyone has been so creative and awesome. Our demo singers have really inspired me in different ways - Lisa is so prepared and present, and Justin has great harmony skills.

Denny has started some rough mixes already, and he'll continue that after we leave. I don't know how long it'll take for us to get the final mixes, but when we do, we'll post them on Gerald's myspace page (I'll post a link when they're up).

After we leave here, we're going to join Tara and Kyle for a late supper, then get as much sleep as we can before tomorrow morning.

I'm not as anxious about the drive as I was last week, but if you're the praying kind, I'd still appreciate you lifting a few up for us over the next few days. Thanks...

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

More Vocals and Overdubs!

Too tired to blog.

Lisa finished her vocals - amazing!

Scott came to the studio and added a gritty guitar to one song.

Finally got a little time for shopping and visiting with friends.

Happy, tired, and ready for our final Nashville day tomorrow.

My Dad is a Blogger!

Please welcome my Dad, Rev. Hollis Hiscock, to the world of blogging!

Dad is a great writer, preacher, and photographer, and I know his blog will be awesome!

Feel free to check him out and leave him a comment at Moss from a Rolling Stone.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Female Vocals - Day 1

With the car at the dealership, we were so grateful that our vocalist for the day is also a good friend of ours.

Lisa picked us up this morning and we all gathered at the studio to record the vocals for Gerald’s female songs. Lisa has a fantastic ability to sing all-out power vocals, and then pull it down to a beautiful, intimate sound.

Her voice was soulful on “Johnny Cash’s Eyes” and sweet and powerful on “Me and Patsy Cline.” When we got to the background vocals, Gerald asked me to recreate what Monika and I did on last month’s worktapes. I added the upper harmony and Lisa added the lower line.

I also stepped into the booth for “All Her Flowers are Wild.” I always sing harmonies on this one live, but when we moved it from Gerald’s key up to Lisa’s key, the parts didn’t work as well. With Denny’s expertise, we created a new harmony line, and I actually sang both the upper and lower parts. Recording harmonies feels very different than singing them live, but I’m really happy with what we were able to do.

At the end of a very long and productive day, Lisa drove us to the dealership to pick up our car. We’re hoping it’s fixed forever now. Can’t say I’m happy with the unexpected expense, but if it keeps us safe on the drive home, I’m happy for that.

The dealership is on Broadway, so we went down the street a little so I could have a quick shopping trip at the amazing Lifeway Christian Bookstore - my favourite! The store almost cheered when I walked through the doors...

As a treat to ourselves, we went to Maggiano’s for an awesome meal and some decompression time. In the morning, we’ll be packing up and heading to Tara’s for a few nights. We’re back at the studio again tomorrow, and then again on Wednesday. Non-stop...

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Redeemer and Rounds

The day started bright and early when I awoke at 6:15am. The last time I sang at Church of the Redeemer was a year ago this month, and I couldn't wait to join Jenna and team for rehearsal (though the new 7:45am rehearsal time was less than thrilling).

Our return to Nashville has been wonderful, but this morning, I really felt like I had come home. Singing with Jenna is so natural, and she had built a great team and chosen great songs for this morning. Throughout the morning, I was greeted and hugged and loved on. I got to see almost everyone I wanted to see, and it all felt so good.

After the service, everyone gathered downstairs for a presentation by the recent mission team. They had taken a trip to our sister parish in Rwanda to work with local children. The stories and videos were incredible. I've never taken a mission trip, but I can feel the desire brewing in me...

Jenna and I slipped out early so we could enjoy some lunch and catching up time. As we finished lunch, I realized that Mary Tom Speer was sitting at the table behind us! What an awesome blessing! I just love Miss Mary Tom!

Jenna and I spent the rest of the afternoon sipping cappuccinos and chatting about music, throwing ideas around, and encouraging each other. While we were out, Gerald sent me a text saying that Denny Martin had asked him to play a round at the Commodore tonight! Whoo-hoo!

I thought, "Perfect - I'll drive home, take a little nap, and be all refreshed for the round."

I pulled into a gas station to fill up, and when I was done, I turned the key...

the car wouldn't start.

The car wouldn't start!

The car wouldn't start!!

Two and a half hot and tiring hours later, the tow truck dropped our car off at the dealership. Everything was closed today, so we'll have to get on that tomorrow morning before we hit the studio.


Meanwhile, Gerald had come to meet me, so the tow truck driver also brought us to the Commodore. I was going to sing harmony, but I was so tired and overheated that I decided to simply sip sweet tea and play the role of Proud Wife.

Gerald was awesome! His songs really stood out, and his performance was great! After his round, the featured round started, and it was fantastic! These guys were seasoned writers and performers, and it showed in the quality of the songs. You'd pay $20 a head to hear something like this at the Bluebird, and here we were watching it for free. It was seriously good. Whenever they'd sing a great line or a great hook, the audience of songwriters would cheer and applaud. Really, really good.

I was thinking tonight about the diversity of our summer - July in NYC - August in Nashville - both so different, yet both fantastic!

We're wondering what it would take to live in three cities...

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Overdubs and Elijah Conference - Day 4

We were back at the studio first thing this morning for overdubs. If yesterday was the landscape of the painting - the grass, water, and sky - then the overdubs are the flowers and other decorative flourishes that are scattered over the canvas.

Scott was our 'utility' player. He brought pedal steel, mandolin, and dobro and added parts to four of Gerald's songs. In a short 2 hours, the songs had been brought to yet another level. Just beautiful! Can't wait for the vocal sessions next week. (We're not doing our own vocals. Instead, we've hired some amazing country singers. It's going to be great!)

After the session, Gerald and I drove to Grace Nazarene for the final sessions of the Elijah Conference. Allison was giving everyone one more chance to sing today. I hadn't been able to sing yet, so Gerald and I did two songs - "A Church Song Broke Me Down" and "Give Me Jesus." Allison was pretty gentle with us, but gave us some great feedback.

The conference ended with a blessing, lots of hugs, and plans to meet up on facebook.

We left the church and walked out into a wild thunderstorm, which we took as a sign to stay in for the evening. It's been a crazy four days, and tomorrow will be early for me, so a quiet night was just the ticket.

Friday, August 20, 2010

In the Studio - LIVE BLOGGING!

Welcome to my first day of live blogging!

Today we're in the studio recording Gerald's demos, and I'll be blogging throughout the day in real time. I'll keep this post open, and just keep adding to the bottom. Check back often and remember to refresh this page so you can join in the adventure of the day!

9:18am - We're here in Antioch at the studio of Denny Martin. The players are arriving and enjoying the Krispy Kremes we brought with us. The coffee is flowing...

9:31am - The players are all here in the booth with us, reviewing charts for the first song. Everyone's nodding along as they listen to Gerald's worktape and review the charts. People are taking notes, figuring out the tempo, and debating how to play the details. Compliments are flowing - nice! These guys hear a lot of songs.

9:40am - Gerald is in the vocal booth to record a scratch vocal. The demo singer will sing the final vocal next week. The scratch is simply to guide the musicians. They've started - it sounds AWESOME!!!!! WHOO-HOO!!!! I'm grinning like an idiot :)

9:54am - Instruments on the session are keyboard, drums, electric bass, electric guitar, and acoustic guitar. Denny just explained that when the band is playing, the electric guitar will play rhythm, keeping along with the band. After he'll do an overdub to do more solo, wailing, cool stuff. Amazing to see all this creativity coming together.

10:00am - "I'm not very smart, but I'm a good listener and a good eater." as said by the guitar player. Possibly the best quote of the day :)

10:08am - Instrumental solos and licks are being improvised by the guitars and keys. Wow.

10:13am - First song done! On to the next!

10:20am - Reviewing charts for song 2. Gerald is showing them how he wants the hook played.

10:33am - Just received a note from Monika asking for song titles. So far, we've done "Watertower", and now they're doing "Last Payphone in the World." It's sounding amazing. The players are so tight and so fast, and in between takes they're sharing jokes, jabs, and kudos.

10:54am - Debating tempo. Tempo can make or break a song. Should it be more Kenny Chesney or more Brad Paisley? Playing it several ways right now, different speeds, different grooves.

11:13am - Here's how the music looks as Denny is recording the different tracks. Each coloured line represents a different instrument. The half lines on the screen are the solos/overdubs being added to the tracks that the full band just recorded.

11:33am - Starting "Me and Patsy Cline." Debating starting with just piano and building the track by having the band come in on the chorus. Making sure the key will work for Lisa on Monday. Making sure all the chords on the chart match what Gerald is playing on the worktape.

11: 40am - Gerald waving from inside the booth.

11:54am - Doing the first take of "Me and Patsy Cline." Finally understand what Gerald meant when he said they way we play it is too 'folk' for country radio. This sounds like something you'd hear on the radio. It has more drive, more power - really embodies the empowerment experienced by the lead character. Sounds different to hear it this way, but it's really cool.

12:30pm - Lunch!

1:27pm - Back from lunch. Awesome little Italian buffet with piles of pizza, eggplant, and mussels.

1:29pm - Starting the afternoon with "Johnny Cash's Eyes."

1:38pm - The players are getting back in place after the lunch break, new charts in hand. Retuning the guitars and making sure we have all the right sounds on the keys and drums. The drummer is behind the panels, and that's Denny on the left making sure everyone has what they need.

2:17pm - Just took a slew of photos. Going to post a few today, but I'll post lots of facebook and my site later, maybe when we get home. Getting ready to start "All Her Flowers are Wild" - one my favourite songs Gerald has ever written!!!

2: 27pm - Here's a shot of the chart for "Johnny Cash's Eyes." If you click on it, it should get larger and then you can see the Nashville Number System in action. The numbers allow the players to change keys without changing charts. Notice too how the foam is placed between the cymbal and its mic to act as a bit of a buffer (I'm sure there's a technical name for this? Feel free to add to the comments if you know it.)

2:57pm- Couldn't get online for a few minutes - freaked me out! Back now, and they're doing the first pass of "Fifteen Minutes of Shame." This is a song that needs a great band, and it sounds amazing. It's incredible how these guys can make a first pass sound like a song they've been playing for years.

3:14pm - My drum solo...

3:19pm - Adding B3 organ to "Fifteen Minutes of Shame" - we're all very happy!

3:47 - Don't think I've said this yet, but I'm realizing that session players are process-based and not product-based musicians. They're not saving and using all their creativity for their own completed songs or CDs. Instead, they get in the studio every day, sharing their creativity with other artists and other songwriters. They won't get copies of all their work and they won't get to play their arrangements every night on the road. Instead, the joy is in the process of making great music, in this short moment, and then moving on to the next great moment of creativity.

3:54pm - Moving on to the last song of the day, "When Saturday Morning was All Day Long." A few weeks ago, I suggested to Gerald that this would make a great duet, so that's how they're going to record it! Still pushing to see if that qualifies me for a co-writing credit...

4:04pm - Debating a last minute key change - whether dropping it a semi-tone will make it too low to sing nice harmonies next week?

4:10pm - After one take, we've decided the new key doesn't work, so we're back to the original. Going to slow it down a click or two. Gerald is showing them the vocal on the bridge so everything can get tight. Doing a water bottle run out to the vocal booth.

4:19pm - New key and new tempo sound great! Single take is done. Now the different players are going back and saying "Just let me redo bar 5 of the chorus..." and other such tweaks. Denny will just punch those in when he's doing the final mix.

4:34pm - Learning the history of the people we're working with. Our acoustic guitar player didn't start playing til after university. Amazing! Don't ever think it's too late to start following your dream...

4:41pm - Our songs are DONE! Whoo-hoo!!! Just wrapping up now. The players are going to do one more short piece of their own before we pack up.

4:53pm - After playing country music all day, the players have flicked the music switch in their heads and are now playing a 50's style film soundtrack.

5:11pm - Taking group photos and collecting email addresses.

5:22pm - Photo of us and Denny.

5:23pm - We're finished and packing up and heading out. Saying thank you and making sure we have everything we brought with us. Heading into Nashville for supper and to watch a round at the Commodore. Love live blogging! Hope you enjoyed it too :)

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Elijah Conference - Day 2 and Demo Prep

First, an announcement:

Tomorrow, I'm LIVE BLOGGING!

We'll be in studio all day, and they have wifi. Instead of blogging in the evening, I'm going to post updates throughout the day about our experience. Tune in tomorrow anytime after 9:00am Central Time and I'll be posting updates. I'll try to post photos during the day too!


Today was awesome. We spent the morning chatting with our producer, Denny Martin, and working through the arrangements for tomorrow. Last week, Gerald sent him rough guitar-vocal recordings of his songs. Denny took these 'worktapes' and wrote out all the musical arrangements, including the chords, the song structure, and which instruments will play on each song. We're recording nine songs, so this planning will make tomorrow run smoothly.

After lunch, I returned to the Elijah Conference. I started my afternoon right with an awesome cappuccino, courtesy of my friend, Wess Adams. He and his wife, Susan, are some of my dearest Stamps-Baxter friends.

The friendships are half the reason to attend Elijah. There are so many sweet and talented people here. Today, I finally met my friend Rhonda Frye in real life - we met on facebook a year ago! And I also got to witness the birth of my friend Jennifer's new blog. Yay, blogging!

The teaching today was intense! To put it in a nutshell, Allison focused on being authentic in our ministry. Everyone gets tired of the church cliches - what can I say that is new and fresh and personal?

After this intense afternoon, I picked up Gerald and we went out to Antioch to see the studio and finalize the arrangements with Denny. I got to sing through Gerald's songs as we put the girl songs in a good key for our female vocalist (our awesomely talented friend, Lisa Mowry.)

Gerald and Denny started talking flat sevenths and minor fifths and diminished something-or-anothers and my head started to spin. That kind harmonic knowledge just blows my mind - not just the technical knowledge - I've got that - but the ability to use it to write songs and create new and exciting sounds. Love it!

We went back to the area where we used to live - had a late supper at our old Cracker Barrel (Coca-Cola cake!) and picked up provisions at our old Kroger. We're overwhelmed with how surreal it feels to be back. We're traveling in another country, and yet we're home. Pretty awesome...

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Elijah Conference - Day 1

I have that bleary-eyed tiredness that only comes after a full day of good stuff.

After our two-day drive, I was in pretty rough shape this morning - not just tired, but my neck was really stiff. I treated myself to a gentle start of stretching and espresso, and arrived at the Elijah Conference during Allison's first performance training session.

The focus of Elijah is to train people in music ministry to balance their dual role as Artist and Servant. The core of the conference is Performance Training. Designed like a classical masterclass, each participant performs one song, which Allison then dissects and tweaks to bring out that individual's personal strengths and artistry. It takes real courage to allow yourself to be critiqued in public, and the singers today were awesome. I'm looking forward to singing for Allison later this week, but even as I say that, I can feel the butterflies doing a salsa in my stomach...

The training sessions are separated by guest speakers and lecturers. Stephen Hill dropped by this morning to share his passion about singing the Gospel. Stephen is huge, odd, and chock full of wisdom (and no, I'm not speaking about him behind his back - he'd be the first to say he's odd). I took tons of notes, and then marvelled (as usual) at his killer chops and awesome songs. Yes, I'm a fan.

This afternoon, Pastor Ken Dove spoke about "The Traveling Musician Through the Eyes of a Pastor." What makes a pastor love having a certain artist at his or her church? What can I do that will make sure I get invited back? What could I do that could prevent me from receiving a return invitation? Lots of wisdom, more notes.

And of course, one of the best things about Elijah Conference is the people! It's been awesome to see so many dear Stamps-Baxter friends, and meet all the new folks too. And we are in the South so, you know, there's some eating going on...

I had to miss last year's Elijah Conference. After our accident, we just couldn't afford to make the trip to Nashville. I'm so, so, so very happy to be here!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

We're in Nashville!

We arrived around supper time tonight - tired, but very happy.

We had a great drive over two days with almost perfect weather, and an awesome hotel last night.

The final hour was all crazy thunderstorms, but there were no tornadoes, so we can't complain too much.

Resting and relaxing tonight. Up bright and early tomorrow morning for the Elijah Conference!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

St. Philip's Anglican Church

In the midst of our crazy Nashville planning week, we've been rehearsing for an awesome gig booked for this morning.

St. Philip's is a great little church right on the edge of Etobicoke. The musical theme for the service was inspired by "Hymns in the Key of Grace" with songs like "Softly and Tenderly", "Come Thou Fount" and "Give Me Jesus." For focus and communion songs, we shared some of our originals - "Somebody's Angel", "A Church Song Broke Me Down", and "Living Manna, Living Bread."

The people joined us in song, and a good time was had by all!

After church, we finished packing, made the final arrangements with the house-sitter, and took the first leg our trip so we could bring our puppies to my parents for a vacation of their own.

Tomorrow, we start our drive to Nashville.

This is the first time we've done the trip by ourselves since before our accident.

I'd be lying if I said we didn't have some anxiety.

But we have a plan, and I'm always good with a plan.

We also have prayer, and faith, and each other, and that's better than anything.

If you're the praying kind, please throw one out for us this week.


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Gearing up for Nashville!

Next week this time, I'll be blogging from Nashville!

It'll be the first time we've returned since moving home to Canada, which was actually a year ago yesterday.

I'm excited, nervous, excited...

Excited because we'll be recording demos for Gerald, attending the Elijah School of Performance, seeing friends, and singing at our Nashville home church, Church of the Redeemer.

I'm nervous because it'll be the first time I've done the Toronto-Nashville drive since our accident.

We have a plan in place, and that always makes me feel better - 2 days to do the drive, scheduled breaks, great play list on the iPod...

So right now, our days are filled with prep work. I feel a little like a wrung out face cloth, but I'm hoping to have everything done by Friday night so we can enjoy the weekend.

Oh, and I'm also excited to be heading to the land of pulled pork and red velvet cake... bring it on!

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Gospel at the Moonshine Cafe

A few months ago, the folks at Chartwell Baptist Church in Oakville invited us to perform a night of music at the Moonshine Cafe for a very special part of their congregation. The members of the Kerr St. community live in the area, but don't attend a lot of events. Well, they came ready for a good time tonight!

We broke away from the usual singer-songwriter mode of the Moonshine to present an evening of inspirational music. We mixed Gospel, hymns, praise & worship, and originals to create a night that would be cool and fun. We invited people to sing on the familiar songs, and we shared the stories behind our originals. It was awesome!

The members of the Kerr St. community have faced some amazing trials in their lives. Despite the challenges that Gerald and I have both overcome - in our individual lives and in the past year - we still have moments of short-sightedness, when we allow the little things to become too important, and when frustrations and impatience rule our decisions. Meeting the people of Kerr St, hearing their stories and seeing their strength, reminded me of just how blessed we are.

I know that sounds like a selfish reason for appreciating people ("Seeing your pain makes me realize how lucky I am!") and we're all guilty of it (thus the success of daytime talk shows), but sometimes, hearing the stories of others really can remind us that we are abundantly blessed, and we should just get off our self-built pity pedestals and appreciate it.

Sermon's done - happy for a great night of music!

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Are Dreams Selfish?

I'm feeling very inspired tonight!

For the past 8 weeks, I've been taking a course on manifesting your dreams. Run by creativity expert, SARK, the class offers practical and creative ways to go from "dreaming to doing." We covered topics like support systems, productivity, and self-care. SARK's approach to living your dream is holistic - don't just have your dream, but have a life that is happy and peaceful and healthy.

Each week, we would have an amazing teleconference phone call and a printable workbook. An interactive website allowed all the students (from across North America and around the world) to connect, encourage, and inspire each other.

When you focus on following your dreams, it's amazing how things start to link together:

Today, one of my favourite bloggers, Matthew Paul Turner, wrote a post on following your dreams.

This afternoon, my musical friend and AWARE partner,
Deanna, sent me an article on following your dreams.

And on tonight's final teleclass, I chatted with a woman from Toronto!

All these little pieces swirling together to inspire and encourage!

We don't like to talk about "following our dreams" in ministry. I think we consider it flighty, or immature, or worst of all, selfish.

But the Bible tells us that God knows the desires of our heart, and that He has great plans for us.

Doesn't that sound like dreaming to you?

I could write for hours and hours about this, but let me just leave you with this thought for tonight:

What dream - large or small - has God given you that you've been ignoring?

What small step can you take towards making that dream come true?

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Gage Park

Long day with a short blog.

Afternoon singing for seniors - mixed program of Gospel songs and senior 'classics'.

Never fails to amaze me how people will sing along to "In the Garden" - amazing!

Evening singing at Gage Park in Brampton. Mix of originals and our version of classic and praise songs.

Good music, great volunteers, and awesome audience.

Been racing around since NYC. Ready for a day off any time now...