Sunday, January 30, 2011

Break Forth - Day 3

This morning started with a songwriting workshop with Don Poythress called Right Song, Right Place. His main focus was on knowing which song to sing in which type of venue. He brought up the image of the temple, with its outer court, inner court, and Holy of Holies. Each of these areas could represent a different kind of performance opportunity and, as songwriters, we can create unique songs for each of these areas.

Songwriter, Don Poythress

Next I attended Essentials of Worship Theology with Dan Wilt. This could be a university course! Covering topics like Celtic theology, the Trinity, and God's relationship with humanity through Genesis, Dan explained how worship can be a creative act, a communal act, a royal act, and storytelling act.

But the afternoon was the highlight for me! Our worship session was lead by Paul Baloche, and it was awesome! There's nothing like singing a song when lead by the writer. We sing "Your Name" and "Open the Eyes of My Heart" all the time, but to be lead in this song by Paul was so special. I found myself shifting from joyful worshiper to observant musician. How did he do that transition? How can we use that at home?

Years ago, I read Blue Like Jazz and couldn't stop talking about it. So hearing its author, Donald Miller, was one of the things that excited me most about this weekend. Donald is funny, intelligent, and authentic. Recalling the story of Joseph, his message focused on the kind of person God will use and to what purpose. It was inspiring and wonderful!

Break Forth is officially over, but the real work is about to begin! I'm coming home with a bag full of resources - training DVDs for our worship team, CDs of new songs, books on songwriting, and more DVDs for small groups. My bag is full of notes and websites and ideas. My imagination is percolating with new creative thoughts.

I'm so thankful my Dad found the brochure for Break Forth, and I'm so thankful for all the people that helped support us in this trip. Now we're just praying for a safe flight home tomorrow!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Break Forth - Day 2

The day started bright and early with a worship session lead by Pocket Full of Rocks. I hadn't heard them before, but they were really good.

John Eldredge was our speaker, and I think he'll go down as one of my favourite parts of this conference. He spoke about the importance of the humanity of Jesus. If we think Jesus was 'faking' his humanity, then how can we actually relate to him? So he brought us through different stories to show us the personality of Jesus - his playfulness, his cunning, and the camaraderie he had with this friends. The whole message felt so generous and inspiring! I could have listened for hours more.

My first elective workshop was Worship Planning with Kim Gentes. Most of it I already knew, but he did take us through an interesting history of worship planning, which was neat. After lunch, I studied the Key Attitudes of Worship Leaders with Dan Wilt, which was awesome! He listed 7 different attributes held by great worship leaders, and broke down ways we can develop these skills in ourselves. To end the afternoon, Gerald and I attended our first workshop together - Taking it to the Next Level with songwriter Don Poythress. It was really inspiring and practical.

Instead of taking a supper break, I headed straight to the exhibit hall and bookstore. My visa card got super excited! I stocked up on training DVDs from Brian Doerkson and Paul Baloche, with a few CDs and books thrown in for good measure.

Tonight was a mixed bag for me. The assembly opened with Brian Doerkson leading worship, which was awesome! His songs and the music were great, but the spirit of the session was just fantastic - gentle, sensitive, and welcoming. When Brian leads worship, you know it's going to be safe, and I mean that in a really good way. He's not going to take you anywhere weird or forced.

After a prayer and an offering, we were supposed to have another song, but something went wrong with the tech, so we sang a few acapella choruses. 15000 people singing acapella, with full harmony. Just awesome!

I was really excited to hear our speaker for tonight, Franklin Graham. I was looking forward to hearing about his experiences with Samaritan's Purse, responding to the earthquake in Haiti, and ministering to people in need. I thought, "What a great message for 15000 people who are ministering on a regular basis in their home churches!"

Unfortunately, that's not the message he gave. Instead, he gave a Bible-thumping, turn-from-your-sin-and-repent message and altar call to a room full of people who are not just Christians, but already in active ministry. He was just so over the top, very preachy, and not my cup of tea. It obviously meant something to the few people who came up during the altar call, but what about the thousands of other people in the audience who could have used a message about how to bring Christian love into areas of trial and crisis? I don't like to be openly critical of preachers, because I know they have a tough job, but I really think it was a great lesson on knowing your audience and choosing a message that can really serve them.

The session ended with another great song by Brian. Another lesson: always send them out singing!

Favourite Friday Story

I forgot to post this yesterday:

On a break in the workshop, I was in the ladies room, and a woman asked if I was from Edmonton. I said, "No, I'm from Toronto."

She was surprised I'd come all that way for the conference, and she asked about what I did in Toronto.

"A singer? Do you have CDs?"

"Yes, I do."

"Do you sell them here?"

"Um, you mean in the bathroom?"

"Well, yes!"

And I sold 2 CDs in the ladies room!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Break Forth - Day 1

What a day! How do I put it all in a few sentences?

We were up before dawn today and saw a glorious sunrise from our hotel before heading out to register for Break Forth. Today featured all day intensive workshops before the 'official' start of the conference tonight.

Gerald spent the day with songwriter Don Poythress, and I focused on worship skills with Brian Doerkson and Paul Baloche.

When Brian started, I thought, "Oh, this is going to be casual and anecdotal." How deceptive! Within minutes, he had us on a 2 hour journey about the inherent nature of all humans to worship something, and the role of the worship leader in redirecting that focus to God. He spoke about idolatry, individualism, and the fascinating concepts of the "orphan mindset" and "fatherless worship." So much to chew on and sort through.

Songwriter & worship leader, Brian Doerkson.

Gerald and I met for lunch in a busy pub to compare notes, and then I headed back for Paul Baloche's share of the day. His style was high energy, hilarious, and very practical. But before even hitting the 'practical' tools of organizing a set and leading a team, he brought us through the worship leader's Biblical role of "ministering to the Lord."

This evening, we had a full opening assembly. There were songs by Canadian singer-songwriters Steve Bell and Joel Auge. During the worship session, painter Lewis Lavoie created a canvas live on the stage. The main worship session was lead by the always wonderful Casting Crowns. Their music is so rich and full, and yet the songs are real worship songs - simple melodies, personal lyrics, and very accessible to sing. The hardest part of the evening was my still-missing voice. I can speak better than I could earlier in the week, but my singing voice is not back. Worshiping without a voice is a new experience for me, yet I still found the time moving and meaningful. I have a feeling a song may come out of this.

Our huge opening assembly. I'm about halfway back, so you can see the venue is huge!

Our speaker, Dr. Kevin Leman, writes about family and marriage. His psychology was a little too Mars-Venus for me in some places, but he's absolutely hilarious, and when he really wants to make a point, it can be very powerful.

Gerald and I decided to skip the late night concerts tonight so we could review the day and continue to rest my voice. So much to see and do tomorrow! I haven't even hit the bookstore yet - my visa card is so excited!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Ready to Break Forth!

This morning, we finally hit the Edmonton Mall (after much prodding from all my Facebook friends). I think I expected it to be more architecturally imposing, like the Eaton Centre. Instead, it was just huge and sprawling, with ice rinks, a water park, a pirate ship, China Town, and sea lions. We didn't buy a lot, but we did have a red velvet cupcake (still can't find one as good as in the South) and butter chicken poutine (surprisingly good!).

This afternoon we checked into our hotel, which has the most amazing view! This photo doesn't even do it justice:

We spent the evening relaxing, trying to continue my vocal rest, and prepping for the next three days. This conference is going to be huge, so I'm hoping a little planning today will help us make the most of the next few days. Can't wait for the morning!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Tonight's Concert is Canceled!

Well, God made the decision for us!

This morning, I woke up, still voiceless. Gerald called to cancel our participation in tonight's concert, but the organizer was still eager to find a Plan B for the evening.

Within 2 hours she called us back: the roads between here and Barrhead are completely shut down due to ice conditions, so the pastor has canceled tonight's concert!

Even if I was perfectly healthy, the concert still wouldn't have happened!

Well, I now have 60 CDs in my suitcase, if anyone wants to buy a few. *sigh*

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Arrival in Edmonton!

All weekend long, we've been making jokes about heading to Edmonton to warm up this week. Well, after a near perfect flight, we touched down in Edmonton to +6 Celsius and glorious sunshine!

We spent the day reuniting with Gerald's longtime friend and our best man, Tim, and his family. It's been comfortable and relaxing. The day, however, has not been without my own conflicts.

I've been so excited to come on this trip, in large part because of our two concerts tomorrow. Last week, I struggled with a cold. I've been tired, but I still sang on the weekend and it was fine.

Yesterday, however, it was not fine. I woke up with no voice. I mean, no voice! Gerald and I were scheduled to play for a senior's home in the afternoon, so he rushed and rehearsed and, bless his heart, he performed a full solo version of our show with almost no notice.

I headed straight to my doctor, who was on vacation, so I saw a nurse practitioner. Even though I explained that I was a professional singer about to fly halfway across the country to sing 2 concerts, I knew she wasn't taking me seriously when she suggested I might want to try tea with honey. Really???

My real doctor (who is awesome) arrived home early, saw that I had visited, read the report and called me right away. She took me very seriously (which is why she's awesome), and prescribed a heavy dose of steroids. It's not something she's ever given me, but given the circumstances, she thought it was our best chance.

I'm feeling a bit stronger today, and my throat isn't sore, but I have no voice, and I still mean no voice! It's just killing me! I didn't want to mention it in yesterday's blog because I was hoping the steroids would start to change things today. I've already had to cancel tomorrow's afternoon concert, and the evening event hangs precariously in the balance.

I'm just heartsick about all of this! To come so far, to do all the planning - both by me and by the people of Barrhead - and then to be voiceless, it's all just so upsetting.

As I write this, I still have no speaking voice, much less any kind of singing voice. If I wake up in the morning and I think I can even do a few songs, we're going to go ahead with it, but if I am still voiceless, then I think our options are few.

Please keep me in prayer tonight - for healing, wisdom, and grace. Thanks.

Mike Holmes and Church Music

On today’s flight to Edmonton, I switched to HGTV and found contractor extraordinaire, Mike Holmes.

As I watched him lay a new tile floor, he said something that caught my ear. “Most people think a tile floor needs to be level, but that’s where they’re wrong.

What?” I thought, “How could level be wrong? Level is perfection. It’s accurate. Isn’t not-level wrong?

I’m more interested,” he continued, “in things being true. What house is level? You could make a floor level, but if your walls and counter are naturally uneven, then your level floor will look wrong. You need things to be true.”

You need things to be true.

My mind drifted to church music. Are we being true?

As a professional musician, quality is really important to me, but isn’t it more important to be true?

I don’t mean true as in right or correct, but true as in honest, authentic, and, to carry on with Mike’s thoughts, appropriate for your specific room.

If I walk into a living room, I may not know if the floor was perfectly laid, or if the stitching on the couch is perfect, but I do know if I feel comfortable, welcomed, and able to be myself.

The same rings true in church music.

On the average Sunday morning, most people don’t know if every note is played perfectly, or if every syncopation matches the sheet music, but they will know how the music makes them feel.

Do they feel welcomed and enveloped by the music? Do they feel comfortable singing along? Are the songs and musical styles well suited to the congregation and their worship format?

Most importantly, do they feel inspired, worshipful, and somehow closer to God through the experience?

Yes, we should always aim for the best quality of music, for many reasons, but maybe this week, instead of trying to be perfectly level, we should aim to be truly inspiring.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Ready for a New Adventure!

Just a few months ago, Dad handed us a brochure and said "You two may want to check this out."

Within days, Gerald and I were making plans to attend Break Forth - 3 days of workshops, worship sessions, concerts, and keynote speakers in Edmonton, Alberta.

Then, I thought about a wonderful lady from Alberta named Heidi that I met while attending the Elijah Conference in Nashville. With one quick message, we started the process of booking concerts in her home town.

And now, we're hours away from our trip!

I've been fighting a cold all week, so it's been a rough week of planning and prepping, but I'm pumped up on high quality meds, and ready for a good night's sleep before our flight.

If you're the praying kind, please throw out a few for good health, safe travels, and a great week of music!

If you're in the Edmonton area, you can see our concert schedule here.

And, of course, I'll be blogging every night!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

New Video!

I've just created a video of my recent cancer wig donation.

To watch the video, please visit the Cut for Cancer page of my website.

UPDATE (January 19): I also posted the video on YouTube. As of 5:41 tonight, it's had 2244 views! Wow!

Fireside Concert Announcement!

Gerald and I are thrilled to announce our new concert for winter!

Infinitely More Fireside Concert
Saturday, February 19, 2011

Comer House
11 Don Ridge Dr, North York

Tickets: $15.00

Come join us for an intimate afternoon of inspiring music
and the stories behind the songs.

Your ticket also includes cider, sweets, and other treats.

I'll have the poster soon. Very excited about this event!!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Photos of Infinitely More

In December, Infinitely More performed a Gospel and Christmas concert at St. Barnabas Church in Peterborough. A photographer from SNAP Peterborough captured the evening, complete with our tribute to the Victorian caroling era (which explains Gerald's hat)!

To see the photos, please visit here.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

A DIVA No More...

I called my Mom this week and said, "Mom, I'm not a DIVA anymore."

She said, "Yes you are."

I said, "No, I'm not a Christian DIVA anymore."

She said, "Oh yes you are."

Funny Momma.

This week, after much prayer, and talking Gerald's ear off, I decided to leave the Christian DIVAs. I've been part of the group since 2007, my first summer in Nashville.

In my time with the DIVAs, I was part of a concert weekend in Nashville, had 2 songs included in our compilation album, did a tour of Illinois, and spent countless hours connecting with amazing Christian artists from across the States - praying, sharing stories, and just trying to encourage one another in our individual ministries.

But life shifts, and I leave the DIVAs with no regrets. Living in Canada and having a regular church position, it's harder for me to be part of the events, and with the launch of Infinitely More, I'm feeling less and less like a solo artist. The DIVAs are about to launch a lot of great new projects, and it just felt like the right time to leave and open a spot for another artist to join their ranks.

Our last night in Illinois, Leah, Tara and I were booked to sing for a Sunday evening service. As we arrived, a woman greeted us by saying "Oh, the Christian DIVAs are here!" In that moment, I felt like I was part of something bigger than myself, and that felt great. This year, when Gerald and I started to talk about becoming a duo, I had the same feeling - I have the chance to be part of something bigger than myself, and I'm excited to see how God is going to use that.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Happy New Year!

I realize we're a week into the New Year, but since Boxing Day, I've been in a self-imposed cocoon of family, food, films, and firesides ... and very limited internet. It's been lovely!

Our December was wonderful. Gerald and I sang for over 26 performances, in a whole range of churches and venues. On Christmas Day, we sang at two senior's homes before joining our families for Christmas dinner.

As we arrived at our first performance of the day, the administrator asked us to walk from floor to floor, singing for the residents in their rooms. Many of the people in this long term care facility were bedridden, and few had visitors that morning. In one room, we found two women who were clearly good friends. As we sang, they propped themselves up on their walkers and smiled. Partway through the song, one of them said, "Come on, let's dance!" and, like a scene out of a movie, they threw aside their walkers, leaned on each other, and danced! It was awesome!

I've been spending some time this week thinking about last year, and dreaming about 2011. I had a bit of a kick in the gut last week when I looked at my resolutions for 2010. It looked more like a five year plan! It was so unreasonable, and even though 2010 was an amazing year, in the light of my ridiculous list, it was hard not to be disappointed.

As we head into 2011, I'm making some great plans, but also being reasonable about what we can accomplish. I'm spending time in prayer, reflection, and discovery, confident in our calling, and seeking the next steps on our adventure!

Happy 2011, everyone!