Sunday, May 29, 2011

A Morning at All Saints, Toronto

Stained glass at All Saints.
The "No Smoking" sticker hints at the challenges faced in this unique ministry.

In researching churches for our summer tour, I continue to be amazed at the number named "All Saints". But the All Saints at Dundas and Sherbourne in downtown Toronto continues to be a special place for us. Every time we go there, I'm reminded of my first visit - convinced in my ignorance that I was going to be such a blessing to the congregation, and leaving with more blessings than I could fully comprehend.

As Maya Angelou says, "When you know better, you do better."

This morning's service was just beautiful. Parish priests Kate Merriman and Susan Haig led a thoughtful service with space for prayer and reflection. A guest pianist lead the hymns in a bright and spirited style.

We played "Your Grace is Enough" after the sermon, and Gerald's "A Prayer Will Find You" during Communion.

After the service, we drifted around the sanctuary, marveling at the stunning stained glass.

All Saints drop-in centre, located at the back of the sanctuary.

But this is a not a church that focuses on its building. The focus is the unique community of Dundas and Sherboune. There are no pews in the church, and during the week, the large space is used as a community drop-in centre. A small library fills one corner. A marble column has been encased in knitting projects, created by the women of the Female Sex Trade Outreach. Bible study happens before worship, and a free lunch is served after.

Knitted art, created by members of the Female Sex Trade Outreach.

The resources at All Saints are limited, but the grace and mercy know no limits.

If you're a musician living in Toronto and you're looking for a great place to volunteer your talents on the occasional Sunday morning, I highly, highly recommend you check it out:

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Jazz in Worship Workshop

Tulips on Bloor Street - a welcome sight on a gray morning.

After our wonderfully late night, Gerald and I were up bright and early (well, early at least...) to attend two very different all-day workshops. Gerald headed west to attend NSAI's Music Row North. As I write this, he's in the thick of songwriting workshops and song critiques.

I went to St. Andrew's Church to attend a workshop on jazz in worship. Sponsored by the Southern Ontario Chapter of the Hymn Society, the workshop was advertised as a "beginner's guide" to adding jazz to your worship repertoire. The workshop was facilitated by Rev. Tim Elliot and drummer, Brian Barlow. The first half of the day, Tim and Brian gave us the history of their fateful meeting and how Jazz Vespers began. We discussed the unique quality, and some of the challenges and triumphs, that jazz can bring to a worship experience.

The afternoon session kicked off with the sounds of an amazing jazz quartet (see photo below). Tim and the quartet lead us in the singing of several classic hymns, all arranged in a jazz style. We ended the day with a mini-Jazz Vespers.

What an incredible way to spend the day! My mind is buzzing with ideas...

Jazz Vespers quartet:
Mark Eisenmen, piano; Alex Dean, saxophone; Scott Alexander, bass; Brian Barlow, drums.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Tin Pan North with Danny Wells

Tonight brought us to The Moonshine Cafe for the always fantastic Tin Pan North Songwriter's Festival. Gerald was scheduled for a great round with Steve Rivers (who's recording an album in Nashville), Terry Maxwell (who we played with at Winterfolk 2010), and Nashville songwriter, Danny Wells. Danny has had lots of hits, and fans of American Idol heard his song "Check Yes or No" on the final night of competition.

Every time I hear a round, I remember how much I love this stuff! Hearing writers sing their own songs in an environment as cozy as the Moonshine is such a fantastic way to spend an evening. Tonight's round was no exception. Everyone was so talented, each with their own style. As Danny sang each of his hits, fans in the audience sang along.

Gerald was awesome (I'm biased, but it's true). He did some of the songs we've demoed, like "When Saturday Morning Was All Day Long" and "Watertower" and even debuted a new song, "Neon Angels." He brought me up for the final song, and I added harmonies to "Every Church is a Small Town." People loved the songs, which is always so satisfying.

Great, great night!

Danny Well, Steve Rivers, Gerald Flemming, Terry Maxwell

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Return to Trinity...

Trinity College Chapel

I spent the afternoon at my alma mater, Trinity College. Even though Trinity is in Toronto, I rarely get back there. Walking through the quad, memories of my undergrad days washed through the air. I was reminded of the person I was back then - the things that have remained a part of me, and the things I've left behind.

Next month, Gerald and I will be leading the music for the Trinity Divinity Associates' Conference. The theme is Reconciliation, and the speaker is Anne Mallonee from Trinity Wall Street, NYC.

Today, I met with organizers Joanne Davies and David Montgomery for our first planning meeting. I knew the plan was 4 services - 2 Eucharists and 2 Evensongs - but I wanted to get a sense of the overall feeling of the event.

Conferences provide a really cool challenge - how do we present songs that people will sing easily, but also present something different than they can get in their church on a regular Sunday morning?

Joanne and David are both creative and innovative souls, so I'm excited about the possibilities. We'll be doing 3 services in the gorgeous chapel, and 1 in Seeley Hall, which will allow for a flexible worship space. Today, we discussed the possibilities of all kinds of music - hymns, praise songs, paperless music, and finding new ways to sing the psalms.

Next step: getting the music slots and choosing the songs...

Friday, May 20, 2011

East Coast Tour - booking!

Maps of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland, mapping out our tour route.

Despite the gray, drizzly weather that's claiming to be spring here in Toronto, summer is a'coming! I can't believe we're just months away from our first East Coast Tour.

Many years ago, Gerald and I did a short tour of Newfoundland. As the organizer, I made almost every planning mistake I could make, but we still had a great time singing at different venues and spending time with family.

I'm happy to say I've learned a few things over the years, and I'm really excited about how things are shaping up for August. I ordered maps from each province's tourism agency, and I've put them up on the walls of my new music room. As you can see by the photo, I've chosen to map out our tour route with post-it notes. I've used different coloured markers to indicate churches, travel days, etc.

This is very low tech, I know, but I helps me visualize the full scope of the tour. We still have some open dates, so I'm continuing to book concerts and make plans.

Given the thousands of kilometers of driving, it's probably obvious that gas prices are a concern. I have a new idea that's brewing in my head, and I'm probably going to have a cool announcement to make next week.

Stay tuned.... and enjoy the long weekend!

Sunday, May 15, 2011


What an epic day!

This morning, we lead the worship team at St. John's York Mills for a vibrant service blending our contemporary sounds with the traditional tones of the organ and choir.

After a short break, we returned back to the church for Musicfest. (I posted a photo earlier this week showing Gerald in rehearsal.) 3 handbell choirs, 1 vocal choir, 1 organ, 1 keyboard, and our Worship Team joined forces to create 90 minutes of summer fun in the midst of our gray and rainy spring.

We opened the 4pm show with a Santana inspired version of "Let the Sun Shine In." We formed a jazz quintet to play Gerald's gorgeous arrangement of Gershwin's "Summertime." Gerald and I shared vocals, and Tim lifted the song with his sax. Gerald and the men of the team formed "The Beatles" and played with the handbells on "Here Comes the Sun." The band-meets-handbells combo was a challenge, but the results were fantastic. Later in the program, we beefed up the band with a few more singers and players and rocked the house with "Wipeout" and "Summertime Blues". We closed the show with a reprise of "Let the Sun Shine In," took a short break, and did it all again at 7pm.

Tonight marked the 20th Musicfest. It originally started as a handbells event. Early on, Monika and I were invited to sing a duet or two, and over the years, it's become a family friendly event that incorporates all the musical talents of our church, raises money for great causes, and provides a relaxing afternoon for the people of our community.

I'm so proud of the work our team did for this, and now, I'm ready for a few days sleep!

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Rocking with the Handbells

Gerald on guitar, Derwyn on vocals, and Carolyn leading the bells.

Next Sunday, St. John's York Mills will play host to Musicfest - a family friendly musical event featuring handbells, organ, choir, and our Worship Team.

This year, Gerald and I have been asked to lead the Worship Team for the 2 concerts. Thinking on this year's theme of Summer, we've chosen to do Gerwshin's "Summertime" and summer classics "Wipeout" and "Summertime Blues." We'll also collaborate with the bells for a few songs.

This afternoon, we met with the handbells to rehearse "Here Comes the Sun." This is the first time the full band has played for Musicfest, and I think the results are going to be pretty cool.

For more details on the shows, please visit here.

Name spotting...

Gerald and I spent some cafe time this week, sipping cappuccinos and chatting with friends. As Gerald and his buddy played chess, I flipped through Wholenote magazine, and saw this ad with our name in it!

This is the same church where we played a Country Mass just last week.
Join us on Sunday, June 5 for our Country Vespers service!

Sunday, May 01, 2011

The Gathering and Surface

Our 3-church-Sunday continued with The Gathering at St. John's York Mills. Tonight, we began a 5 week mission featuring the inspired preaching of Guy Chevreau. Guy has preached around the world, and I'm really excited to hear his story and message.

After a wonderful time of worship at St. John's, we had a quick turnaround before heading to St. Clement's for Surface. This intimate Eucharist blends scripture, prayer, poetry, and music for a relaxed and inspiring evening worship. The music was an eclectic mix, and I was reminded of Louis Giglio's thought, "All music is worship music, but who are you worshiping?"

Images and stained glass at Surface

The theme for the service was Hope Filled With Doubt. Finding songs that reflected that human contradiction was a challenge. For our congregational songs, we chose "Here Comes the Sun," "Stand By Me," and "Your Grace is Enough." I sang Martina McBride's "Anyway" as a song of reflection. During Communion, Gerald sang his song, "A Prayer Will Find You."

Today was crazy busy, with over 30 different songs on the palette. But it was a wonderful day, filled with great energy, wonderful people, and inspired worship.

Monday = day off!

Country Mass

This is a Sunday so epic, it'll need 2 posts to cover it.

Today is a 3-church-Sunday. We usually try to do 2 churches a Sunday, but it's a great challenge to have 3 different worship services in one day. When we have multiple events in one day, I usually try to repeat a few songs to ease up on preparation, but each of today's services is so unique that we'll literally perform 30 different songs today!

We started at St. Philip's with a Country Mass. The brainchild of music director, Doug Cowling, this service married country melodies with an Anglican liturgy. Doug creatively set the Gloria to "Streets of Laredo," the Sanctus to "Aura Lee," and the psalm to Lenard Cohen's "Hallelujah." One hymn was set to "House of the Rising Sun," featuring Rev. Al Budzin on saxophone!

Gerald and I chose a mix of Gospel hymns and Gerald's original country songs for prelude, postlude, and Communion music. The choir sang on the congregational songs, and it was awesome to have their sound behind us.

Rev. Al is leaving for a sabbatical, so to close the service Doug chose "Happy Trails." Yes, as a closing hymn! Well, if you're going to do "Happy Trails" in church, you've got to go all the way. I sang the intro, and as Gerald played a quick turnaround, I and the choir all pulled out cowboy hats and plunked them on our heads! Gerald's was Johnny Cash black; mine was pink, of course! The congregation loved it! They laughed and sang and took photos.

The reaction to the service was wonderful! We may have led the music, but I need to give Doug so much of the credit for his creative planning. We've already been invited back, which is awesome.

And now, for a quick rest before service #2...