Monday, June 30, 2014

Nashville - Day 8

A short blogpost for a long day...

Today was our first day with the session players in the studio. We had an ambitious goal - to record 8 songs with full band tracks. We arrived early in the morning, with boxes of fresh donuts to fuel the musicians.

All four players played on our last two projects. It was an honour to start the day by thanking them for their talents, and to let them know that the CDs had received Covenant Award nominations.

What followed was a long day of laughing, joking, and hardcore musicianship. These guys walk in, yanking each other's chains and always trying to have the best comeback, but the moment the downbeat hits, it's all business. But you know, that joyful, generous, creative kind of musical business...

Tonight, we're exhausted and inspired. Today surpassed all our expectations. We knew it would be good, but as I wrote yesterday, putting your music into the hands of other musicians is the 'great unknown.' But now that we do know, I'm happy to say, it's pretty awesome.

I took a lot of photos, but they'll have to wait a day or two before I can go through them.

Back in the studio tomorrow! 

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Nashville - Day 7

As promised, here's a sneak peek into what we've been working on. 
Just a little iPhone video of Gerald in the studio:

On any given Sunday in Nashville, you have your choice of over 700 churches to attend. There are the beautiful old buildings with high steeples, the auditorium style worship spaces, and the hundreds of church plants that crop up in living rooms, school cafeterias, and movie theatres across the city. But for us, there's only one real choice - Church of the Redeemer.

We found Redeemer the first summer we were living in Nashville. We were attracted to the music, the preaching, and the outreach, but what we really loved were the people. When I walked in this morning, it was like coming home. Smiles and greetings were exchanged as I caught the eye of friends I haven't seen in years.

Redeemer is the place where Gerald and I grew from Music Leaders to Worship Leaders, and it all happened under the mentorship of Jenna Martin. Jenna became a dear friend, and has had her own amazing journey that has led to her ordination as an Anglican priest. This morning, I was not only able to see Jenna in her priestly robes, but I also got to hear her preach! For the first 30 seconds, I couldn't hear a word she said. My brain kept screaming "JENNA'S PREACHING!!! JENNA'S PREACHING!!!" I was so crazy excited and proud. Once I could settle myself, I heard a sermon that was engaging, Biblical, loving, and passionate.

I was also able to pick up a copy of The Anglican Way, written by Redeemer's amazing pastor, Rev. Thomas McKenzie. When I commented about this on Facebook, a Toronto friend said he had just read the book! Small, small world we live in...

Tonight was dedicated to more CD prep. In just 12 hours, we'll be on our way to the studio to start recording with the musicians! This is where the creative leap happens. We basically put our songs in the hands of the band and say, "Work your magic." We know it'll be amazing, but even with all our planning, we ultimately have no idea what will happen. This is the wonderful, terrifying, inspiring risk of inviting other people into your art.

We ask that you please continue to keep us in prayer over the next few days as we work on these tracks. By the end of Tuesday, all the instrumental parts of the CD should be recorded. That's 13 songs in 2 days. We'll be praying for openness, creativity, generosity, and that these songs will be what they need to be to honour God and serve God's people...

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Nashville - Day 6

Today included some much needed quiet time. It's been such a jam packed week, so moving a little slower today seemed like the right call.

In the morning, we started to receive the rough mixes of our guitar tracks and scratch vocals. We wanted copies so we can be as prepared as possible for Monday. As we listen to each track, we'll be able to imagine the bass, percussion, keyboard and strings layering themselves around the guitar. We've been collecting different production and arrangement ideas over the past few months, but when you start to actually record, it's like seeing the whole thing in colour.

I spent the afternoon with one of my favourite people, Teri Reid. I got to know Teri when I was with the Stamps-Baxter School of Music. She's an amazingly talented musician and vocalist, and we were honoured to have her play piano for Hymns in the Key of Grace. Her husband, Shannon Fontaine, took our gorgeous photos for the CD cover. It's been far too long since we've had a visit, and we spent hours catching up. Teri and Shannon have just opened an art gallery in the very cool 12th South area, so it was great to see their new project in person.

I've been trying to eat as much Southern food as possible on this trip, indulging in local treasures that just can't be replicated north of the border. Today's offering: shrimp and grits. Fab-u-lous!!!

Nashville has been a rush of memories for me. Our last visit, 2 years ago, was so short that we barely saw anyone. Facebook is a blessing for keeping up with people and seeing snapshots of their lives...

But nothing beats sitting face to face, 
enjoying platters of local delicacies, 
sharing stories, 
and laughing too loud to be considered polite...

Friday, June 27, 2014

Nashville - Day 5

As live musicians, we can perform a concert every night of the week and feel completely energized. Doing studio work is a whole different energy. Tonight, we're happy, and thoroughly exhausted.

Gerald continued to record his guitar tracks today, and he sounded amazing. He did a lot of practicing with the click track before we arrived in Nashville, and you could tell the results. My favourite is A Divine Heart Imagined You. When you hear the final song, Gerald's guitar track is one, beautiful take.

I always love Gerald's arrangements, but I, of course, hear them in relation to our vocals. To hear only the guitar track, almost as an instrumental piece, was a unique experience. I heard things I hadn't really noticed before, and I gained a new appreciation for the detail of his compositions.

We finished earlier than expected and had lots of energy left, so we decided to record the scratch vocals. This is basically a guide vocal to help the band know the melody of the song. For us, we also wanted to give a sense of the harmonies and the emotional tone of the song. Singing through each of our songs, I was reminded of how blessed we are to have written these songs, and to have the opportunity to share them with others.

A busy day needed a relaxing evening, so tonight we feasted on Southern BBQ - pulled pork, skillet fried cornbread, mac and cheese, fried apples, and sweet tea. We, of course, had our choice of five different BBQ sauces, 'cause one is never enough.

On the drive home,  I saw something blinking on the side of the road. It was fireflies. They were twinkling all along the drive, and even in the garden of our rental. We stood in the yard and watched their fascinating beauty, giving us a perfect moment of calm as we reflected on a creative and productive day.

We've made some additions to our recording schedule, so next week we'll actually have 4 full studio days. Which means, the weekend is pure socializing and relaxation!

I've started posting photos HERE.
I'll be adding more each day, and I'm hoping to post some video this weekend!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Nashville - Day 4

Before I start into today, I forgot something excellent from last night - our round was on the radio! We didn't know this until we actually got on stage, but it was broadcasting live on 107.1 Nashville Free Radio. Pretty cool, huh? I think they're going to post the show on their site later this week, so I'll post a link if I can.

So what's the one thing you should do in the morning before you head in the studio to record 13 songs? 
Write the songs!

Well, not all the songs... There's one song on the project that's never quite felt complete. We love it as it is, but every time we sing it, I think "We need an opening section." Well, this morning, we wrote it. Gerald had one idea, and I had another, but when they came together, we had the perfect piece.

Denny Martin's warm and cozy studio has birthed two of our CDs, so returning today felt both comforting and exciting. We started the morning as we always want to start anything important - in prayer. We offered thanksgiving for the talents of everyone who will be involved, for the songs, and for the opportunity to make this project.

Our goal today and tomorrow is to record all Gerald's guitar tracks. He has so many signature riffs and grooves. We want to capture them all, and then let the band play around his guitar and our voices. When I sell our CDs, I describe them as "us with the world's best band," so that's the balance we want to attain.

Gerald's work was so beautiful today! The pace was relaxed yet productive, and we managed to get 4 tracks completed.

This week, we've heard the best words we could hear in Nashville - 
"Welcome home."

We heard it yesterday as we met each of our friends, and as we met our friend, Tom, for dinner tonight, he gave us the same greeting. We were only here 3 years, but it was most definitely our home, and it's nice to be welcomed back so warmly. Tom is a songwriter, and an incredible encourager. When we lived here, he gave Gerald the opportunity to sit in on his late Saturday round at the Bluebird Cafe, a real privilege for an unknown writer.

Tonight, we're resting and refocusing for tomorrow. 
Five songs and two short solos are on the docket. 

Photos coming soon...

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Nashville - Day 3

I woke up this morning and thought, "We're in Nashville. Today we're going to work on music, tonight we'll perform, and tomorrow we're going to record. Wow ..."

We spent the morning in the very funky 12th Avenue South area - home to cafes, music stores, art galleries, and cool artsy spots. We sipped cappuccinos and enjoyed brunch with our songwriter friend, Jim. We've decided that this will be a very social trip, with as many friend visits as possible.

Last week, we skyped with Denny in Nashville, who will record tracks and mix this CD. This afternoon, we skyped with Carmon in Toronto, who will record the vocals for the CD. We're so grateful for the technology that allows us to do all of this over the miles! (or, as we say, kilometres...)

Tonight, we played a songwriter round at the Commodore Lounge. We were invited by our producer, Denny Martin and Scott Neubert, a talented guitarist who's played for everybody, and we're humbled that he's also played for our projects. We sang How The Light Gets In, Thou Shalt Not, and our new Christmas song, Tonight Everywhere is Bethlehem. The response was extremely positive, which in the completive Nashville market, is really encouraging. 

We perform all the time, and we know these songs like the back of our hand, and yet, tonight we sang them in Nashville. Not to sound too over the top, but playing music here isn't like playing it anywhere else. Every room is steeped in talent and history. The guy sitting by himself in the corner might have a Grammy nomination hanging up on his wall. The next song performed might be a hit in a month. To perform in this world is challenging, inspiring, intimidating, awesome...

Tomorrow, we hit the studio... 
the next chapter begins...

Worship Wednesdays - The Day Before We Begin...

Tomorrow is Studio Day!!

It's been months since we made the decision to record our new CD. We immediately entered the long and wonderful journey of choosing our songs. (I wrote about that process HERE.) From there, we started to put the other pieces together.

It takes a village to raise a CD, so who would be our team? We would need a producer, engineer, musicians, photographer, graphic designer, manufacturer...

Next, we had to choose how to record. Nashville? Toronto? Tracks in a day? Build each song individually? Since we know the Nashville system so well, and we've had success with it in the past, Nashville seemed like the obvious choice. Then we asked a few talented friends their advice:"Well, everyone is just trying to create the Nashville sound anyways, so if you can get the real thing, go to Nashville!" Asked and answered...

Then came the planning, the details, and the scheduling. And tomorrow, we finally enter the studio! We'll spend the first 2 days recording all of Gerald's guitar tracks. He'll record to a click track, which is like having a metronome keeping the beat throughout the entire song. The click is removed in the final recording, but during the process, it's an invaluable tool. It's like laying out a pathway that all the musicians can follow. We can come in later and add extra parts, and the click makes sure everyone can lock into that perfect tempo.

For live players like ourselves, the click is a bit of a new challenge. But Gerald has a great sense of inner timing and groove, so I know he'll be great.

I'll be on detail management for these first few days. I'll keep track of what tempo and key we use for each song, which guitar is played for which track, and making afternoon espressos - the key to any good recording session!

We'd love your prayers tomorrow and Friday as we start this recording! We're so crazy excited about these songs, and we can't wait to share them with you.

I'll be blogging every night of this Nashville adventure, 
and also posting photos & updates on Facebook
Join us daily! 

Worship Wednesdays is a weekly series to encourage and equip worship leaders and songwriters. Bookmark this page & visit us every Wednesday!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Nashville - Day 2

We're here! We're here! We're here!!!!

We stayed in the hotel a while this morning, doing more song prep. On Thursday, Gerald will play the guitar tracks using a click track, so we sang through them today, making sure we have the best tempo for each song.

Then, back in the car for another day of driving. A few observations: 

- Even thought it's been 2 years since we've made the trek to Nashville, I knew the almost 1200km route like the back of my hand. Landmarks like the Corvette Museum, the Florence Y'all waterpower, and the infamous Jesus-in-the-Pool (the new version) came out to greet us like long lost friends.

- We lost count of the number of thunderstorms we hit. 
Thankful for good wipers and cautious fellow drivers.

- Kentucky and Tennessee are by far my favourite parts of the drive! After the crowded racetrack roads of Detroit and Cincinnati, the rolling hills and lush greenery were balm to my driving soul.

We've found a wonderful place to stay on our visit here - a condo that rents exclusively to songwriters. It's cozy and spacious, the perfect place to be creative, and get lots of rest after long days in the studio. 

Tonight, we rest. 
Tomorrow, the singing/playing/writing/recording begins!!! 

Monday, June 23, 2014

Nashville - Day 1

We're on our way! 

Over the next two weeks, we're visiting Nashville to start work on our next CD! It's been two years since our last trip to Music City, when we recorded the tracks for our Infinitely More debut CD. Each night, I'll be blogging about the recording process, any performances we do, and all kinds of other Nashville adventures.

We do the 13 hour drive over two days, so tonight, we're settled into a cozy hotel in Troy, Ohio. It was a mostly good day of driving. We hit a few thunder storms along the way, one of which was so bad we had to pull off the highway and into the comfort of a Starbucks to wait it out. Ah, the comforting nature of a latte...

After a great meal tonight (which might actually inspire a future Worship Wednesdays blogpost), we came back to the hotel for a short rehearsal. Here's hoping the folks around us are music fans...

I can't tell you how excited I am to be on this trip and getting ready to record again! 
Feeling very thankful tonight...

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Worship Wednesdays - Is Your Church Better Than a Burger Joint?

Last night, Gerald and I took my Dad out for his Father's Day present - a burger feast! We braved the thunder storms and headed off to The Works. We perused their seemingly endless menu and chose thick milkshakes, fresh cut fries, and burgers topped with such delicacies as grilled pineapple and sliced brie.

Our meals arrived and after the appropriate photo opp, we began to indulge. Everything tasted fantastic, and the conversation flowed. But as Dad and I made our way through our meals, we noticed something wasn't correct with our order. It wasn't a big deal, but our food hadn't arrived as ordered.

When the waiter came to take our empty plates, we let him know that we had no complaints, but that our orders had been incorrect. We assured him that we were completely satisfied and sated, but we just wanted to bring the discrepancy to his attention.

What happened next blew us away.

The manager came out to ask about our concerns. He then apologized, explained their regular kitchen procedure, and apologized again. Then, he told us that our entrees would all be complimentary - including Gerald's meal, which had been perfect. And then, he handed each of us a coupon for a free meal on our next visit! He stayed a full 10 minutes at our table, chatting, asking about our evening, and making sure we left feeling good.

We couldn't believe it.

We left the restaurant overwhelmed with the amazing customer service, and confident that we would make a return visit. As we retold the story later that evening, I thought,

"Do we make people in the church feel this good?"

The manager's apology was more than enough. Remember, we hadn't actually made a complaint. When he comped our meal, it was a way to make us feel good about the evening's experience. And when he gave us the coupon, it was his way of saying, "Give us another chance!"

In the last few months, I've had the opportunity to visit a few churches, not as a guest musician, but as a guest worshiper. When I visit churches like this, I make a point of not speaking to anyone first. I want to see if I'll be welcomed, if anyone will reach out to me as a visitor. Some churches have been very welcoming. In others, I've arrived, worshipped, and left without a single parishioner or pastor saying hello to me.

There are lots of reasons why people choose a church, but most people will also tell you that the friendliness of the congregation themselves can make or break that decision.

  • How do we make people feel when they walk through our doors? 
  • Are we welcoming and inviting? 
  • Do we make it easy to join in our rituals and activities? 
  • Do they leave feeling valued and appreciated? 
  • Do we treat visitors and long time attendees with equal love and compassion? 
  • Are we letting people know, "We're so glad you came! There's a home here for you. How can we serve you?"

The Works didn't want to lose us as customers, and they made sure we knew it.

As Christians, we should want to keep folks in our churches for higher reasons.

Are we willing to give extraordinary service to keep them coming back for more?

Worship Wednesdays is a weekly series to encourage and equip worship leaders and songwriters. Bookmark this page & visit us every Wednesday!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Worship Wednesdays - The Church Debate That Makes My Blood Boil...

I was glued to my TV on Sunday night as I watched The Tony Awards!

As a theatre girl myself, The Tonys are must-watch television. I find myself in awe of the talent. These writers, directors, actors, singers, and dancers are at the top of their game. Endless hours of training and sacrifice have gone into raising their craft to such a high level. Watching their performances inspires me to rehearse more, learn more, create more...

Yesterday, I had lunch with a friend, and she explained how her church is going through the all-too-cliche battle of Performance versus Worship. Sitting in the glow of Sunday's telecast, and thinking back to the thousand times I've been caught in this exact argument, my blood began to boil. This is an argument that, at its core, is based in an ignorance of what we do as artists.

I could write a book about how we need performance skills to be effective worship leaders, Gospel artists, and even preachers. But here's where I think this argument is so horribly misguided: It sees all performers as divas and all performances as selfish. And that's just wrong.

The best performances are always an act of generosity.

When a Work of art is created, it is in one state of being, but it's truly not complete until it's performed in front of an audience. The artist chooses the Work because it speaks to them; it has a message that connects with the soul of the artist, something he or she thinks must be communicated. The artist learns, rehearses, and perfects the Work until the audience is present. And then, the Work is shared.

And in that living moment, something important is given to the audience - a story, a song, a character, a dance that has the power to transform, enlighten, afflict, sooth, fill. The artist wants the audience to leave changed, to experience the world differently than before the Work.

Isn't that what we're trying to do with worship music?

Yes, there are some artists that are in it for the fame and the adulation, but you know who they are. You can sense their selfishness when you watch them. They leave you feeling cold, unmoved, uninspired. They clutter the airwaves. We don't need them in the theatre, or the studio, or the Church.

But true artists aren't that. True artists want to communicate. They want to share their passion, their trials, their hopes, and their convictions with the audience. And you know what these artists look like too. They create the art that changes your life - the song that you always need when you're sad, the play that made you laugh til your gut hurt, the painting that was so beautiful you bought the poster to take home, the book you reread every summer.

Aren't these the kind of artists we want in the church? 
Aren't these the kind of artists we want sharing the Gospel?

It's dynamic relationship between the Creator, the Artist, and the Listener. God creates the Artist and gives them the skills of creativity and performance; the Artist uses those skills to share their message, and as a result, the Listener hears the Gospel in a way that is transformative, enlightening, afflicting, soothing, filling...

As an artist, I've chosen to use my talents to share the message of God's love and grace. Not every artist will make that choice, and that's okay. Artists need to be able to tell the stories of their own humanity. Whatever our walk through life, we need to hear the stories of all people if we're ever to learn about each other. It's that unique telling that allows us to share in the human experience, discover the greater truths of the universe, and learn to love our neighbour as ourselves.

But when artists do make the choice to use their voices for the Church, let's not pin their heels and limit their expression. Let's encourage them to use the full breadth of their talents - their artistry, their creativity, and yes, their performance - to generously share the Good News...

Worship Wednesdays is a weekly series to encourage and equip worship leaders and songwriters. Bookmark this page & visit us every Wednesday!

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Worship Wednesdays - Pentecost Playlist

This Sunday, churches around the world will recognize Pentecost. As recorded in Acts 2:1-13, Pentecost is a vibrant celebration marking the arrival of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the Church. Tongues of fires, the rushing wind, and speaking in various languages give us a variety of themes and images for creative worship planning. Some churches will invite their congregations to wear red - the liturgical colour of the day. Others will have a cake to celebrate the birthday of the Church.

There are lots of wonderful songs to celebrate Pentecost. 
Here are a few of our favourites:

Spirit of the Living God

This is the Sunday to pull out all your favourite Holy Spirit songs! We love this one for its melodic simplicity and beautiful lyrics. It crosses denominations, and can be performed in pretty much any musical style. We will often sing two verses congregationally, and insert an instrumental verse or two in the middle, either for reflection or to underscore spoken prayer.

Shout To The North

We love singing this song! The images of fire, Church unity, and singing to the world make it a great fit for Pentecost. The Celtic feel of this song makes it a great crossover - perfect for bands, but a simple enough melody to make it accessible to choirs and more traditional congregations.

They'll Know We Are Christians

This is one of our favourite songs to celebrate Christian unity, and particularly for ending worship. We love sending people from Church into the World with the reminder that people will recognize us as followers of Christ by the way we love. Some folks dismiss this contemporary classic as being "too dour" with its minor melody, but use those emotive chords to your advantage to create an arrangement that's soulful and moving.

Holy Spirit, Living Breath of God

We haven't performed this song, but I found it in writing this blog. I'm such a huge fan of Keith and Kristyn Getty - soaring melodies, scriptural and liturgical lyrics, and songs that can adapt to fit any church's musical tradition.

Sweet, Sweet Spirit

This is a classic song, performed so beautifully in this clip by J.D. Sumner and the Stamps Quartet. I love this video - in the middle of his concert, the great Elvis Presley asks his audience to listen, not to him, but to the amazing acapella harmonies of this spiritual song.

What songs will you be singing this Pentecost?
Share your selections in the Comments section...

Worship Wednesdays is a weekly series to encourage and equip worship leaders and songwriters. Bookmark this page & visit us every Wednesday!