23 April 2017

Music Day Part II - Easter Song

A week late for Easter Sunday... but He is still risen, even now.

This is probably one of the most well-known Easter songs -- ever. On Good Friday I featured Silverwind -- this group was their predecessor. The prototype, if you will, the original.

This is the song that launched the career of an orphaned group of siblings with no musical training to speak of but an ear for harmony. This piece remains a classic among Christian music historians. It's delightfully simple in its message and the piano is so light and bouncy that it induces almost immediate dancing of some kind -- whether the subtle, head-nodding type or a more Pentecostal full-body style.

Title: Easter Song
Artist: Second Chapter Of Acts
Album: With Footnotes
Year: 1974
iTunes here; YouTube here.

The angel up on the tombstone said 'He is risen, just as He said
'Quickly now
'Go tell His disciples that Jesus Christ is no longer dead'
Joy to the world -- He is risen
Hallelujah!

15 April 2017

The Easter Shoes

This past week, my tap shoes -- which have been steadily falling apart for some time -- finally gave up the ghost. I had hoped I could limp them along until I graduated college and managed to make enough money to replace them. Alas, this was not the case. This, of course, presented a few problems...

Problem 1: This was the only pair of tap shoes I owned/had access to.

Problem 2: I have a few commission projects in the next couple of weeks that I NEED tap shoes for in order to complete.

Problem 3: An entry-level (read: lower-quality) pair of tap shoes can cost $70-$100. A quality pair can run up to $400-$500 Canadian dollars once you factor in shipping from the States (and not all dancewear companies even ship to Canada). (You see why all dancers are broke.)

Problem 4: Kijiji, eBay, and Facebook queries in the area had yielded nothing (nothing I could use, anyway). I hadn't heard promising things about the selection in the (few) local(ish) dancewear shops, although I had planned on checking them out for myself over the weekend.

Problem 5: I have to pay the school $1600 on Tuesday for (required) voice lessons and my (required) theatre internship course this summer. I didn't (still don't) know if I'll even be able to make that payment in full. Plus I have to save every single penny I can for college next year (especially if I'm apparently not going to get a job ever... I've been trying for four months now and still nothing). I certainly didn't have enough leeway in my bank account to buy tap shoes (of any kind).

Conclusion: As cheesy as it sounds -- I really did need a miracle.

If it had to be, I was willing to settle for a (slightly) lower-quality (but less expensive) pair to get me through the rest of my time in academia, although it would mean I would have to replace them sooner (I'm VERY hard on my dance shoes). Ideally I would have liked my next pair of tap shoes to be very high quality (read: more expensive) so that I wouldn't have to replace them again in two years, but the timing, financially, was apparently not going to work out that way.

I had been half-heartedly praying, but I wasn't expecting much. There have been many unanswered prayers over the past two years, and I expected this would just be another one in a long line.

B Plot: So one of my hallmates' sister was coming to visit and my hallmate had asked me a few days ago if she could borrow my spare mattress for her sister to sleep on. I had said she could. Thursday night her sister arrived and said hallmate came to get the mattress. I helped her carry it across the hall to her room and ended up meeting her sister. One of them asked me what I had been up to that day and I told them about my broken tap shoe and how I'd spent all day researching tap shoes, trying to find quality on a college student budget. My hallmate asked how much tap shoes cost and I said entry-level is roughly $100 but a good pair can get up around $400 once you convert it to Canadian dollars and ship it here. We talked a bit more about other stuff and then I went back to my room.

Less than five minutes later, my hallmate came in.

"This isn't from me," she said, "but here." She stuck out her hand. "You can buy your tap shoes."

In her hand was a wad of cash. It felt thick when I took it.

"My sister said she felt she needed to pay for your tap shoes. But she was too shy to give you the money herself. So this is from her."

Four hundred dollars cash. From a stranger.



This morning, I set out on a mission to find decent tap shoes that I could live with for the next few years for $400 or less. There was one dancewear store in the nearest town, the next dancewear places were in the city an hour and a half away. I intended to hit all of them if necessary.

I went to the one in town first and tried on a few pairs, including Bloch's Jason Samuels Smith shoe (A.K.A. J-Sams or JSS). I liked it immediately -- no stupid rubber pad to muffle the sound, good thick sole, comfy fit -- but I was reluctant to pull the trigger on a $200 pair of shoes at the first store I came to. I told the girl helping me that I might return for them, but I wanted to shop around first.

I headed to the city.

The first place I actually found (I made a wrong turn in my attempt to get to a different store -- classic Kate) carried both new and used shoes. I asked to see the used shoes (for budget reasons) and the lady took me to a wall of shoes and let me examine and try on and try out tap shoes for a good half hour. I found two pairs I liked -- one black Capezio oxford-style pair for $65, and one tan Bloch Cuban-heel-style pair (called the Tap-On), listed at $80. At this point I was considering picking one of the used ones to hold me over for the next few weeks and then putting the rest of the money into Miller and Bens (which are some of THE best tap shoes available -- and the price reflects that). The used pair should, I reasoned, at least get me through the time for the M&Bs to ship and then through their break-in period. Then the Miller and Bens would almost certainly carry me for at least a few years.

I called my mother for advice (not that she knows the first thing about tap shoes, but she does know how to stretch a dollar and ask questions that I should think of but never do). I presented her with the aforementioned scenario involving the Miller and Bens, then on the fly I came up with an alternative scenario in which I could buy both used pairs and then go back and get the J-Sams. She advised me to pick just one of the used pairs and go back for the J-Sams. After some discussion and comparison, I decided the Capezios had a few tiny things that I didn't like (the heels felt mushy in a heel stand -- which may have been a size issue more than an issue with the shoe itself -- and I didn't like where the stress point was in a toe stand, as it was the same place my last pair blew out), so I bought the Tap-Ons and headed back to the first place for the J-Sams.

As if the providential money from my hallmate's sister wasn't enough, the lady at the store I got the Tap-Ons from looked at the $80 sticker on the shoes and said, "That's too much for a used pair of shoes." She rang them through at $40.

So basically -- I was gifted $400, and I ended up with two pairs of tap shoes (including one brand-new, fairly high-quality pair) for $250. I now have two very different styles and colours for different kinds of pieces, plus if one craps out, I still have another.

An Easter miracle for a nearly-forgotten artist.

Here they are:

Bloch's Jason Samuels Smith shoes (J-Sams).


Bloch's Tap-On shoes (used -- sorry, pre-owned).

14 April 2017

Music Day Part I - Forgiven

It really doesn't feel like Good Friday to me today. Usually on Good Friday there is a turkey dinner and family (whether mine or someone else's generous one). But I spent today researching tap shoes (mine are officially shot) alone in my flat.

It's getting harder to find suitable songs for Easter weekend every year. Songs on the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus were fairly common in the 1970s and 1980s, but since then even the mention of Jesus in Christian music is hard to come by (unless you're a worship band, but even then they mostly talk about how He makes them feel, not anything He's actually done). As a result, I'm featuring the songs that do exist, but there aren't really any new ones coming out. The year will come when I have to either stop the two-for-one Easter weekend special or start re-using songs.

Fortunately for all of us, this is not that year.

Title: Forgiven
Artist: Silverwind
Album: A Song In The Night
Year: 1982
Label: Sparrow Records
iTunes here; YouTube here.

How have I not featured this song before? This album was my jam back in 2003-2006. Yeah, okay, the production is dated, but the vocal blend is lovely and there's a really sweet simplicity in all of Silverwind's songs -- especially the songs on this album. Betsy Hernandez has perhaps the prettiest unrecognised voice in CCM history and was actually my inspiration to even consider learning to sing myself. It just floats. It's like a fairy's voice. Unfortunately this is the one song on the album that doesn't feature her voice prominently, but you still hear her airy soprano in the harmonies in the chorus and in the backing vocals. (Check out the title track from this album and some of the Music Day archives -- here and here -- if you want to hear more of her.)

This song is based on a true story, by the way -- check out Luke 23:32-43.

30 March 2017

Media Marathoning

Why are music marathons not a thing? We have Star Wars marathons, Lord Of The Rings marathons, Disney marathons, and heaven knows you can marathon any TV show you can think of (as long as the Netflix gods have deemed it worthy of their endorsement). These are seen as perfectly legitimate ways to either get away from it all (*cough* procrastinate) and recharge by oneself, or to have a party with friends and food and group selfies.

But why don't we do this with music? Why don't we ever invite the gang over to listen to the complete works of Steve Taylor? Why not spend a weekend listening to all of David Meece's albums in chronological order? Why not throw the entire Prodigal box set into the CD player and sit down with a beverage of choice or maybe some popcorn and listen to the whole thing straight through? Why not time travel through DeGarmo & Key's entire career? Why not listen to the complete ¡Alarma! Chronicles or Larry Norman's Trilogy on vinyl, for the heck of it?

Granted, for bands like Petra or Newsboys or the Imperials, this could get a bit long. But it's an idea worth considering.

27 March 2017

Your Music News Bulletin

Some notes from the bands I follow (and you should too).

The Choir is re-releasing their 1989 album Wide-Eyed Wonder on CD and vinyl AND they're recording a new album called Bloodshot... IF their PledgeMusic campaign is successful. There's only five days left and they're still 8% short of their goal. There are some pretty cool rewards for backers (including the entire Shadow Weaver album download for free), and it's also worth noting that Wide-Eyed Wonder is not on the iTunes Store -- meaning this re-release is the only way you will be able to acquire a copy. If this isn't funded, that doesn't happen. And that would be very sad.
Pledge here.
If you're not familiar with their work, you can listen to tracks from their 2014 album Shadow Weaver right on the PledgeMusic page.

After many, many years of rumours, false starts, speculation and general impatience from fans, Daniel Amos is finally in the process of issuing their seminal album Horrendous Disc on CD. The project is already fully funded (in fact, they just made their second stretch goal earlier today), but if you want in on some of the rewards (or to propel them toward their third stretch goal), go pledge here. But hurry -- the campaign ends on 31 March.
This is going to be a four-disc box set with photos and stickers and other goodies. And depending which tier you pledge to, there may be vinyl copies and/or t-shirts involved.

On a related note, the phenomenal Terry Scott Taylor now has a Patreon account, where we the fans can finally eliminate the middleman and fund TST's creative endeavours directly by way of a monthly donation. In return, we get access to the new stuff he's writing -- and there's a lot of it. If your life has been touched by the music of Daniel Amos, the Swirling Eddies, the Lost Dogs, or Terry's solo output, you should very seriously consider pledging at least a few dollars to this (if you're really broke, you can commit to an amount as low as $1 a month. It doesn't feel like much, but as an artist myself, I can tell you every little bit helps).
Pledge here.

Finally, for you vinyl aficionados -- the first-ever Christian vinyl subscription service launched last month. Right now they're only shipping within the US, but it sounds like they intend to expand the service as soon as they can. Basically you select a plan and for a monthly fee, you will get two (or three, depending on the plan you select) vinyl records per month. You can customise your preferences -- they have anything from eighties rock to modern rock to hip-hop to worship/hipster music -- and give them an idea of what you already have to cut down on the potential of duplicates. I don't have personal experience with this service yet because 1. I'm not in the States, and 2. I'm a broke college student, but you better believe once they open it up to Canada and once I have a steady job, I am SO signing up for this.
You can sign up here.

26 March 2017

What Worship Is Not

I've been pondering and railing against modern 'worship culture' for years now. Longtime readers of this blog are very familiar with this. I often blame it on lackluster musicianship, overwhelming same-ness in the arrangements (across the board), repetitive and inane lyrics, the overproduced fakeness of the entire culture that apparently only I and a handful of others seem to feel.

The other day, though, I was listening to a song in this genre (for research purposes only), and suddenly I realised why people will say certain songs are 'anointed' or 'so worshipful' -- they're the songs which, for whatever reason (which remains shrouded in mystery even to a person who is very seriously considering making a career out of nonverbal physical demonstrations of emotion), incite them to kneel and/or raise their hands. And suddenly it dawned on me that maybe these people think that is worship -- that physical pose they take while this music is playing. It's a tableau dance, and it doesn't arise out of a spirit of worship, it IS worship. Suddenly the overwhelming aura of fakeness that this entire movement is drowning in made sense.

People, I think we're missing something.

Worship is NOT a certain series of physical movements. It is NOT the act of closing the eyes and swaying. It is NOT the act of kneeling. It is NOT the groans and grimaces. It is NOT the raised hands. It is NOT the sound of the keyboard and the amped up acoustic guitar. It is NOT the light show. Yes, all of these things can be the MANIFESTATION of our worship (or the 'consequences,' if you prefer), but -- and please do not miss this distinction -- worship is not the physical act.

Worship is a heart attitude. I'm not going to go in-depth on this here, but you can find any number of (doctrinally sound) theologians who say this. The physical trappings/outward expressions of worship are a representation, a reflection (to put it another way) of what is going on in your heart -- but they are not worship itself.

Basically -- don't call your weird cultish tableau dance worship. It's not. You can worship in any posture, singing/playing in any genre. But don't shame the ones who aren't 'led' to join your weird cultish folk dance.

19 March 2017

Stress and Self-Injury

I read something the other day about how self-injury takes many different forms. Obviously there's things like hitting or cutting oneself, starving oneself -- but the article also mentioned people who constantly push themselves to the limit, the people who stay up late for no real reason, the people who will exercise to the point of utter physical exhaustion.

These are all me.

I took eight courses -- a maxed-out course load -- for two consecutive college semesters. The first one left me extremely bitter and I wound up emotionally dead. By the end of the second one (which was this past semester) I was suicidal because I could no longer withstand the mental pressure in the corner I had backed myself into. But even then my perfectionism was relentless. I stayed awake for 65 straight hours at the tail end of that second maxed-out semester writing papers and editing them mercilessly (though given the amount of sleep deprivation I was working under, there was no way I could possibly have been editing very well). And through that hellish 65 hours -- during which even the director of my program started commanding me to go to sleep because he could tell that I wasn't -- the question that kept screaming through my head was, You idiot, why do you do this to yourself?

Going farther back: I've always been a night owl -- since I was two months old, according to legend -- but I was about fourteen when I started consistently staying up past midnight. Usually I was reading, writing, or listening to music. Even now when I stay up late that's usually what I'm doing on some level. But why? All of these things could have waited till morning in most (if not all) cases.

This past summer I discovered another outlet for my self-hatred: dance. I would practice tap dance for one half-hour, every day, with zero breaks. If I took a break longer than one minute, I would have to practice for another five. It was merciless, but I had nowhere else to vent my anger and hopelessness so I turned it on myself. If I couldn't execute a step perfectly, I would do it over and over again, shaming and guilting myself until I did it. I would get to the end of that intense half-hour practice and literally collapse, half-dead from lack of oxygen. More often than not I was in tears, from exhaustion, frustration, and from the harsh words I would tell myself to prod myself to keep going. Looking back, that was probably not healthy. I was still mourning three deaths, two divorces, a cancer diagnosis, and a wholesale family split. I was still so bitter at God that I was telling other people not to bother praying because it didn't work anyway. I was working a physically demanding full-time job (which honestly was the least stressful part of my life). I was still physically recovering from the sleeping-four-hours-a-night-eating-one-meal-a-day life that I had been living through my previous semester of college (the first of the two overloaded back-to-back semesters).

Reading the aforementioned article made me realise just how much of the behaviour that mystifies even me comes from a place of self-injury, a place of trying to prove myself, to get attention. I'm trying to either earn love and acceptance from somebody -- anybody -- or destroy myself trying. If I destroy myself, if I drive myself so far down that I end up dead, maybe then somebody will feel sorry for me. Maybe then somebody at my far-too-early funeral will finally clue in and say, 'We were too hard on her. We should have made sure she knew we loved her.'

See, very early on in my life I hit on something that inspirational viral stories on Facebook would later exploit -- if you slog through adversity and still make something of yourself, people will love you. In fact, this is the only way to get people to even notice your existence. So my generation overloads themselves beyond reason, beyond sanity, so that they can 'brag' about the long hours and the hard work they've put into something -- because surviving intolerable levels of stress or hardship is the only way to get anybody's attention anymore, and you can only get love and acceptance if you have some tiny piece of someone's attention. What I would do was emphasize the bad things in my life when talking to people so that they would be more in awe of the insurmountable odds I was facing. This, of course, may (sometimes) inspire admiration but does not (ever) inspire friendships. People saw me as a complainer, and I suppose that's a legitimate claim. But instead of changing my self-destructive habits, I burrowed further into them. And I found myself getting angry that they were not putting me (visibly) at death's door as quickly as I wanted somebody -- anybody -- to notice me and really truly show that they cared about me.

07 March 2017

Stage Fright for Writers

I’m a writer. I sculpt words like clay. Words spill from my pen/fingers almost effortlessly, at least most of the time. I am almost physically incapable of writing a ‘short email’ -- they’re usually a minimum of two pages long, despite my best efforts. Words are my currency. Words are my lifeblood. Whether blogs, Facebook, emails, novels, short stories, notes, ideas... I am writing almost from the moment I get up to the moment I go to bed.

Why then, when I sit down to write an academic paper -- even on a topic I’m interested in and have all the sources for -- do the words die on my fingertips? Why then is my writing voice suddenly silenced and I couldn’t think of the simplest of sentences if my life depended upon it? Why then does the topic suddenly inflate to such gargantuan proportions that mere words can no longer begin to encompass it?

04 March 2017

Music Day - Why Should The Devil Have All The Good Music?

Title pretty much says it all.

I was first introduced to this sentiment at about age four through one of my dad's mixtapes which contained Chris Christian's knockoff of this week's song, and that's kind of been my rallying cry (both as a fan and as an artist) ever since. Why do Christians have to settle for a subpar subculture? Why does the music we make have to be seventeen times blander than than 'regular' music? What makes us so 'special,' so sensitive? Are our stomachs so weak we can't handle quality songwriting/musicianship? (Of course, one usually answers with the argument 'that's what the labels want' -- but I'm asking this of the labels themselves.) Why must Christian music -- or any kind of art done by Christians for that matter -- be the vegan-friendly, gluten-free, low-fat, caffeine-free alternative to music?

I digress. But you can see even in that mini-rant how profoundly this song has shaped my life, even through the indirect channel of Chris Christian's reference.

As for the original, it too was a rallying cry for a previous generation of artists who were Christians. It was also a bit of an apologia from the father of Christian rock to his brothers and sisters in the Lord who would rather pretend he didn't exist. However, I suspect none of them ever heard the message, given that it was couched in a swinging '50s rock arrangement. And even if they had tried to listen to it, they no doubt would have turned it off after hearing 'They say to cut my hair / They're driving me insane / I grew it out long to make room for my brain...'

Full of verve and sass and musical bounce. This was music that was unashamed of itself. That's rare in Christian music, kids. Observe and enjoy.

Title: Why Should The Devil Have All The Good Music?
Artist: Larry Norman
Album: Only Visiting This Planet
Year: 1972
iTunes here; YouTube here.

19 February 2017

Singing and Dancing

Written 31 January 2017, 11.19pm.

The thing with being primarily a dancer in a musical theatre program that emphasizes singing SO heavily is that you're kind of caught between two worlds. On one hand, dance is my first -- and biggest -- love. It is the one thing I have found that can keep me alive when my entire life is falling apart around me.

On the other hand, I want to be a good singer so I can get better roles at this school. At this school, weak singers get lesser roles (if any) and that's all there is to it. I, of course, am one of the weakest singers in the program. But -- singing is not my love and my joy. After all, how can someone enjoy something they're so mediocre at? I don't exactly enjoy watching people flounder and struggle to find something, anything nice to say about my vocal performances.

If I'm honest, I feel singing is a necessary evil if I want to be a performer. Right now I'm just fighting to get my singing to a passable level. I know I should be having fun with it and enjoying it, but if I'm honest, I often dread practicing voice. If it happens to go well once I get going, then I kind of enjoy it, but the bad days far outweigh the good and I feel like I'm going absolutely nowhere.

I'm torn between wanting to focus on my voice -- my weakest point -- and strengthen it, or on dance -- my strength and love -- and attain higher levels of true excellence.

I should love to sing. So many people do, whether or not they're good at it. Why don't I? Can I ever be any good at it if I don't love doing it -- or at least sort-of enjoy it? But how can you love something that you're not that great at? Will joy come with time and practice, or will it never come at all?