Friday, August 27, 2010

Nashville Tracking Session

Just had a whirlwind day in the studio today...13 songs in 9 hours! I flew in yesterday morning, then met with Ben Speer and his song, Stephen, to discuss next year's "Stamps-Baxter School of Music." Visited with good friend Judy Nelon and then got to sleep early.

Picked up some Krispy Kreme donuts on my way to the studio this morning. (Thanks for the idea, Allison Lynn--they really appreciated it!) We got started about 10:00 and went to 1:00, then broke for lunch. After lunch, we got started a little after 2:00... when we got to dinner time, we decided to skip it and just press on, so we finished about 8:00pm this evening.

It is incredible to work with these musicians, hand them a chart full of numbers that looks like a scientific equation, and make beautiful music. Below you'll find a sample chart written in the Nashville Number system. This method uses numbers to indicate the chord changes for the songs.

Playing piano was the wonderful Tracey Phillips, Kelly Back on guitar, Jimmy Carter (not the ex-president--he was busy in North Korea!) on bass and Greg Ritchie on drums. (Greg's wife, Charlotte, used to sing with Jeff & Sheri Easter and with the Homecoming Friends). Tommy Cooper was our engineer and we had a wonderful time. The songs we recorded are "forgotten treasures" out of the Stamps Quartet Music Company catalog. Most of them were written in the 1940's and '50s and have a great vintage sound to them.

Flying home tomorrow and then back to the real world!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Reggie & Ladye Love Smith concert

This Sunday, August 1st, Gaither Homecoming artists Reggie & Ladye Love Smith will be at Grace Evangelical Church in Morton, IL for an unforgettable evening of worship and praise. Tickets are only $10 ($8 for groups of 20 or more) and are available at our ministry website (, at Hoerr's Berean Bookstores throughout central Illinois and at the church office (1325 E. Jefferson St., Morton, IL 61550).

It's going to be a wonderful evening, so plan on getting your tickets now!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Day 13 - P.S.

The suitcases were packed, the linens returned to the dorm laundry bins and the goodbyes were said... That plus 2 quick flights and I should have been home by 2:00pm... WRONG!

It's been a long day of sitting and waiting! Got up at 5:30am to leave at 6:15 for the airport. The school's shuttle van had two flat tires (after the first airport run at 4:15am), so we scrambled and found somebody that had a 15 passenger van and hadn't left yet. (Thanks, Monica!) My flight was supposed to leave at 9:30, but received a call from the airlines that it had been cancelled and moved to 2:00pm (keep in mind, that was when I was supposed to be getting HOME!) Couldn't move me to another flight, so I sat in the airport from about 7:30am til the flight left at 2:00pm... not a big deal. I had some books and my iPod, so i was in good shape.

Arrived at Chicago without incident and discovered my flight to Peoria was delayed an hour. No sooner had I sat down that I got another call from that wonderful 1-800 number that the flight was cancelled and I'd been rebooked for a flight...get this...TOMORROW MORNING! (about the time I need to be rehearsing the choir!). I was in a line at the service desk that felt like it was a mile long and lady came down with some vouchers saying that Monday was the earliest they could get people out because of backed up and cancelled flights. I quickly found my way down to bus and shuttle center and found out that Peoria Charter had one more coach leaving at 7:00pm (It was now 3:00pm). They didn't take reservations...first come, first I sat very near the door where the bus would be arriving. Four hours later, I was the third person in line and FINALLY got started home. It was a two hour bus-ride (comfortable, but still a bus) to Pontiac, IL, where my parents picked me up about 9:00pm and drove me home... FINALLY HOME with my girls... Good night!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Day 12, 2010 - Final Day

Well, it's been a very quick two weeks! This morning during devotions, those selected from last night's auditions to perform at the closing program were announced. There were about 14 groups and soloists selected from 32. Hard decisions.

We didn't do any real classroom work this morning.. Instead, we discussed some southern gospel history, including the founding of the Vaughan and Stamps-Baxter music publishing companies and the history of the Speer Family. Our final group singing session was spent going over a few last minute instructions and singing through a few songs for tonight.

No classes this afternoon! Everybody's so busy getting ready for the closing program, packing for early flights and doing soundchecks for the closing program, most of the students' minds are already gone, so we took the afternoon off.

We had a great closing program tonight, featuring many of the songs on the 2010 school CD that arrived from the duplicator this afternoon. The program started with Allison Durham Speer singing Dottie Rambo's "The Holy Hills of Heaven Call Me," the title cut from her soon-to-be-released album of the same name. The student body then sang 4 or 5 songs and we dismissed to hear from the many soloists and groups. We had some excellent piano solos from Raluca Bojor (from Romania) and first year student Mark Beggs. Both outstanding players. Several of my students, both past and present, sang either solos or were involved in different groups that were put together. Also had some mandolin and guitar pickers from this year's class playing on a bluegrass number featuring one of my students from a 2 or 3 years ago.

Two scholarships are presented each year at the program to deserving students for next year's session. Raluca Bojor from Romania won the Anthony Burger piano award for the second year in a row. So talented and it's great to have her here in the states. A first-year student, Mark Beggs, won the Brock Speer award. This is given to someone who displays not only great musicianship, but also a servant's heart and a desire to use their musical gifts for the glory of the kingdom. Mark is an excellent pianist, and it was not uncommon for him to be seen straightening up chairs and picking up water bottles long after everybody else had left the auditorium for the evening. Congratulations to both of you!

Tracey Phillips, our outstanding accompanist, had to leave about midway through the concert to drive up to Anderson, IN. She's playing for Ernie Haase & Signature Sound's Cathedrals' Tribute video taping tomorrow night. When the students all came back out to finish out the concert, Rosa Nell Speer Powell accompanied our last two numbers: "The Lovely Land" a song written by Dad Speer back in 1924 (and published in a book from his father-in-law's publishing company, Athens Music) and "My Home, Sweet Home," published by the Vaughan company about the time the Speer Family started working for Vaughan. The Speer Family sang it and recorded it many years ago.

Hugs and tears always seem to linger on for at least an hour after the program and tonight was no exception. As I've said previously, these people are like family to me and I will miss them, especially those that might not be able to come back next year for a variety of reasons. Theory teacher and writer Eugene McCammon wrote a song many years ago, "Never Say Goodbye" that was inspired from these feelings of sadness experienced at the end of singing schools. As believers, we don't have to say goodbye, even as some may pass on during the next year, we will see them again at the throne!

After my flight tomorrow morning, it'll be back in the full swing of the things: hymnal typesetting, a concert in one week with Reggie & Ladye Love Smith and continued plans for our Christmas events...

I love the Stamps-Baxter School of Music!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Day 11, 2010

LOOOONG day! More fun four-parting writing in theory class followed by a great group singing session. After lunch we finished up some four-part writing and then spent our sight-singing and ear-training time listening to some early southern gospel recordings from the Speer Family, Rebels Quartet, Rangers Quartet, Statesmen, Happy Goodmans, LeFevres and the Rambos...all great musicians and pioneers in what we do.

Allison held her final performance training this afternoon and worked with some exceptional soloists and groups. She has such a heart for teaching young people how to be effective ministers of the gospel!

Following dinner at the Mexican restaurant (tired of cafeteria food!) was one of our last group singing sessions...these are my favorite parts of the school and I always miss them when I'm home. I think we sang about 5 choruses of some of the songs because we just didn't want to stop.

Auditions for the closing program were held after group singing. This year (it usually changes from year to year) to qualify for closing program auditions, you had to have performed during the 'performance opportunities' time at least once during the past two weeks. A secret judge had been appointed to pick out those that should be allowed to audition. For the third of fourth year in a row I was asked (roped into) being one of the five judges. I hate judging! You have so much talent and so little time in the closing program, it's hard to make those decisions. We had 32 groups/soloists perform and the evening lasted about 2.5 seems all the slow songs were at the end... it got pretty long. The five judges met for about half an hour to tally up our scores and discuss which groups and soloists should be featured on tomorrow night's program. Actually, looking at the clock, it's tonight's program!

My first year as a student at Stamps-Baxter in 1998, I was chosen to perform a piano solo which opened the closing program. It was a neat arrangement of "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing," arranged by James D. Walbert (grandson of James D. Vaughan). That's a wonderful memory I'll always remember and it's amazing to think how God has opened doors for me in southern gospel music since then... amazing...

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Day 10, 2010

Time's beginning to race... Good day today.

Got into some basic part-writing with my class today after a thorough review of seventh chords and inversions and did some melodic dictation. During group singing we did some more sight-reading and getting ready for the closing program Friday night.

After supper, Allison Speer and I worked with the Heavner Family from Maryland. They're a great family group and we worked on some things to improve their presentation (some basic staging ideas, etc.) Neat group of people.

After the evening group singing, we were treated to a concert from Ernie Haase and Signature Sound Quartet! They brought their full lighting and sound and gave a great concert. In a few days, they'll be heading to Anderson University to film a Cathedrals' Tribute video that Gaither will release later this fall. Our beloved accompanist Tracey Phillips will be playing for them and did some playing tonight.

The evening ended at Steak and Shake with great friends. Over the past 12 years, many of these people have become family, and even though we see each other only 2 weeks a year, we always pick up right where we left off, and now with Facebook, it's even easier to stay in touch. Time to make the last two days count!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Day 9, 2010

A wonderful, emotional and jam-packed day! This morning, the whole student body recorded many of the songs we've been working on for a CD that will be available. We began soundchecking and rehearsing about 8:30, began actually recording at 9:30, and finished our 18th song by 12:07pm!

Enjoyed lunch in the cafeteria with Allison Speer. She's a great friend and mentor and has a lot of wonderful ideas That's why she and her husband, Brian, are both on the GospelFest Ministries advisory board.

Back in the mid 1930's, a group of brothers teamed up to form one of the longest-lasting groups and one of the most recognizable names in southern gospel music: the Blackwood Brothers. After lunch today, we were treated to a wonderful concert from the Blackwood Brothers Quartet, featuring James Blackwood's sons, Jimmy and Billy. They have the classic Blackwood sound and sang with two mics and piano. They were the best group we've heard and seen so far at this year's school.

When Dad Speer's health began to decline in the mid 1960's, a young band teacher from West Virginia was hired to sing with the Speer Family. He later went on to become their arranger and is an excellent songwriter, writing classics like "I'm Standing on the Solid Rock," "Touring That City," and "The Next Time He Comes." The great Harold Lane is now in a nursing home east of Nashville, suffering from Parkinson's Disease. Following the afternoon class, a group of about 18 of us faculty and staff traveled to the nursing home to sing some songs for Harold and the other residents. We sang many songs written by Harold and it was such a joy to be able to sing them to him. For the past several years, he hasn't known too many people when they would visit and can't speak. Today, his foot was tapping, he raised his arms a little as if directing us and tried to made some noise as if singing. We were all in tears as Ben walked over to him and took his hands and sang these words to him. Words that were written by 'H,' as he was affectionately known, almost 30 years ago seem so fitting for him today.

You've been so good to me through years gone by;
For this I thank You, Lord, on You I can rely;
Now, dear Lord, I ask You,
Lord, please hear my heart's cry
And bless me, Lord,
bless me, Lord,
don't pass me by.