God’s Will

Apropos of no one specific situation:

Sometimes it can be God’s will for someone to sing with a group for only one or two years.

Put another way, just because a singer left a group after one or two years, that doesn’t necessarily mean that (a) they were out of God’s will in leaving or (b) that they were out of God’s will in going in the first place.

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Attending The Extra Mile

Southern Gospel aficiandos have gathered in different ways over the years. First there were singing schools (and an occasional church homecoming).

Then there were concerts. The live Southern Gospel experience has largely revolved around the 90-minute-concert format for decades. But any concert promoter will tell you that it’s getting harder to make this model work. Gas prices—and thus artist flats—are up, and love offerings are all too often more love than offering. It’s getting harder and harder for artists to pull off 180 dates per year.

So what’s next?

Concerts won’t go away completely any time soon, but the Talley Trio is trying a concept that could be the future of the live Southern Gospel experience. Lauren Talley is launching her new CD and book The Extra Mile at a March 20th event in Pigeon Forge.

I will be there.

I’m pretty excited about this, and not just because it will be my first time to set foot in the state of Tennessee. It’s the concept that intrigues me: It’s an all-day event with speaking sessions by Lauren and Debra, and evening concerts by Lauren and by the group.

It will be the first Southern Gospel concert in six decades with no product table. (Okay, that’s probably a slight exaggeration.) Instead, the $87 ticket cost includes the two sessions, lunch, the two concerts, and autographed copies of Lauren’s new CD and the accompanying book, and the new Talley Trio CD Songs in the Night.

Though this is a single event, could the future of Southern Gospel include artists debuting new projects with a five or ten city self-promoted conference tour?

With the web design work I’ve been doing with Crossroads, I’ve also been working on a few other new projects that will be announced there. I got clearance to say this much about the concept, but stay tuned for more!

Will any of you be there?

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Video: Gaches tackles “I Stand Redeemed”

Ever since Josh Cobb introduced “I Stand Redeemed” on Legacy Five’s debut project, Strong in the Strength, the true test of a Legacy Five tenor has been their rendition of that signature song.

Cobb’s original rendition was in an unearthly-high F, modulating to G. Few other tenors can sing in that range—David Phelps is probably the only tenor on the road today (besides Cobb himself) who could deliver a power-tenor rendition in that key—and following Legacy Five tenors have keyed it down.

Frank Seamans, who recorded the song in 2007 on Know So Salvation, took it down two keys, to E-flat, modulating to F. Gus Gaches takes it down one more key, D modulating to E:

I doubt the issue is whether Gaches can sing the song in the higher keys. He hits throws in fifth intervals (e.g., high As and Bs) here and there, comfortably. So undoubtedly, he can technically hit the notes, but he probably prefers slightly lower territory and more to command to upper range regions with the chance or sounding strained on an off night.

It seems that he is comfortable enough in his own shoes to put his own mark on the song without attempting to equal other renditions. Under Gaches’ ownership, this song will be slightly mellower, less a big ballad and more a message / testimony song. And there is a place for both renditions.

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Treasures: New Cathedrals Songs Unearthed

Three Cathedrals songs I’d never heard before were posted on YouTube a few days ago. Unlike, say, “He Left it All,” these appear to be from a studio recording made in the mid-1980s. I had thought I had a complete Cathedrals collection, but I had never so much as heard of this particular recording.

Does anyone know about this recording? (Even better, own a copy you’re willing to sell to me!?) Any other information would also be appreciated—song list, year released etc.

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Audio Clips on Websites

Southern Gospel record exec Kevin Ward has a blog post up about sound clips that start playing automatically when you visit a site. [EDIT, 6/7/12: Broken link removed.] This is something I’ve addressed before, but I cannot remember whether I have here, so let’s revisit it.

Ward’s post is right on. Including sound clips on websites is a great idea—a must for any music group. It has revolutionized music purchases, letting people who stop by quickly determine if your style and their tastes match.

But setting the music to play automatically (especially at 100% volume) is counter-productive. Think of it as too much of a good thing. Ideally, people will visit your site more than once—in fact, ideally you will have committed fans who visit the site regularly. No matter how much they like a song, after they have heard the same 30-second clip for the 365th time they will eventually turn off the volume before each visit or quit coming. You don’t want either.

Do you like audio clips to automatically load when you visit a site?

[polldaddy poll=2754803]

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Treasures: Bill Gaither’s finest bass moment

In his bass vocal work with the Gaither Vocal Band, Bill Gaither has tended to keep his vocals far out of the spotlight. Truth be told, he’s a far better singer than various bass singer jokes make him out to be. Though he does not rattle the subwoofers, he tackles complex parts that other bass singers would hesitate to attempt.

Even so, he hires singers so exceptional that, standing next to them, he can sometimes come across as average. This may be completely intentional—he tends to convey an average-guy persona on stage—but it tends to lead us to forget just how good he is.

Case in point: On the Gaither Vocal Band’s recently released DVD Better Day, the Isaacs appeared as a featured guest and sang two songs. One was the familiar hymn “I Will Praise Him”; the other was a folk song popularized by the Browns over fifty years ago (original rendition here), “The Three Bells.”

On “The Three Bells,” Bill Gaither joined the Isaacs, singing a rhythm bass part. His voice was so smooth and the blend so precise and natural that it wasn’t until the tenth time or so through the song that I realized it even had a bass part! It appears that he is doubling Lily’s part, an octave lower; it’s either that, or he’s singing Lily’s part and Lily is doubling Becky’s alto.

The Isaacs are known for high trio harmonies—soprano, alto, and high tenor—and for a bass to join them and sound as good or better than he sounds with his usual group is no small feat.

Gaither’s finest bass moment?

Perhaps. But it’s certainly one of the best.

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Post of the Day: Open the Eyes of my (Face), Lord

We’ve probably all heard the jokes about Praise & Worship music. The 24/7 joke comes to mind—that a praise song is 7 words repeated 24 times (or 24 words repeated 7 times, depending on who you ask). Some of this reputation is deserved.

But fortunately, like just about everything else, the view that praise songs are all more shallow than hymns does have a few exceptions. One of the most notable exceptions is Sovereign Grace Music, a network of churches based in Virginia that has released quite a few original praise songs with solid Biblical lyrics.

Because of their reputation and their past work—and because the site is, quite frankly, fascinating on its own account—I added the blog of one of their leading worship leaders and composers, Bob Kauflin, to my daily reads.

I say all this as preface to an interesting post he made the other day, Open the Eyes of my (Face), Lord. It addresses something which is far more common in his genre than ours, but something we still see occasionally: Singers on stage going through major portions of a song (or entire songs) with their eyes closed.

It is a fascinating read—and the comments are hilarious. Check it out.

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Treasures: He Left It All (Cathedrals)

Here’s a fascinating trip into the archives of this genre’s forgotten history, courtesy of Dean Adkins:

What makes this particularly fascinating is that the Cathedrals, to my knowledge, never recorded this song. That’s not to say the song itself was never recorded; it was written by Aaron Wilburn and recorded in 1989 on the Nelon’s Let The Redeemed Say So.

Of particular note on this rendition are that George Younce sings the same step-out lines recorded by Rex Nelon, but adds the extra “He Left It All” lines just played by the bass guitar on the original. Also notice Roger Bennett singing a fifth part at the big ending.

Does anyone know more about the song or other occasions where the Cathedrals may have recorded it?

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Random thought of the Night

Garry Jones was Signature Sound’s original pianist, followed by Roy Webb.

Interestingly, he was also one of Gold City’s earliest pianists, and with the recent Gold City changes, Roy Webb has followed him there as well.

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Singing News moves Fan Awards to Dollywood

Yesterday. Singing News announced that they will be ending their nearly four-decade partnership with the National Quartet Convention, moving the Fan Awards to Dollywood this year. The event will be combined with the SGMA Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, and the two events will be held Wednesday, September 29, 2010, in Pigeon Forge.

Reaction is mixed; some are ambivalent, many aren’t happy. [EDIT, 11/8/10: The link is broken and has been removed.]

Most of this commentary assumes that Singing News was offered the same offer as in previous years, a prime-time two and a half hour time segment. But that’s not necessarily the case; a rumor holds that Singing News may have only been offered an afternoon showcase this year. If so, the move makes more sense.

Advantages and Disadvantages

There a few advantages to the move, the most notable of which is the increased spotlight on the legends being honored at the Hall of Fame inductions ceremonies. Singing News will probably also have more control over the logistics and fewer time constraints.

Two items head the disadvantages list: First, it will be harder to get the nominees to attend. For the last few decades, virtually every nominated group has been at the Fan Awards, since they spend the week at NQC anyhow. Second, this move is from a 20,000 seat area (that typically had at least 80% of those seats filled) to an arena that seats approximately 3,260 people.

Who is risking more?

It is unlikely both events will come out ahead. With the events two or three weeks apart, non-wealthy Southern Gospel fans (and that’s about 95% of us) will have to choose one or the other.

Will the fans and artists still come to the Fan Awards?

Will the fans and artists still come to the National Quartet Convention?

The National Quartet Convention is almost guaranteed to see a 10%-20% decline in attendance. But it isn’t risking much more than that. In this context, its greatest strength is the number of groups with strong fan bases who will be on main stage but not among the top ten performing at the Fan Awards. If these groups had to choose, many would select the NQC over an event where they don’t perform and probably don’t sell product.

For the Fan Awards to succeed, nominees (especially those without a top 10 song) have to be willing to do both events.

So it would seem that Singing News is risking more. But attempting to fill a 3,200-seat theater is a much smaller task than filling a 20,000-seat arena. They should be able to pull enough fans from the area that they aren’t really risking a half-full venue. Their risk is that the event could lose its prestige and that the nominees won’t come. However, their 40-year history gives them a momentum that should sustain the event for a few years, long enough to see if this arrangement works.

Suggestions

In light of this move, what changes should the Fan Awards and NQC make?

The one thing that could leave the Fan Awards stronger than before would be a free online stream. Loss of ticket sales shouldn’t be an issue, since the theater is small enough that they should be able to easily fill it. Suppose nominees heavily promote the live stream to their email lists; 10,000 online viewers wouldn’t be a surprise, and 4-5 times that is possible. Releasing the e-audience numbers would help ensure that the event retains enough prestige to draw the nominees.

In all likelihood, the NQC board is trying to think up another event that will hold people all day Saturday. (Moving the Fan Awards from Thursday to Saturday several years ago was an attempt to do just that.) But the last few years suggest that this is a losing battle. Perhaps NQC should bite the bullet now and scale down their Saturday program. Most exhibitors, artists and otherwise, have torn down by 8 PM; they want to be packed and rolling in time to catch a Sunday date. Even artists featured on main stage frequently have their booths torn down by the time they’re off stage. Though some fans stay the night, most aren’t in the exhibit hall.

NQC would do well to borrow a page from their Sunday pre-concert playbook, and close the event with a bonus concert featuring three or four marquee groups, each for an hour. Each group could have a table out in the lobby, freeing up exhibitors to tear down. But for those who can only attend on Saturday, the entire exhibit hall could be open from 4-6. With a time frame this short and a closing time early enough to allow plenty of time to tear down afterwards, most booths would stay up and the exhibit hall could go out with a bang instead of a whimper.

This parting of ways is not ideal, but with a few adjustments, all parties involved can make it work.

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