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.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Day 8, 2010

Back to the grind... most of the students (and faculty) didn't get the rest they needed over the weekend and were dragging this morning...

A good review of last week's material started off our class time, then it was in to chords, inversions and seventh chords. Ended the class period today with secondary dominants... lots of fun!

After dinner, Stephen Hill performed a concert and is always wonderful...a great communicator. Performance opportunities are getting fuller and fuller each night... if the students want to audition for the closing program, they have to have sung in performance opportunities at least once. Now, most have waited till the last minute and are scrambling to get something together.

The second week always flies's like the first week is the ascent up the beginning of a roller coaster. The weekend is like that brief moment on top when time seems to stop, then the Monday of the second week begins the descent--hold on!!!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Day 7, 2010

We sang this morning at Grace Nazarene Church in Nashville this morning for their service. The music director, Nathan Rogers, is a former student of the Stamps-Baxter School and the church is very supportive of the singing school. They also fed us a great lunch with a dessert table that seemed to stretch the length of a football field.

The rest of the afternoon was a good time for some rest and relaxation. Ended up going to eat and catching a movie this evening.

Back to the grind tomorrow... only five days left and they'll go very quickly. Tuesday morning we'll record the songs for the CD that will be available at the closing program on Friday.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Day 6, 2010

Well, today wasn't as restful as I hoped, but definitely got more sleep last night. Woke up late for Allison Durham Speer's mini-Elijah Conference, but arrived before they'd gotten into too much depth. What a talent she is and a heart for serving the body of Christ in helping young gospel musicians to be all that God has ordained them to be by giving them the tools needed to hone their craft.

She covered so much material, it's hard to review everything, but among them were checking our hearts and attitude of why we're doing what we're doing, being effective communicators on the platform, freeing ourselves of pre-conceived notions of what's "expected" of us and so much more. If you're serious about a career in the music ministry, and even if you've been on the road for 20 years, she has much to offer. Check out for more information.

That workshop was followed by dinner at the Cracker Barrell and soon will be off to bed. Tomorrow morning we sing at Grace Nazarene Church in Nashville, right across Briley Parkway from Opryland.

I just posted a video to my Facebook profile of me accompanying Ben, Mary Tom and Rosa Nell singing "What a Meeting in the Air." Check it out!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Day 5, 2010

The weekend has arrived! Sleep is in sight! The midway point of singing school is always bittersweet. The free time is very much looked forward to and needed, but it also means that the second week is just around the corner. The second week of singing school goes by so quickly, you sometimes want to apply the brakes and just be able to savor the moment.

Class work today included more chord identification and this afternoon we began identifying four-part chord inversions... probably not a wise choice for a Friday afternoon, but we got through it. Monday will be a BIG review day.

Got caught in the rain during dinner at the cafeteria. (Did I mention it's about a five-minute walk from the dining hall to the music building???) Thankful my GREAT friend and fellow teacher Freddie Edwards had an umbrella we tried to share. Once we got back and dried off, group singing began. I was able to sit next to Rosa Nell tonight and I hope I can get my hearing back in my left year! She'll be 88 in September and can still sing louder than the whole alto section of probably 30 or 35 voices. Listening to her belt out some of those great southern gospel convention alto lines is like a little piece of heaven.

The LeFevre Quartet performed after group singing and did a wonderful job. This was the first time their new tenor was with them and he sounded great. Next week, they're filming a live concert video in Memphis and were "trying out" some of the material for that shoot. It's going to be a combination of new stuff and old favorites.

This will be the earliest I've gotten to bed since last Friday evening... looking forward to a good night's sleep and a busy day helping Allison Speer with a mini-Elijah Conference workshop all day.

Day 4, 2010

The exhaustion is beginning to show on the students' (and teachers'!) faces... Of course, if we'd get to bed any earlier than we have been (it's almost 1:00am now), that might help. But, we only have two weeks, so we try to cram as much "family time" in as we can.

This morning, my students were immersed in the world of chords: identifying and writing major, minor, augmented, diminished, and they seem to be catching on very quickly. Soon we'll be doing some analyzing of 4-part music.

Group singing is so much fun. Our favorite song this week has been the old Speer Family song (included in my "Heaven's Jubilee" songbook I published) "My Home, Sweet Home." It was published originally by the James D. Vaughan company in 1934, around the time the Speer Family moved to Lawrenceburg, TN, to work for Vaughan. Ben would have been 4 years old when his family sang it in their concerts. Rosa Nell said she remembered "little Ben" singing the alto part as a young boy. It's incredible to think of the history of that song, and then to enjoy singing it with not only young people, but also people from all over the world. This year's school has representations from India (via Scotland), Romania, Sweden, Australia and Canada. (There may be more, but remember, it's very late!) This is music that speaks to the Christian heart and it doesn't matter how old you are or where you are from.

Tonight we were treated to a concert by HisSong...a great up-and-coming trio. Wonderful blend. After the concert, several of us went to Steak and Shake, which is why we're up so late... Tomorrow morning (or 'this' morning) is going to come very quickly. The weekend will be time to catch up on sleep!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Day 3, 2010

Well, we're officially half-way through the first week. My theory class has been immersed (they might say 'drowned') in interval identification and today we started chord identification (major, minor, diminished, augmented) and how those chords are structured. We also do a lot of sight-singing, melodic dictation (I play a melody and they write it down) and other things like that.

Tonight we were treated to a concert from the legendary Chuck Wagon Gang. Next year they'll be celebrating their 75th anniversary. The Chucks got their start singing on the radio for the Bewley Mills Flour Company and were strictly a radio quartet for many years--very few public appearances until much later. Over the past 75 years, they've sold close to 40 million albums...amazing!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Day 2 2010

Well, it feels like we've been here a week already--hard to believe it's just the second day of classes. I think everybody's beginning to settle into the routine of classes, lessons and short nights. This morning I added 2 more students to my class and after lunch a third came in (a former student from a couple years ago), bringing my total to 16. They're a great group and it's exciting to see them "get it" when something starts to make sense (like why an augmented fourth and a diminished fifth are both made up of 6 half steps!)

After group singing this evening, we were treated to a concert from Chonda Pierce. She's a very talented comedienne as well as pianist and singer, but she's a wonderful communicator. I love listening to and watching a performer get an audience all worked up, laughing and having a great time, then all of a sudden, they turn the corner and knock you over with some serious and deep spiritual truths... Beautiful...

Most of the students gathered in the food court for performance opportunities after the concert. Several of my students sang and it was neat to hear them. (Wish they'd sing out like that in the classroom!) The evening ended with Ben, Mary Tom and Rosa Nell singing "Didn't It Rain" (an annual favorite) and then...drum roll... I got to accompany them singing "What a Meeting in the Air." One of my favorite gospel songs and three of my gospel music heroes...Can't get much better than that!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Day 1 2010

Busy first day! After a very long breakfast line (picture about 600 guys here for football camp ahead of about 150 gospel singing people age 8-86!) which culminated in a Hardee's run, the school officially kicked off with devotions and class assignments.

My class this year has 13 students, age range about 15 - 23. Most of them have some basic music theory, so we spent the first morning session reviewing intervals, major scales and shape notes.

Following the 2 hour theory session in the morning, we had our first group singing. What a glorious sound! Just about as close to heaven as you can get! Tom Powell (Dad Speer's eldest grandson) is the conductor and can get amazing sounds out of the 150 voice choir. A lot of the songs we'll be singing this year are Harold Lane classics. Harold sang and arranged for the Speer Family for about 25 years and published the Ben Speer Music songbook for about 15 years. Songs like "The Next Time He Comes," "What Sins Are You Talking About?" and many more.

After lunch (with a much shorter line!) it was back to theory class for some more interval identification, melodic dictation and sight singing (the students are learning what a music theory nerd I am!)

Allison Durham Speer teaches performance training at the school and does a fantastic job getting singers to really communicate the message they're sharing. She's such an encouragement and the perfect fit for that seminar.

More group singing ended the evening after dinner. I was able to sit by Mary Tom Speer Reid and hear her still crank out some great harmonies. About 6 chairs down was Rosa Nell Speer Powell, outsinging the whole alto section. Amazing! Group Singing is one of my favorite parts of singing school.

Performance opportunities will begin in a few minutes. This gives students the opportunity to perform for others and also will allow them to be considered for auditions for the closing program.

We miss many of our friends who cannot be with us this year: Allison Lynn (former staff member) has returned to Canada, Brandon Andrews, Becca Matlock, Jordan James and so many others. Perhaps we miss Tinker Hinson the most of all. He was the most humble, servant-hearted individual here at the school and kept us in tears from laughing so hard. He unexpectedly passed away earlier this year on his farm. He's got a front row seat for group singing this year!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Stamps-Baxter School of Music 2010

Up at 3:30 am to catch a 6:00 flight out of Peoria on Saturday morning. Barely made the connecting flight in Chicago and arrived in Nashville around 8:30am. Spent the rest of the day getting ready, meeting some new people and renewing my Stamps-Baxter family friendships.

Registration begins at 11:00am this morning, and there's an excitement in the air! From the Facebook updates I've been reading, a lot of gospel talent is going to be converging on Murfreesboro very soon!

My first year attending Stamps-Baxter was in 1998 and I attended for 3 years. We were at Belmont then, and it was there I met many of my gospel heroes and made some friendships that still exist today. I just visited the school for a few days from 2001-2003, but made plans for 2004 to be my final year. Anne and I were expecting our first daughter later that fall, so I figured this would be my last hurrah. God had different plans...

Three days into the 2004 school, I became a theory teacher and have been teaching ever since. It has been a joy teaching "up and coming" gospel musicians these past 7 years. Seeing how God has transformed these kids into fine young Christians and musicians is exciting and I am humbled to be a small part of their gospel music education.

Won't know until tomorrow morning who is in my class and how many there'll be. Each student will take a theory placement test upon their arrival and they'll be divided into about 10 different class levels. In the past, I've usually had high school/early college age who have had some music theory.

Each year is a new adventure! Can't wait for it to begin...