Wednesday, April 28, 2010
ReWind Wednesdays: Canadian Southern Gospel: Great Music from the Great Western Provinces (2005)
From the Atlantic to the Pacific, Canada is a large land mass of almost ten million square kilometers. From the balmy weather of Vancouver, through the flat, endless Prairies, across the farmland and urban areas of Ontario and Quebec, and into the untamed beauty of the Maritimes, the people are as diverse as the landscape. This diversity is readily apparent in their societies, politics, religious affiliations, and especially in their Gospel Music. They may still call it “Southern”, but the regional influences create a uniqueness that is purely Canadian.
Family groups figure prominently in the Canadian Southern Gospel scene, and make up a large percentage of groups that are traveling full-time. From the farthest reaches of the West Coast, one such group is Sweet Presence from Aldergrove, British Columbia. Singing for over 35 years, this group has been likened to the Happy Goodmans. With over 175 engagements a year, many doors have been opened to this Canadian group across both Canada and the United States. Greg Schaber, lead vocalist, took time to share a few thoughts after their recent tour to California. “…We as Canadian artists have spent a lot of blood, sweat, and tears developing SGM in Canada over the last 20-30 years. With that in mind, people are now beginning to identify when you mention a popular Canadian SGM artist that has been around for all those years”. He continues, “The biggest advantage is that God has supported Sweet Presence each and every mile. He has opened doors for this group that we never thought were possible. Following Him, Sweet Presence has seen many progressions over the years, and all glory goes to God for it!” You can find out more about Sweet Presence at www.sweetpresence.com.
Known widely as the home of the Calgary Stampede, the province of Alberta has recently become a popular haven for Canadian SGM fans as the home of the Canadian Gospel Music Fan Festival. This NQC-sponsored event has now become wholly Canadian owned, and has a fresh name. The Canadian Gospel Music Celebration will again be held in July at Red Deer, Alberta. For the first time ever, the concert is then being repeated in Chilliwack BC, one week later. An exciting northern event with artists from Canada and the United States, this festival has given fans from all over the opportunity to hear the best in Canadian SGM.
Frequent performers at this Western event include the Young Street Vocal Band, whose leader Wayne Dyke is heavily involved in the organization of the CGMC. The YSVB makes their home in Chilliwack, BC, and definitely provides a Canadian edge to Southern Gospel. A quick trip to their website, www.ysvb.com, shows that this is not your average SGM quartet. Seven singers provide a full vocal combination that has become widely popular across the western provinces. This group has been privileged to be a part of the Gaither Canadian tour of 2004.
Alberta is also home to Potter’s Clay, a male quartet heavily involved in the annual CGMC. Member Ed Parkins was instrumental in bringing the National Quartet Convention Board to Red Deer for the past six years to present their version of the Canadian Gospel Music Fan Festival. Ed organized his quartet in the late sixties, and has been actively involved in the Canadian Gospel Music Scene since that time.
Another Albertan group, High Valley, a male trio who have been singing for over seven years, stays close to their country roots in their vocal styling. Their Christian Country sound is blessing people in Canada, the U.S., and even into Central America. These three teenagers spend about 100 days on the road, and their cutting-edge, professional sound is beginning to be noticed by music associations on both sides of the border. High Valley was recently nominated for Vocal Group of the Year at the 2002 CCMA (Christian Country Music Association) awards in Nashville, and their professional debut album, “Reflect” was nominated as Country album of the year at the 2003 Vibe Awards (recently renamed “Shai Awards”). Hear some of High Valley at www.hvministry.com .
Brad Rempel of HV, says, “Our goal is to give Country fans a Christian alternative and to encourage those who already belong to the Church of Jesus Christ.” However, singing Christian Country in this area isn’t easy. “Some challenges are raising awareness about the genre of Christian Country because it is a fairly new market. Of course Country Music is always traditionally more popular in the southern states. However, Canada does have a great festival circuit and once your name gets out, it's not too hard to get a lot of dates.”
There are organizations springing up to aid Canadian Christian artists in finding new markets. The Shai Awards are a Canadian Gospel people’s choice awards program, sponsored by Vibe Gospel Music. This volunteer association headquartered in Calgary, Alberta, was launched in 2002 with the mandate of representing and expanding the Canadian gospel music industry. With the intent to support Christian music and artists across the country, VGM airs its awards program on national television, showcasing the talents of Christian artists from coast to coast. Find out more about this organization at www.shaiawards.com.
Another major organization in Canadian Gospel Music is Joyful Sound Promotions, also based out of Alberta. Promoting many concerts throughout Alberta, they are strong advocates for SGM throughout Western Canada. Member Bill Griffin has provided a tremendous amount of information to sgmradio.com about many of these artists, and his love for Jesus and for Gospel music is apparent in his communications and the presentation of his promotional company. Presenting snapshots of information for many groups, Joyful Sound’s website www.joyfulsoundpromotions.com is a great resource for western SGM fans and artists alike.
Bill has his favourite Canadian artists as well, which he candidly shares. “Dean Muse has a new Southern Gospel Quartet in the West. Dean writes an article for The Singing News Magazine out of North Carolina, and has been used as Canadian Gospel Music Fan Festival photographer. This group has the traditional Southern Gospel Sound, and is one of the BEST four part harmony groups to come along in the whole of Canada.” The group is called Freedom Quartet, and is soon to become a well-known name in this area.
Moving eastward, we head into Saskatchewan, the Prairie Province known for its acres of golden wheat fields and northern forests. Saskatchewan is also known as the home of Canada’s Double Portion, a talented family group whose home base is a ranch in North Battleford, a small town near Saskatoon. This award winning group travels across Canada and the States. Rev. Duncan Hemmerling and his wife both play and sing, along with their seven children. Another couple, Michael and Shannon Olson, also add vocals and instrumentals. This makes for a full stage, and an enjoyable sound that has been drawing fans to their concerts and winning souls for Jesus. Rev. Hemmerling shares his thoughts with a touch of humour: “Saskatchewan is a wonderful place to “be from”; at least that’s what people always tell us when we minister outside this province. The winters can be abit of a challenge but it is a great place to live and raise a family. We spent about 13 weekends last year in Saskatchewan performing on a parade float (in 2003), a hockey arena, a Macdonald’s parking lot, several Jamborees, numerous banquets, a Church grand opening, the Canadian Gospel Music FanFest and many churches. The rest of the year we spent touring West, East or South and have found God’s people to be tremendously hospitable, although when we go south they can’t pronounce Saskatchewan and don’t know where it is.” Log onto www.double-portion.com to find out more about this delightful family group.
Double Portion has been touring a lot with the Daae Family (pronounced “Doe”) from Bromhead SK, another family group of accomplished musicians. The Daaes have been singing since 1989, but only started traveling extensively in 2002. Consisting of parents Wayne and Cathy and their four children, this musical family presents gospel with a bluegrass flavour, talents which awarded them Vocal Group of the Year in Canada by the CGMA Country Gospel Music Association [BRANSON MISSOURI], in 2004. Cathy Daae comments: “Each member of this family accepted Jesus into their lives at a young age and are so happy to be able to serve Him in this way. They plan to continue singing for as long as they can. Music is an amazing tool that helps to open the heart to everything God has for each one of us.” Check out www.thedaaefamily.com for more information on this group.
What many people don’t realize is the special challenges western groups face. With so many acres of land covered in fields and forests, the population is centered in the urban areas which are few, widespread, and mostly in the southern areas of the Provinces. Travel is never simple, and many miles are covered to reach each event. Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba combined have a population of five million. This presents unique situations for the Western groups. Cathy Daae says, “In Saskatchewan the population is only 1,000,000. We are limited to whom we can sing to and to find contacts is quite a challenge. It is recently getting better though as there are a few more Jamborees making people aware of Southern Gospel Music. For many years we financially provided for ourselves as people rarely reimbursed us for our expenses... that was hard... but as we are more well known that has changed so it has helped a lot.”
Another SK group is New Hope, a mixed trio who have been singing full-time since 2003. Vibe Award winners in 2004 for their CD, “Hold On”, this trio has sung from British Columbia to Montana to Kentucky to Newfoundland, appeared on 100 Huntley Street and the Miracle Channel, and sings at approximately 150 dates a year. They had some interesting comments to share about their ministry: “Our hearts are evangelism, and we feel that our style of music can open many doors to share the hope of Jesus with those that need to hear about His love, forgiveness, and of course "new hope." As we travel, we're finding that Canada really is a mission field--there are hundreds, if not thousands of people who have yet to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ”. They enjoy traveling throughout Canada. “There's certainly the advantage in that there are not hundreds of full time groups in Canada, like there are in the States. Meaning, the market, if I can call it that, is not as saturated as it is down south. Plus, we LOVE our fellow Canadians. There's nobody more hospitable! On the flip side, to be honest, it's very hard to make a full time living at it here in Canada. I think partly due to the fact that some groups in the past have paved the way for a "love offering only" basis. I just don't think pastors/churches/organizers know how expensive it is to travel and minister full time. We're usually traveling several hours between concerts, whereas the States is much more heavily populated. And while it's certainly NOT about the money, if we can't afford to put diesel in our van, then unfortunately we can't be out ministering either. It's a hard call. And it's very hard to talk about ministry and money in the same sentence. We don't know what the answer is--at this point we mostly travel on a love offering basis, but it's tough at times. GOD IS GOOD TO US!” You can find out more about New Hope by clicking onto www.new-hope.net .
A visit to Western Canada would not be complete without a stop in Manitoba, land of rivers and trees, culture and agriculture, the link between the western prairies and central Canada. Winnipeg, Manitoba is also home to the Muddy River Quartet, a part-time male quartet that has been singing for three years. Completing 35 dates in a year, this quartet is diverse in its full-time professions: “We have a mechanic, an executive officer for a large manufacturing company, a computer systems technology expert, a marriage and family therapist and a construction consultant. As you can see we can build your house, work on your car, design a computer network system and help with your family struggles and then sing you a song or two!” Mark Moore of MRQ echoes some of the comments made by others regarding travel in Western Canada: “Possibly the biggest challenge that we face here in the west is that as a part-time group traveling on weekends, we have significant distances to travel. Cities and towns are few and far between and unless you are willing to travel great distances you can actually “run out” of places to sing.” It’s hard to imagine these guys running out of places to sing, as they have many years of experience and a whole lot of talent in the group that is winning fans and friends across the west and into Ontario. A quick stop at www.muddyriverquartet.com reveals a group excited about their ministry. “We want people of all ages to know that becoming a Christian is the most wonderful, life-changing decision they’ll ever make. We want to be a reflection of God’s love and mercy to all who hear us sing and let them know that Jesus is the answer to any problem we face and that He is our only hope of eternal life. We not only want to encourage people, we want people to come to know Christ.”
Mark explains further about the SGM market in Western Canada: “Southern Gospel music enjoys a very receptive audience in Manitoba. In the past few years there has been a concentrated effort by a few individuals to promote SG in Manitoba. This has opened the doors for many of the top SG groups from the US to visit Canada. Some of the agents have begun to realize that although a city like Winnipeg is “out in the middle of nowhere,” it is a market of 650,000 people and people will drive 2-3 hours from rural communities to attend a concert. Groups are now coming further north than Fargo and Grand Forks, ND and experiencing the warm hospitality of “Friendly Manitoba.” For more on MRQ, check out: www.muddyriverquartet.com .
Having only brushed the surface of the surge of SGM artists rising to the foreground in Western Canada, it’s easy to see that Southern Gospel is indeed a vital form of music in the Great West. The wide-open spaces that produce this music also present challenges, and these artists are willing to do what it takes to find their own creative solutions. The huge Canadian Gospel Music Celebration in Red Deer, AB in July is just one way these artists are getting their music to the West, to all of Canada, and across all borders.
Southern Gospel, flavoured by Western Canadian creativity and spirit, is a vital product of this great nation, and a necessary one to reach out to the lost and hurting. A ministry to both lost and found, church and family; from bluegrass to traditional southern, Canadian southern gospel is here to stay.
Coming next month: Music Ministry in the Canadian Maritimes!
By Lorraine Walker
First published on www.sgmradio.com 2005 reprinted by permission