Artists seek gospel gold at awards show
Christian music scene thriving in city
Canada’s Christian music community will descend on Calgary this week for a three-day celebration of “making a joyful noise unto the Lord.”
It’s the second straight year our city will play host to Gospel Music Week, culminating in the 29th annual Covenant Awards on Friday at Centre Street Church.
Robyn Braley, who is nominated for a Covenant for his southern Gospel song Fully Alive, says Calgary has a rising profile as a major performance and production centre for all genres of music.
“People are realizing there’s a deep talent pool and level of expertise here, as well as the venues such as Centre Street to stage major events like this one,” says Braley.
The increasingly blurred lines between artists viewed by the public as either strictly “mainstream commercial” or “spiritually based” is also boosting the profile of Christian music.
“The bottom line for the listener is a good song is a good song, no matter what label you put on it,” says Leroy Harder, a Calgary music producer who is heavily involved in organizing Gospel Music Week.
“Mainstream media is tuning into Christian radio to look for crossover potential.”
Calgary-born country music star Paul Brandt, for example, is up for four Covenants this year, including male vocalist and artist of the year.
Other Calgarians nominated for awards include Jerry Proppe (seasonal album), Devon Powell (urban/rhythm and blues/soul album of year) and Tracie Athanasius (video of the year).
“There’s a lot of freshness these days in Christian music in terms of the ability to use it in ministry,” said Athanasius, a lay worship leader at Calgary’s St. Michael’s Catholic Community Church.
“There are so many different genres which speak to so many different people. But the challenge is always there to remember why we make this music, who we honour,” she adds.
Athanasius says there doesn’t have to be a chasm between Christians who love traditional, choir-led hymns and the growing movement in many churches to embrace “praise bands” with their signature electric guitars, keyboards, drums and amplified vocalists.
“For me, it’s ‘roots and wings.’ The creativity that’s constantly being given to us by God’s spirit allows us to remake or renew the musical message,” Athanasius says.
“The challenge for today’s Christian artist is to remember that we have this huge treasury of past works to draw inspiration from.”
Proppe says in leading the music ministry at Brentview Baptist Church, he’s able to offer a balance of traditional and contemporary musical styles for different sectors of the northwest congregation.
“Christian music is going through a period of rapid evolution. You often have to step back and think about what are the necessary ingredients to call a particular piece a gospel song, a Christian song,” Proppe adds.
He notes a tune like You Lift MeUp, popularized in North America by Josh Groban, has no specific “God language” in its lyrics, but is still viewed by many listeners as being intensely inspirational and spiritual in its own right.
Harder says he sees the bar being constantly raised in the quality of Canadian gospel music, from musical and vocal talent to production values. He thinks the pressure is somewhat less intense on Canadian Christian artists than on their American counterparts to sacrifice their personal spiritual vision at the altar of commercial appeal.
Braley says the proliferation in the number of Canadian Christian radio stations, from a scattered handful in past years to 37 today, bodes well for local musicians, writers and producers.
“The major hurdle for Canadians remains our geography,” Braley reasons. “There are only so many cities, churches and halls you can realistically play up here as compared to the U.S.”
He notes self-marketing and promotion are still the reality for the vast majority of Canadian Christian musicians, who lack the publicity machines of big American record labels.
“There are still a lot of people selling CDs out of the trunk of their cars,” he adds.
The gathering starts Wednesday with a worship service at Bow Valley Christian Church, featuring Steve Bell, who recently headlined a sold-out concert with the Calgary Philharmonic.
Two days of workshops will follow, schooling budding and established Christian musical artists and technicians in songwriting, performance and production techniques.
The Covenants, the Junos of Canadian Christian/gospel music, take place Friday at 7:30 p.m. in the main sanctuary at Centre Street Church, 3900 2nd St. N.E.
More information on the week’s workshops and concerts is available at www.gmacanada.ca.
From left, Leroy Harder, Tracie Athanasius, Robyn Braley and Jerry Proppe are active in Calgary’s contemporary Christian music scene. They’re involved in the Covenant Awards, to be held at the Centre Street Church this week.
Paul Brandt manages to balance mainstream and Christian music in his career.