Artists seek gospel gold at awards show

Chris­tian mu­sic scene thriv­ing in city

Calgary Herald - - Remembering - GRAEME MOR­TON CAL­GARY HER­ALD

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

Graeme Mor­ton, Cal­gary Her­ald

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.

CanWest News Ser­vice

Paul Brandt man­ages to bal­ance main­stream and Chris­tian mu­sic in his ca­reer.

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