Soul Café is a night of music, food and drink that raises awareness for musical and charitable needs

Spizee performance May 9 soul cafeAs many musicians can attest to, starting a career is a tough and sometimes lengthy process.

This was the case for Jennifer Fulton.

When Fulton was one year old, her mother would sing to her the classic "Rockabye Baby" every night, and Fulton could hum the lullaby in tune. In a family that cherished music, Fulton was forced into piano lessons along with her siblings at the age of four.

Fifteen years later, she found herself touring around Manitoba, performing in bars and pubs, trying to make her way to the top of the music industry.

But as she played, her dream of becoming a rock star slowly started to reveal its dark side.

"To be honest, I went through this time when I was chasing the musical dream and it was really dangerous," explains Fulton.."All the owners of the bars, and all the people that were trying to promote you were all on the verge of petty criminals. There were so many drugs around, and it was such a false dream."Standing-Stones-Group-ShotFrom left to right: Ian Willumsen on guitar and vocals, Jennifer Fulton on bass and vocals, Colleen Fernley and Karen Jones on vocals, Dora Hall on piano and vocals, Robert Arsenault (not in photo) on guitar and vocals and Shannon Deardoff (not in photo) on drums make up the Standing Stones. Here is the band performing at the May 9 Soul Café event.

Photo by Justine Deardoff

Dora Hall has been travelling a musical road that had bloomed at a young age as well. Her favorite Aunt Ruth told six-year-old Hall she had an ear to pick out a tune.

Shortly after, her parents bought her a piano and she started taking lessons immediately. Instead of the bar scene however, Hall played in varying ensembles throughout junior high and senior high School.

When she moved to Okotoks, Alta., she got a job working as a music teacher with the organization Music for Young Children. The very same Mason and Risch piano that she learned to play songs by ear on still sits in her living room today 50 years later. Now her children and students play it.

Teaching music, however, hasn't proved to be enough to satisfy Hall's passion for music, in part because it hasn't connected her music to her other passion, her faith.

Today, Fulton and Hall are working together on something that's a long way from any rural Manitoba bar, and a considerable change from teaching six-year-olds how to play the piano.

Now in a Christian band called the Standing Stones, they are making an event happen every third Friday of the month that raises money for a select Calgary- area charity and at the same time allows local musicians the chance to show what they have to offer to the music world.

The event is called Soul Café.

"We want it to be a bridge for people, who might not want to come to a church service, but felt like they want something that is comfortable and maybe have a faith aspect, but also see some up and coming musicians," says Hall.

Soul Café fits the bill to a T.

Fulton, who is the one of the coordinators for Soul Café, picks the charities that will be featured each month at the evening event.

"One of the most fun things," says Fulton, "is to get on the phone and go 'hi, I have an event here, it's called the Soul Café...and we were wondering if we could raise money for you and give you an opportunity to speak', and they go 'YOU WANNA DO WHAT?!' I feel like Santa Claus. And so they come and let us know about their particular need or charity."

craig-westCraig West plays enthusiastically on the violin in the Spitzee Post Band performance at Soul Café on May 9.  This fundraiser takes place every third Friday of the Month at the Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Okotoks.

Photo by Justine Deardoff
The debut of Soul Café in November raised money for the Okotoks Food Bank.

The next event helped the High River Library that had been devastated by the summer 2013 floods.

 

At the Valentine's Day performance, the Foothills charity SNAPS (Special Needs Assistance for Parents and Siblings) enjoyed a night filled with music and treats while raising awareness for their organization.

In March, Soul Café raised money for their host, Holy Cross Lutheran Church.

 On May 9, the Standing Stones performed with groups Spitzee Post and Hamm Corner for Mother's Day while raising money for the charity Literacy for Life.

In the February performance, they raised over $600 for SNAPS, the featured charity.

"It allows for musicians to play, young and old," explains Fulton. "It's a place for people to get together, to share their music and share their heart."

Fulton never really cared for classical music, and it was when she got her first guitar on her 12th Christmas, that her passion for acoustics began. In university, her first band was called "What's it To Yah." That time remains as a happy memory for her.

Along with her passion for music, Fulton also has been teaching. Beginning at the age of 16 in rural Manitoba, her teaching career as well as her musical career has taken her to five countries over the span of 13 years. She taught at a Women's College in Japan, in the Middle East, Brunei, Singapore, Holland and Oman, while also being involved in a variety of bands.

Hall's musical career has also sent her to foreign locales. While trying to juggle a family, her students and her role as the pianist and one of seven vocalists in the Standing Stones, she has recently been involved in a group called the Celebrant Singers. Consisting of 10-12 people for each tour and a choir and orchestra, the group has taken Hall to Haiti and Mexico, and is planning a three-week tour to Guatemala and Mexico this summer.

Fulton and Hall got together through Hall's involvement in church work.

When Holy Cross Lutheran Church was working with the Anglican Church, providing an Alpha Program in 2002 (a program which introduces people to the basic ideas of the Christian faith), Hall was asked to form a worship team for the 10-week program. She picked up the phone, and soon she and Fulton started playing music together.

"All of a sudden, we're singing, and playing and Shannon started playing the drums and Jen started playing the bass, and we were harmonizing," says Hall, "and we were like 'WOW, this is actually really good!"'Dora-HallDora Hall [right] is one of several vocalists and the piano player for the host band of Soul Café, Standing Stones. Here is Hall performing on May 9 at the Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Okotoks.

Photo by Justine Deardoff

Shannon Deardoff has been the drummer and a member of the band since the Standing Stones' inception.

The band's name came from a DVD they had watched in the Alpha program.

"In the Middle East," Hall says, "they would take stones lying on the ground and make them upright, as a monument, and they were a testimony to something great happening there, either a miracle or a king having had a battle there. So the lesson was that each of us needs to be a monument to God."

Twelve years later, the band, consisting of members from the Catholic, Lutheran and Anglican churches of Okotoks are still together, and have accomplished a lot. Members have performed in three Alpha Programs, as well as at multiple jamborees in Granum and Saskatchewan. They have been named Vocal Group of the Year and Band of the Year by the Country Gospel Music Association.

Their first CD, Out of the Quarry, released in 2009, consists of 13 tracks which offer original songs written by the band members as well as old classics. Their second CD, Into the Deep was released in 2011 and consists of 15 original songs.

At Soul Café, their latest project, everyone is welcome. It is not solely based on Christian artists but allows for a variety of musicians to perform, and brings in a crowd of people ages 18 and over.

"If you want to sing about suicide, if you want to sing about despair, whatever you want to sing about, God's big enough to handle it," explains Fulton.

"I think young people are all expected to look and sound like that same thing," says Hall."You're not supposed to wear many clothes; you're supposed to sound like the last great musician with an expectation to use foul language.

Jen-Fulton Jennifer Fulton, bassist and vocalist, jams away as the Standing Stones kick start Soul Café at Holy Cross Lutheran Church on May 9.

Photo by Justine Deardoff
"What makes me sad is if you listen back to the 60s and 70s music, people had different voices, and now they're all expected to sound the same, and so all these other interesting voices get lost,"

"This is why I think this is an opportunity for people to be themselves. There are all kinds of voices, skills, instruments and faces and we don't have to be cookie cutters."

As for her faith, Hall explains that "my faith and my experiences with God in everyday life influence my music. Francis of Assisi said that, 'he who sings, prays twice.'"

"There is something about putting words to music that makes it a prayer, a blessing, a reminder to myself. Many times, I've had an experience or gone through a life situation, and reflecting on it and how God is working somehow brings a word, a verse, or a slogan to mind. That percolate's for a while, and then all of a sudden, a song is born."

In the end, Fulton says that Soul Café is for her band, who acts as the host and introductory band to each Soul Café event, as well as a way for her and others to draw closer to their faith.

"Music and playing, writing, performing... makes me come alive, stimulates me and puts me in the moment which is the only way to experience God.

"The world, the day, our obvious reality is a slow and straight forward process. Soul Café, which belongs to the night, whispers of eternity as we share people's hearts, passion and vision. Soul Café is a tool to aid in the growth of the soul; a gentle meld of music and faith."

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