FLEETWOOD — Whenever Diane Lines comes to play a particular church here, she tends to choose music with a message.
“The themes (of the songs) are pretty universal and generally positive in nature,” the singer-pianist told the Now.
“The music is just a way to draw people in, to maybe get people to come to church on a Sunday afternoon to see what it’s like. You don’t have to be of any particular faith to enjoy these events.”
Lines is a frequent performer at Vespers in the Valley, fortnightly gatherings at Northwood United Church in the Fleetwood area.
This Sunday (Sept. 27) starting at 4 p.m., the sanctuary will again be a stage for Lines and her band in the Vespers season-opener.
The events are booked and promoted by Gerry and Audrey Hall, jazz-loving Surrey folks who’ve worked hard to spread word about Vespers in the Valley over the past several years.
“We’re getting some of the best (musicians) to perform here, ones who perform around North America and some internationally, you know,” Gerry said.
The Halls volunteer their time to bring talent, both new and familiar, to Northwood for the Vespers events, held every second Sunday.
“If we don’t know (the artist), then it’s kind of fun because we get to go out dating again, to the pub or hotel or concert hall, wherever they’re performing, to see if they’re a fit for us,” Gerry explained. “We’ve been to Seattle, out to Chilliwack, Vancouver of course, all kinds of places.”
This fall, performers in the series include Kristian Braathen and the PK3 trio (Oct. 11), Jaclyn Guillou (Oct. 25), Jennifer Scott (Nov. 8), Tom Arntzen’s 3 Generations project (Nov. 22) and a “Christmas Special” with the Mighty Fraser Big Band (Dec. 6).
Many of the featured musicians also frequently play the Jazz Vespers events held at St. Andrew’s-Wesley church in Vancouver over the past couple of decades.
“We attended there since the start of it,” Gerry said, “but when I got sick five years ago, and even prior to that, we set out to find a venue on this side of the river to tap into the Fraser Valley market, and it seems to be working.… We started out with around 40 people per event, and then it doubled and now we’re at around 120 for each of them. It’d like to get that up to 200.”
Attendees come from as far as Chilliwack and West Vancouver, Gerry added.
In advance of the hour-long events, the musicians typically prepare six or seven songs to perform, in consultation with Northwood Rev. Will Sparks. The music should be “vibrant, joyful, soulful, reflective,” as the church notes on its website.
“At this point,” Lines said, “(Sparks) trusts us to pick appropriate songs, and he gets those (titles) in advance, along with the lyrics, so he kind of molds his message to what we’re singing about.”
On average, the musicians are paid around $100 each for their work, Gerry said.
“We do ours as an outreach, and when we first started doing the events we decided not to charge anyone, so we do it by donation,” he explained. “However, we set a honorarium for the musicians, and we have a scale depending on how many (perform). We think it’s pretty good money.”
In a region where jazz clubs are as rare as sing-along choruses in that genre of music, Vespers gigs are welcomed by the musicians who play them.
“I think one of the reasons they attract such quality musicians is that there really aren’t a lot of places to play, and they get to play music they love doing,” Lines said. “Any opportunity to do that in front of an audience is a good thing. I’ve never heard of anybody hesitant to accept a Vespers gig.”
Northwood United Church is located at 8855 156th St., Surrey.