“We are happy and proud to have taken home this year’s East Coast Music Award in the Gospel Music category,” says Janice McLaughlin, speaking for the LaPointes of Fredericton. It was the third year they were nominated, and the first year Gospel, or Christian, music was in a separate category from Blues. A nomination means that in the eyes of the professionals in the industry, the group’s work is of a high standard.

“There is a great deal of variety in Christian music,” says Ron Atkinson of the rock group Ninth Hour. “The only consistent things are the message and the lyrics.” There were 11 entries this year. Five were selected for actual competition: The LaPointes (Fredericton), Ninth Hour (Charlottetown), St. Anthony Daniel Senior Choir (Sydney), and two Southern Gospel groups, New Wine (Sussex) and the Fellowship Quartet (Moncton).

Contemporary Christian music is growing rapidly in the United States. In Canada, it is already bigger than the entire Canadian country music scene, according to Ron Atkinson. “In these very secular times, there are a lot of hurting people hungry for answers, for spiritual values, encouragement and inspiration,” says McLaughlin. “Many are being helped by Christian music and song.”

David McCrae says, “In New Wine, we are humbled and gratified that people all over the world hear our music on the web and request our album, often saying they are deeply touched by our sincerity and the messages in our songs.” For years the top American Southern Gospel Music groups have held huge conventions in Louisville, Kentucky. When they came to Canada in the past two years, they had sell-out crowds in Red Deer, and a gratifying response in Hamilton.

What motivates these young people to play Christian music? “As our biblically based name hints (Acts 2), we want to witness to the changes that occur when we submit to the action of the Holy Spirit, turn to God’s love and seek His guidance,” says McCrae of New Wine. Atkinson says, “In concerts and through our CD, Ninth Hour is able to bring gospel values to a whole new, younger audience, precisely because we package our message in pop rock music.”

The LaPointes try to encourage and challenge. “We aim to spread The Good News through intimate, fun, feel-good, uplifting music,” says McLaughlin. “Further, we know that when you combine family ties with spiritual ties, the strengthening effect can be simply amazing. Since we began singing as a family, our efforts have been especially blessed.”

The LaPointes – Joel, Jeff, Andy and song-writing sister Janice – have been singing for several years in Canada and the States. They have recorded five albums, performed with Grammy award winners, and been nominated for a Juno Award. Their singing has brought them to the Toronto SkyDome and to 100 Huntley Street. They have performed before Princess Anne.

Ninth Hour has one CD. Founded in 1996, by 1999 it was ranked as one of the top five (out of 600 groups) in a Nashville competition for North American Christian artists and songwriters. “We call ourselves Ninth Hour, because that is when Christ died on the cross, a most significant time in history. This is also a significant time in history, for us and for society,” explains Atkinson.

David McCrae of New Wine says, “Each year we are surprised by the opportunities that open up to us when we pray to know what the Lord would have us do.” They have five albums, have appeared on 100 Huntley Street, are well known in the Atlantic region, the eastern U.S., and parts of Ontario. Next year they will give concerts in Jerusalem and Tiberias, in conjunction with a tour of Israel they will be hosting.

“Our choir contributes to the Lord’s worship by singing His praise as beautifully as we can,” said director Rosemary McGhee of Sydney. Their parish – named after Anthony Daniel, the missionary who brought Christianity to ancestors of the Micmac people whose reserve is within the parish – was so delighted with the choir’s nomination that they held a special recognition evening.

Ted Matchett of The Fellowship Quartet says, “Our singing is a love offering. We especially want to convey the message that Jesus is in the business of changing lives through His love.” They have one album and plan a mini-tour of Southern Ontario this summer.

Moncton has two Christian radio stations, reports Ted Matchett, one featuring “praise and worship music,” the other contemporary Christian Rock. Other stations throughout the region are beginning to offer more Christian music. (See the article in this issue on the Christian Media Association.)

All these performers have full-time, non-music careers and consider themselves “weekend warriors.” They may be reached at the numbers below: Atkinson, Ninth Hour, (902) 566-5995; Matchett, The Fellowship Quartet, (506) 855-9060; McCrae, New Wine, (506) 433-3963 (also check www.newwine.to); McGhee, St. Anthony Daniel Senior Choir, (902) 567-6437; McLaughlin, The Lapointes, (506) 455-4999 (also check www.lapointes.com).