Tuesday, May 20, 2008

So, What About "My Rising Up?"

Friends of mine have pointed out that I've been talking all around "My Rising Up" and not describing how the song went, how I felt as it was being performed during the concert Friday night.

I can tell you in one simple phrase.

I wasn't there.

Oh, I was sitting in my seat. But somehow I went someplace else because if you asked me how they sounded? I have no idea.

What do I remember. Hm. I remember unadulterated glee.

The sensory input was overwhelming. A chorus. A symphony hall. I remember how great the groove sounded and I remember great singing.

Yes! Tempo. I pieced that rehearsal video together from three different takes of the song. They fit on top of one another perfectly.

Do you know how amazing that is?

Kathleen has some inner clock that is metronome sharp but is all human. This, by the way, is a very good thing for rock and roll or Gospel music because when a great drummer finds, settles into and then locks onto the essential groove in a song, it becomes like a little steam cooker. As you listen, your natural tendency is to want something you like to get faster. This builds up a wonderful anticipation in your body because you're actually enjoying it. So, you push harder.

If the drummer or conductor yields to this urge, the effect, as I was taught one night by an itinerant musician hunched over a vodka tonic in an Indianapolis hotel bar after both of us had just played a luncheon engagement for a disinterested corporate party, is to "suck the energy right outta the song."

Because the audience, if they're enjoying the piece, is also feeling this urge, this push. If you give in to it, you and they will feel a little air being let out of the balloon. Just a little, but enough. Held back by that human groove machine. Human because it's about so much more than tempo. It's groove. The human body has inner rhythms that push and pull and you can feel it when you hit the slot and lock into it.

As an audience member, when you feel it push back against you, you suddenly find yourself relaxing into the groove also--and you all become one. For me, a perfect groove is perfect bliss. Every song has at least one great groove in it. But that can also change depending on the sound of the room and the feel of the audience. You just have to feel it.

And this, to me, is Kathleen's gift over and above her technical qualifications: her ability to find the groove, settle in, and take us on a very nice ride.

Friday night, as "My Rising Up" was announced, I was sitting next to (the handsome and witty) librettist Philip Littel. Already in ecstasy over "Safeer al-Sayl," which opened the program, it continued on pointing ahead to new work, including a collaboration by Philip and the incredibly hunkilicious composer David Conte. Called "Love," it was richly romantic, melodic and inspirational with this beautiful climax which combined the orchestra and the chorus, and totally blissed me out.

I had gotten to know them, just barely, during intermission. We had all been seated together and since Jimmy was home, I kind of chased after them like a kid wanting to be with the grown-ups. We stood in a long line waiting for drinks (Diet Coke for Junior here). Again, I was hoping no one would ask me a question or want my opinion about some second act in something.

Thankfully, the talk was lively and fun, and I felt comfortable. Philip won me over when he said after scoring a quick witticism, "I'm that way about everything, darling. I'm French."

By the time we got to the counter, the chimes were going off and the lights were blinking. We slugged back our drinks. Philip: "I think I just got that ice brain freeze. I've never chugged one of these before."

As we were rushing to our seats, David asked me about the cantata, whether I was writing the text. I told him I was, for the most part. He said, "I glanced through your bio. It was very interesting. I'd love to talk more."

(My bio basically consists of finding newer ways to make two off-Broadway shows look like ten.)

But, the lights were going down. No time to talk.

So, I took stock of exactly where I was. I was with these amazing men, seated in special seats. At the guard door (when I checked in at rehearsal earlier this day) I was listed as "honored guest." We were all dressed up and looking very clean.

And I know I had the biggest, shit-eatin' grin on my face. My facial muscles are still sore.

But I was just so happy! I couldn't help it. It wasn't just about "My Rising Up." It was everything. It was being in San Francisco on the hottest day of the year. On the day after the California Supreme Court legalized marriage for same sex couples. It was my friend, Ken McPherson's, birthday. It was 10 years ago on May 13th that it was Steve Schalchlin Day in San Francisco. It was the first peek people would get at the cantata.

But there was also a part of me sitting on a creaky piano bench in the pine-forested back corner of the Big Thicket forest in East Texas, my swampy Tatooine). Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined this night. It wasn't something that was remotely in my consciousness. And yet it was happening and, even more encouragingly, I actually might possibly belong here. My face is in the program, after all.

And it was more than just what was happening in the room. The Last Session is alive again on the east coast with more and more people clamoring for a new run in Manhattan.

That's what was going through my head as the choir lifted the roof off the building.

The gay community, at least here, turned a new chapter, a new birth, this weekend and my songs are now and forever a part of it.

"My Rising Up" closed the show. It was the finale.

A song about rebirth!

In Egypt, the guide told us that everything in their culture was based upon rebirth because the sun died every day and then was reborn every day. The cycle of life is all life, death and rebirth. Every religion and psychological program has a name for this renewal, this chance and ability and opportunity, to become new again.

Hell, Madonna does it constantly.

Some people think the song is about friendship. Some people think the song is about God. Some people think the song is about just keeping an eye on yourself knowing that you yourself are the one person you can't get away from.

To me, it's the acknowledgment that I am not alone. That I live, now, this day, because friends reached out to me when I was at the point of death and reminded me that a part of them would die when I die. And I didn't want to kill off parts of my friends. So I chose life.

The knowledge that we are all so very interconnected on such profound levels. And that, as an artist, I get to search these connections of the heart out.

Yes, it's esoteric! Yes, it's concrete!

It's not just my rising up. It's all of us rising up together.

In music. In song. In laughter. In love.

And that's how I felt. Wouldn't you?

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The Steve Show #screamcry

My first show since my surgery. With Blake Zolfo.