I didn't realize until long after I got out of the home I grew up in that my family wasn't very sentimental. The depth of love that came from my parents was so utterly rock solid, it didn't need or require or demand a lot of gestures. I wonder if it's part of the stoic Arkansas mountain country air. So, there was no terror of forgotten birthdays or anniversaries. (In fact, for years, we celebrated my brother, Scott's, birthday on the wrong day, thanks to my dizzy mother.)
But my folks were very clear, that once we were out on our own, our personal business was our personal business. They gave me the great gift of leaving me alone. When I left east Texas and moved to Dallas in the late 70s, and came out of the closet, I kept this life from them.
Consequently, I've never really told them about certain big decisions I made in my life. At the time, I didn't even realize how big the decision was, so it's the kind of thing that one only can view retroactively.
After high school, they worked very hard to get me a good education at Jacksonville Baptist College. I had even secured a full tuition scholarship. Luckily, the music professor there, Gerald Orr (now Dr. Gerald Orr) was a really great musician and arranger. I was a terrible piano, hating to practice. Our pianos were in trailers out in front of the boys dorm, which was L-shaped, with rooms like a motel. The girls dorm, one block over, had only one entrance.
But what I did love was the chorus and the Men's Quartet. By the end of my first year, I was arranging for all the groups. I wasn't the most imaginative arranger. Mostly, I just knew how to convert hymns and things to quartet, to soup them up a bit. And we got to sing old timey gospel quartet harmony. I put some of that into New World Waking.
But Bro. Orr really encouraged me.
So, I was all ready to go to a fancier Baptist college in Dallas. It came with a job. One of the big churches needed a choir and music director plus youth director.
I was too green to be an executive.
Or too unprepared for adult life in a city.
And I was dressed head to toe in mod, with high heeled boots, the whole geshmear.
It all ended with a dramatic speech in front of the congregation where I resigned. The actual details are fuzzy, but I was being squeezed by the pastor on one side, and his secretary on the other. I was mod and young and hip. He wanted to show me how to golf. I felt like the dumbest hick around sophisticated people. I just freaked.
So, I went back to my band. Back to the safety of Jacksonville and my $50/month garage apartment. The guys in the band were my college -- and I clocked in every day at the band office to help run the business side. Even wrote and published a newsletter for all our fans across the state.
I think I've never talked about this moment to my folks. I wonder what they must have thought. I almost feel like apologizing.
But the truth is that I was already cracking apart. I was indeed turning into an adult. And I was a 19 year old kid being looked up to by other 19 kid year old kids. I was supposed to design educational programs. Lead the adult choir. I had never led a choir in my life. Or choose a repertoire.
But worse, I was starting to get teenage crushes on the other guys. Some of them I could barely breathe when they were in the room. There was no one for me to talk to. This was a secret I kept completely and utterly to myself. I had no confidantes. And what did all this mean, anyway? I ran back to the one job I knew I could handle: playing piano and singing in the safety and comfort of the pack.
So, mom, since we've never talked about that moment, I thought I'd just put it out there.
I loved the guys in the band, and thought we were decent enough to learn and grow (which we did), but the real reason I think I ran off was out of absolute terror. I went to a place that felt safe. And that's how I ended up quitting school.
And that's also why I cried as I stood in front of the Louise M. Davies symphony hall that Sunday morning. Would I have ended up there had I gone on to school? Maybe.
I still have a ways to go before I can claim any kind of "fame." This morning on my google alert that pops up whenever my name appears in print, the headline was not "Steve Schalchlin Returns to Olympia!" It was Summer Cooking Catalogue Now Available.
I love my life. I really do.
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