If my life was a game show, I'd be in the Bonus Round. I almost died. Didn't die and now... The Bonus Round, where time speeds up and the prizes are better. For my 60th birthday year, I recorded an album, I'm doing some concerts around New York City and I even composed a concert Mass which debuted on June 7. I update a few times a month these days, and I don't spam. So it's easier to keep up with me by following by Email. When this blog began, it was to track my death. I'm told it was the first AIDS blog. You can start at the gruesome beginning if you want. Or just jump in and maybe we can learn some life lessons together. Welcome to the Bonus Round. I'm Steve, The Songwriter.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Health Update.

Great results today after three months where I've run almost every day for at least an hour. It's only what I call "maintenance" exercise, but it's something, and that's the key to staying healthy.Just do something physical every day that gets you breathing hard and keep it up for five minutes. It's like a miracle medication. And it's free!

My t-cell count is right where it has been for awhile, in the 600 range and there is ZERO free virus in my blood. That means the drugs are working -- and that has as much to do with my compliance record as it does with the drugs themselves. Quite simply, I do not miss doses.

Other great news: My A1c, which measures blood sugar is 5.9, so it's finally down in the normal range.

The only negative count was in triglycerides and cholesterol, which are abnormally high. This is a consequence of side effects of my HIV meds, but also, I confess I have been hitting the french fries a bit heavily lately.

Everything else is in the normal range.

So, the lesson here is keep up the daily exercise and cut down on the french fries.

(And my other weakness: cheddar cheese popcorn.)

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Boxes and Bubble Wrap.

That's an idea for either a song or a horror movie.

We are still putting our new home together. Boxes and bubble wrap. They are my life right now.

But I have a couple of announcements for fans.

First, the London Original Cast Recording of The Last Session is now on iTunes. I would most appreciate it if you'd spread the word far and wide.

Secondly, on August 3rd, Jim Brochu will talk with Broadway composer Stephen Schwartz (Godspell, Wicked, Pippin, etc.) Called "A Conversation with Music," it will feature vocalists Michael McCorry Rose and Kelli Rabki -- at the spectacular night club 54 Below.

I also will be performing "My Thanksgiving Prayer" on August 24th at St. Clement's here in mid-town for their Sunday morning services.

Okay, back to unpacking.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Moving, Moving...

After 11 years on the waiting list, we are finally moving into Manhattan Plaza, the subsidized housing for actors and other miscreants. So, this week has been about boxes, boxes, boxes. Packing and tossing things out and moving things around.

At the same time, Samuel French, who licenses "The Last Session," has asked for an electronic version of the score, which we never had. The old photocopies are wearing out and they need new!

Trouble is, we never had one of those. It was made back before electronic scoring was really available. So, this has given me the chance to look at the score and make all the changes I've been dying to do for the past 20 years.

Back then, I didn't know how to write out a score, and also I was just too sick. So the version we have now is a transcription of single performance done in New York one night, complete with all the improvisations the cast and musician were doing on that night -- which sounded great then, but which are not really a part of the score. (I want new casts to do their own improvisations.)

So, as all this packing is going on, I'm taking the score one note at a time, revising and reworking everything. Not that it will sound all that different to the untrained ear. But each time we've had new productions, I've had to talk to the various casts and musical directors, explaining that, "No, you don't have to sing that note." And "No, you don't have to play the part that way."

Luckily, I had begun this process already when I met with Tom Turner for the London production. He had a great instinct for how I preferred the songs to be played, and when we tried it out, it worked beautifully. For instance, "Save Me A Seat" should be sung in A-minor. Bob Stillman sang it in B-minor, which is fine, but it's too high for most singers. And it got frozen into the score in his key.

But it's little things like that which I'm now working out. It's a HUGE job and I'm devoting massive amounts of time to it. But this is my chance for the score to look and sound like what I originally intended and I'm loving it. But boy, this is a lot of work.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

A Most Unexpected Honor.

On, a new article by Stephen Hanks includes me in the list of "The Best (and Favorite) 20 Shows and Performances (So Far) of 2014."

Given the fact that I'm listed alongside such cabaret present legends as Ann Hampton Callaway, this is really, as my folks would say, walkin' in high cotton.

I don't think I ever thought of myself as a cabaret performer. To me, a stage is a stage. An audience is an audience. And most of the best stages in this city host cabaret perfermers, which is alive and thriving like crazy in New York despite not exactly being in the middle of the current electronic cultural stream. And the definition of "cabaret" has morphed to encompass a simple singer/songwriter like myself as well as the more traditional and jazz performers. The American Songbook is dead if it's not also growing and adding.

Also, all the electronics, pre-records or auto-tunes in the world will never match the emotional intensity of a human being connecting with a live audience in a small space with great acoustics. 

I only booked myself, you might recall, out of frustration that I wanted more of my songs sung in this city. As a relatively new arrival on the scene, getting the word out is tough! And if others aren't singing them, I would do it myself. Why not?

I more or less secretly invited Stephen Hanks, who reviews everyone in this town, to my show because I knew he didn't really know my music and I wanted to see how a stranger with great ears would react.

Little did I know what I was in store for when he finally wrote his mind-blowing review.

And now this:
Steve Schalchlin: Tales From the Bonus Round, Metropolitan Room/Urban Stages--Schalchlin presented this intensely personal set of original songs in two different venues between late October and March, and it was arguably one of the surprisingly satisfying shows of the year (the CD was a 2013 BWW Award nominee). Many numbers chronicled the songwriter's emotions when he was near death from AIDS in the 1990s, but the set was also uplifting and life affirming, and he delivered his own songs with clarity and passion. Projected BWW Award nomination category: Best Male Vocalist

The Evidence of Your Life.

We are moving across the street into Manhattan Plaza after 11 years on the waiting list.

It will be our home. I feel like I'm moving into a retirement community. But it's filled with actors and musicians and dancers and singers. And we know so many of them already! It'll be like moving home to a home you haven't lived in yet.

But the process of moving. Even though it's only across the street, Jim is now sitting and going through every single piece of paper in the place. Papers found in folders in boxes, in drawers.

It's a weird sensation to go through the evidence of your existence on this planet from materials that pre-date the Internet. News clippings. Like one from Omaha where my face and my newly-googly eye graced the top half of the page, with the cast of The Last Session rehearsing behind me.

I did this four years ago when I single-handedly, with a few close friends, did this. Went through every piece of paper. And I jettisoned a lot. Especially if there was two of anything. But I kept stuff that didn't need to be kept, but which I wanted Jim to look at.

Emotions and memories of your life come crashing like waves. I can feel it in my chest when I think about it, even as I'm typing these words.

I like the evidence of my life. When I worked on the cruise ship, when I sang with bands.

The most embarrassing papers are stacks of notebooks of lyrics I wrote along the way, on my journey from hippie church musician to rock and roll to theater to musical directing to acceptable songwriter to composer.

Hundreds of lyrics! All terrible! And the worst part is that when I read them, I can go back to how I felt when I wrote them. I usually felt they were terrible, too, but only after trying them out and singing them, thinking that maybe I was wrong and someone would hear something I don't hear. (They didn't).

Except for one or two. Sitting the front seat of a car with Bobby Cox, my guitarist, both of us jamming out on a cassette of a recording we just made. The song is juvenile, but boy did we have fun. I'm a lead guitar junkie/groupie.

And so it goes.

The great thing about living in the bonus round is that I get to relive those days. They are rich and they make me cry. And they make me remember that life is less about events than it is about the moments when you were with people who made you feel good.

People want to be rich so they can do big things. But all the money in the world couldn't give me a more 'scream out loud' and laugh ourselves stupid experience. 

Friday, June 27, 2014

When the piano's dead.

I sat there playing, but it wasn't music coming from those keys. It was just noise. Damn Charles Ives. I started listening to this amazing album using Spotify of two people I never heard of before. Susan Graham and Pierre-Laurent Aimard singing a selections of songs from Ives, along with the amazing Concord Sonata.

I had it on in background while reading a new biography of him that was just released. And this music is like a magic trick. Sometimes the songs sound like the voice is in one key and the piano in another. And yet, my brain doesn't process the dissonance as dissonance. It sounds right. And yet, logically, I know that these are not "normal" note/chord relationships.

I suppose it takes a bit of an "educated ear" for this to happen. I don't see putting this on in a bar. It would probably sound like noise to a lot of people.

But what's also doing is making my brain crave it more, like craving sugar. And when I sit down to write my "song of the week" for the Jack Hardy Exchange, all the chords sound boring. Everything sounds boring next to Ives. It's like rock and roll for the brain.

In his own time, after the turn of the previous century, he was departing from conventional harmonics and rhythms and was mostly ignored or ridiculed. So, he wrote largely in obscurity until a concert of his ridiculously difficult Concord Sonata was played in New York in 1939, I believe.

Then, he was criticized for copying other similarly bent composers even though his works predated them.

So, what am I saying about myself? What Ives did came from his heart. His dissonance is used in service to what he's hearing in his head. Many "modern" composers work almost from a place of mathematics in putting together tone rows and other forms of dissonance. Clever but soulless, not that I am all that educated about them. Perhaps I'm just displaying my own ignorance.

Well, I take that back. It does have something to do with me. I put moments of dissonance in my Mass because there was a narrative going on in my head that was a comment on what was being sung. In the Agnus Dei, instead of writing something really beautiful, I thought of it asking for peace in a world where there is no peace. I had this gut instinct to just clash all the voices together like a trainwreck.

Not saying I am on the level of virtuosity of an Ives. Far, far from it. Just that I listen to his songs and they cut right through me. As the book explained, he almost seemed to be able to write what a songwriter thinks before he turns it into a song. It's mesmerizing.

So when I hit the keys and "pretty" sounds boring, maybe it's because there's something more beneath it all that needs to be excavated. I do hope so. I also hope it makes sense.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

First Review of the London Cast Recording of "The Last Session."


Rob Lester sums up his rave review on the website Talking Broadway, "...the recording crackles with energy and drama, capturing the performance of a committed cast-in a show with a lot to say (still)."


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Report of World Premiere of Mass.

Here at the University of Steve in New York, we performed the Mass I've been composing for the past three years. Part writing exercise, in that it was an attempt to learn more about music and choral arranging/composition, and part gift to the community of Christ Church Bay Ridge, as well as a few statements of my own about faith, I guess I'd call this a graduation project, maybe.

The day was long in the beautiful building. I did not bring a camera. I know why. I needed to just be there, fully engaged. Not thinking about anything but the performance. I didn't want to be an observer of my life. I just wanted to live it.

However, Stephen Anthony Elkins brought a camera and took a few shots. This is with Andy Gale, who directed the evening. You may ask, why would we need a director? Aren't we just gonna stand there and sing? Well, no. Because I had some ideas about moving the choir into the "audience" or surrounding them, etc. but it was all vague.

Having Andy (and musical director Mark Janas) there to guide the evening, I didn't really have to do anything except run errands, rehearse my own solos -- yes, I sang three, along with playing the piano on "Antarctic Suite I: Landscape," which turned out better than I ever dreamed. It's a tricky little piano riff, and it's so in my bones, I just played it myself. 

Composer Steve Schalchlin with Director Andy Gale.
Composer Steve Schalchlin with Director Andy Gale.

Steve Schalchlin in church watching rehearsal.

Kalle Toivio

Conductor Mark Janas rehearsing in the warm afternoon.
Conductor Mark Janas rehearsing choir at Christ Church Bay Ridge.
Magnificent organ pipes displayed.
One of my goals was to demonstrate how valuable a music program can be for a church, and that when we relegate "arts" in our culture to a sideline activity, it's like cutting off our hands and feet.

For the members, it promotes community. For the church, it fills the halls with beauty.

And for me, it has been a school. An institute of higher learning. It's a safe place to try things and fail. When I began this journey, I never thought I'd write a Mass. It just seemed like a good idea. Not having grown up with Masses -- being raised Baptist -- I didn't really know what one was. I actually had to Google it.

But, slowly and painfully, for the past three years, I've written the "Ordinaries," one by one. These are five statements or chants or affirmations that compose the Mass. What I tried to do was to just write, musically, whatever emotion each one brought to me. For instance, the Kyrie made me feel a yearning from a place of feeling helpless. And on and on, each one was written in the original Latin, which is why I called it Missa Appassionata.

Then, after going to Sewanee last year, I learned that Episcopals prefer everything (but the Kyrie, which is in Biblical Greek) in English.

Steve Schalchlin and parishioner Lynne Pagano with
Jennifer Bassey.
Oy. Do you know it's like to take the music you've written according to the Latin and try to re-translate it back into English, and not just sorta get the words, but the words are specific, in a specific order. I compromised just a little, but it's all there.

I also, in putting this together, made it too hard for most choirs. It wasn't intentional. When you know something, you tend to think it's easy. But, we learned in rehearsal, this was not easy material. At all. In fact, it really complex and hard to learn. I felt sorry for my singers.

As for the concert itself, our friend Jennifer Bassey schlepped all the way out there -- she's an actress from All My Children. She played Marion Colby. She seemed to like it. Jim liked it.

A few people cried all the way through it.

It was an out-of-body experience for me. I was just glad I got through it and didn't make any mistakes during my parts.

As a composer, the best part was hearing the other soloists. It felt like every song was tailored just for them. In fact, the reverse was true. I knew their voices, so Mark and I picked the ones we thought would best embody the material. And man, were we right. These kids were amazing.

Mark Janas

Kalle Toivio

Andy Gale

Rebecca Aparicio
Maria Fernanda Brea
Natalie Dixon
Claire Gierber
Yunnie Park

Danette Sheppard 

Kendra Broom
Elise Gaugert
Emily Lockhart
Lori Lusted

Grant Bowen
Adam MacDonald
Aaron Sanko
Jake Wesley Stewart
Carlos Saenz
Stephen Wilde

Bobby Gamez
Sean Grant
Paul Kolecki
Greg Hoyt
Christopher Whipple

Missa Appassionata: The Bay Ridge Mass

“Fill It With Music” Soloist: Steve Schalchlin
“Kyrie Tremulare”
“Water in the Wilderness” (Isaiah 43: 16-21) Soloist: Natalie Dixon
4. PSALM (CHANTED)*** -- Psalm 29:1-4
“The Waters Have Lifted Me Up” Soloist: Adam MacDonald
“Sea Glass” Soloist: Claire Gierber
“Credo Sine Cera (ENGLISH)”
“Every Day, A New Amen”***  (2 Corinthians 1:20)
Soloists: Steve Schalchlin / Elise Gaugert
“Alleluia Celebrare”
“Lazarus Come Out”** – (John 11: 38-44) Soloist: Sean Grant 
---------THE PEACE--------
“Antarctic Suite I: Landscape”
“Sanctus (Holy, Holy)” Soloist: Maria Fernanda Brea
“My Thanksgiving Prayer”** Soloist: Steve Schalchlin
“Agnus Dei (Lamb of God)”
“Let the Living Waters Flow”* Soloist: Kendra Broom
“Gloria Jubilus”
“My Rising Up”**
Soloists: Steve Schalchlin / Danette Sheppard

For this concert, the traditional order of the Mass has been slightly altered.

Music & Lyrics by Steve Schalchlin except where noted.
*Music & Arrangement by Mark Janas **Lyrics by Peter J. Carman  
***Music by Steve Schalchlin & Mark Janas

Sunday, June 01, 2014

My Mass begins rehearsal Tuesday night.

I never, growing up, would ever have guessed that I'd compose a Mass, but Mark Janas and I have been working non-stop for the past week, editing, revising and getting the 17 numbers into rehearsal shape. 

This is the first time I've just taken a breath.

Rehearsals start Tuesday, there's another on Thursday and then the concert is Saturday.

Because this is completely new, no one knows what to expect. That's the exciting part. I think it's going to be one of best nights anyone will ever have. Not that I'm prejudiced or anything. 

It has only energized me, doing this project, and it's thrilling to finally see it come to life. It's all thanks to Fr. Jeffrey Hamblin, who has financed this entire music program out of his own pocket from his work as a doctor working graveyard shifts at the ER. And also thanks to Mark Janas, who gave all of his time this week to me, to edit and revise all the arrangements. It was a massive undertaking.

And now, on Saturday, it flies. One night only.

I wonder if anyone will come?

Monday, May 12, 2014

Steve in Concert May 15 in North Manhattan.

Indian Road Cafe. 600 West 218th Street, New York, New York 10034. The Uptown Cabaret Spotlight! 8PM with members of the Bonus Round Band and Choir, our voluntary loose association of whoever's in town and available.

Come one! Come all! Have a nice meal and listen to some great music.

University of Steve at NY: A Song A Week.

Steinbeck helping me work out lyrics.
I've recently been invited to join the Jack Hardy Songwriter Exchange, which meets once a week -- the goal is to write a NEW song every week. I emphasize "new" because the point is it's not a place to show off your performing skills, as in doing a performance of a song you already know. It's to get feedback and become a better writer.

I've added it to my curriculum of the University of Steve at NY, the goal of which is to treat life like a campus of learning. I choose my own teachers, but I work hard at every course. (Since moving to New York, I'm learning composition and arranging with Mark Janas, thanks to the music program at Christ Church Bay Ridge. And I'm learning about acting and drama from Andy Gale in his scene study class, which has led me to some unexpected play writing. More about that in another post). 
But ALL of this, remember, is geared to one goal: Keeping me alive. The more actively I'm engaged, mentally and physically, the more my body's immune system kicks into gear. And I'm telling you this because I think it's a great way to live your life, especially if you feel lost or without direction. I want to inspire you and let you know that there are simple steps to digging out of that hole.

So far, I've gone to two Jack Hardy meetings. Jack is gone now, but they pass around his hat to cover the expenses of the person making the pasta meal for everyone. In the first case, I brought a song that's still in development, called "Mercy For A Simple Man." It's a love song. I'm still not quite sure of it. It's almost there.

In the early stages of writing, I both love and hate the "new song." Love it because it's new. Hate it because it's hard to know when what I've written totally conveys what's in my mind and what I'm feeling. Or even if it makes any sense. The comments about that song were contradictory, which is telling in its own right -- that there was no consensus on whether it totally worked or not. What everyone did say is that they liked it, but with one side defending what the other side found wanting.

For me, what I want is for them to be brutal in their feedback.

Brutally honest in an informed way, of course. It stings like hell, at first, because secretly, inside, what you REALLY want to hear is that you're the greatest songwriter they've every encountered in their lifetime. No matter how many times I do this, that little voice is in there and he gets slayed, savagely, each time. So, each critique is like a murder.

But after you get over that, what you can end up with are some really good ideas or little "fixes" to make it even better. And that's the true goal, to end up with the best song possible. Oh, but there are those times "they" hate something that you loved most in a song -- and that happens more often than you think. If you can feel it too, you sometimes have to sacrifice your best lines and it's like getting stabbed.

Who knew songwriting was so violent?

Last week, my second visit, the song was "My New York Life," and as much as I liked it when it was brand new, it's even better now that I've had a chance to fool around with it -- and I might even be starting to fall in love with it.

Tonight, the song is called "Vacationing in Syria," which was one of the "dare" titles given to me by Ned Sykes, the drummer for Preoccupied Pipers, the buttrock group I occasionally sing with in Oakland. I had, once, asked him for song titles just to get me going and he sent me a list of "unwritable" song titles, one other of which was "Franco Ate The Paperwork," which made it into New World Waking and onto the new Tales from the Bonus Round CD -- BTW, that song was written when we were just out of Brunei. Funny how the Sultan, which I refer to in the song, is suddenly, amidst his many palaces, jets, hotels, etc. is suddenly the target of a boycott here in the states because he decided to impose sharia law, which threatens the lives of not just gay people, but just about everyone.

I've had an idea for how to do "Vacationing in Syria" rattling around in my head for awhile, but never just sat down and write it. This week, that's exactly what I did.

I may sing both these songs on Thursday at my gig. It's 8pm at the Indian Road Cafe on the most northern tippy tip of Manhattan.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Thanking Bryan Cranston.

Rarely in life do you get a chance to express thanks to a "big" celebrity, especially if you're not rich and famous yourself. But one of the great things about being in New York is that, if you hang in there, you can make it happen.

My big chance this time was yesterday at a press reception for the nominees for the New York Drama Desk Awards. Unlike the Tonys, which only gives out awards to people on Broadway, the Drama Desk nominates from all theater productions in New York, including a little one man show on 30th Street called "Character Man," featuring on Jim Brochu.

The person I most wanted to meet, among the nominees, was Bryan Cranston who is in town with "All The Way," a masterful piece of theater where he plays LBJ. Reader, you may remember when I wrote about this before, how I saw, in the bio in his program, the name of my friend, the late Louan Gideon.

We got there pretty early in the process, not wanting to miss anything. 

Jim Brochu with the great Broadway character Man, Danny Burstein.
Checking in!

Jim's official certificate. Drama Desk Awards. Outstanding Solo Performance.
Next: The red carpet!
Note: I have no pics of him doing this because I got myself into all the photos. Loving spouse!
Except when interviewed by people like Richie Ridge.
When I finally saw Bryan Cranston, we ran up to him and told him all about Louan and how much it meant to me that he mentioned her in his bio.

He said, "She my angel. I think of her every time I'm about to go out onto that stage."