Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Thank you for reading, responding and watching my videos. If you're new to the blog, be sure to check out my youtube site. You'll find lots of things to watch.
If you're interesting in New World Waking, go here and watch the playlist of all the videos of the rehearsals and events leading up to the performance, which happened on Dec. 1st.
Happy holidays to you.
Monday, December 15, 2008
Sunday, December 14, 2008
I also found Blogger Busters and learned how to widen this column by altering the java code so that it would fit. I feel so geeky this week.
Happily, I knew this going in. I was prepared for it, emotionally. That's why I celebrated all the days leading up to it -- the anticipation is so energizing and uplifting. But now, the letdown. I can't go back and recreate what happened that night. It's in the past.
Still, there is much to look forward to.
For people in San Francisco who might have missed it, the Chorus is going to be performing an abridged version of "New World Waking" for the annual "Home for the Holidays" concert on Dec. 24. If you're in town, be sure to go.
Also, that night, if things go according to schedule, the live recording of "New World Waking" in its entirety will be released as a part of the two-disc package of the best commissions and music from the 30th anniversary season. I'm totally on pins and needles. Kathleen said the sound of the recording is fantastic.
Not only that, but Kathleen and I will be preparing the full score so that other choruses and orchestras can perform it -- and not just gay choruses. It's entirely appropriate for high schools, colleges and universities. Any musical directors reading this please feel free to contact me. The piece is totally scalable to any size group.
I've also been talking to some local musicians here, all part of the Kulak's Woodshed family of musicians, songwriters and singers, about forming a big multi-voice sprawling rock band to perform New World Waking in local churches and theatres (two of which have already told me they want it).
It's great that NWW was performed by a big orchestra and chorus. But it doesn't NEED to be performed that way. As I told someone asking me about it, I could literally sit and do the piece all my myself if I had to, or if someone asked me to. (I'd just prefer to have all those harmonies).
So, I can see doing this with a small band and a few singers. The idea is still in the "making it up as I go along" stage -- please don't assault me with questions asking for details -- but it's a matter of putting everyone together, teaching them the music and watching it unfold. The image I have in my mind is like a big "Mad Dogs & Englishmen" type of group with moms, dads, kids, dogs -- whoever wants to join in. Do it as a benefit.
I've gotten some very enthusiastic responses from several terrific musicians and singers who told they're totally in. The Woodshed Family Band! And I've gotten offers from a couple of venues wanting to host it. All from just wondering out loud.
So, who knows. Dreaming is fun. And the best part about dreaming this stuff up is that it's all very possible.
Hey, I just felt something. What is it? It's tugging at my insides. It feels good. Wait. I know. How did I start this email? I was talking about how December 1st is over. I was hinting at the natural "let-down" one feels after a big night is finished and done. But now I'm feeling something else.
Ah, yes. It's back.
The sweet tug of anticipation. Now, that didn't take long, did it?
Saturday, December 13, 2008
We had overcast skies, but my friend Doug Watt took this picture. Last night the moon was epic close to the earth. As a SF lover, stuff like this always feels spooky and wonderful. And they say the tides were an inch higher. Imagine how spooky it was back at the dawn of civilization when the moon was the teevee.
Friday, December 12, 2008
Thursday, December 11, 2008
"Went to my management staff and asked who called in sick today. I figured it would be a good way of knowing, for sure, who's gay."
[He was joking, btw.]
"We were at 100%. Probably first time ever. Guess no one wanted to be suspected."
That kinda tells you everything you need to know. It would be one thing if everyone had ignored the call and caused barely a ripple. It's quite another when everyone takes it as a cue to show up. I wonder how many straight people who otherwise might have had to call in sick, due to a cold or the flu or something, came to work anyway out of fear of being suspected of being gay?
Best attendance ever.
This is one of my adopted sons, Jason. He and his partner, whose name is also Jason just celebrated their 10th anniversary. They got married in their backyard. And Jim and I performed the ceremony under a tent with all their friends. (Jim got a minister license off the Internet. I played piano and sang. And no, we haven't started up a gay marriage business and yes, we did it because they asked us to and they are part of our family and we love them).
And it wasn't legal.
The cops didn't rush in, but there is a time in our nation's history when that would have happened.
There is a time in our nation's history when that little gathering of friends -- if it had happened at all, and it wouldn't have -- would have been raided by cops and the people hauled off to jail.
I want you to look at these renegade civilization killers:
They recently this year, they quietly celebrated their 10th.
That "time" that I mentioned when the cops would have raided us? It was during my lifetime -- and in many places of "civilization" on this globe, these people would not only be arrested, they'd be beaten. And the two Jasons would be hanged.
Watching Jason interact with Rachel is one of my greatest pleasures because someday Jason would like to be a daddy. And somewhere out there is a kid who really needs a daddy. And it would be one really well-loved kid.
But if the Jasons lived in my home state right now, that adoption would be illegal due to a recent popular vote.
And if they lived in Iran or Saudi Arabia, or in the America that used to be, they would be dead.
In the movie, MILK, which I urge every reader to see, it opens with actual newsreel footage of gay men being rounded up like criminals and hauled off to jail for doing nothing more than hanging out together.
That happened even in New York and San Francisco during my lifetime.
Hey, Jason! I just got a new idea for your web series. You and Rachel remaking "The Birdman of Alcatraz!"
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
It's also a very important part of being taken seriously as a professional. When someone asks you for one, whether for press or a program, it's not a good idea to start tossing snapshots at them that you took yourself out on the front porch.
Anyway, I've finally had to chance to just sit and look at these. I think most of them would work as an 8 x 10. They all have different character. This one makes me look innocent.
This one's slightly rakish, maybe.
Colleen, the photographer liked this one:
Sing along to this rehearsal video of the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus performing "My Thanksgiving Prayer" with the Community Women's Orchestra -- as part of New World Waking! Songs on the Road to Peace, Inspired by John Lennon's Piano. Lyrics by Peter J. Carman. Music by Steve Schalchlin. Arranged, orchestrated and conducted by Dr. Kathleen C. McGuire.
Monday, December 08, 2008
Saturday, December 06, 2008
Friday, December 05, 2008
Thursday, December 04, 2008
Bringing Down the House
By Sister Dana Van Iquity
Published: December 4, 2008
On December 1, World AIDS Day, the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus (SFGMC) presented their pearl anniversary concert featuring Jennifer Holliday, Piper Laurie and Kim Kuzma. The Community Women’s Orchestra provided the music, along with pianist Thaddeus Pinkston. Each chorister wore his red sequined ribbon along with strings of pearls in commemoration of World AIDS Day and of their XXX year of singing. Mayor Gavin Newsom had pronounced SFGMC WEEK (not the usual Day that he typically proclaims, but the whole week). The chorus was under the skilled baton of Dr. Kathleen McGuire, SFGMC artistic director. That night they recorded the concert to be available as a CD in a month. If you missed the live show, at least you can enjoy the music; and if you were there, you no doubt will want to purchase the CD, which I will be reviewing as soon as it drops.
Act I began with the extremely emotional, powerful piece, New World Waking: Songs on the Road to Peace, Inspired by John Lennon’s Piano —- the concept, music and lyrics by Steve Schalchlin. “Manifesto,” sung by the Chorus, told us religion and politics are failing to provide role models of peace; but music can cross all boundaries, languages and creeds. “Therefore we journey to find a song of perfect peace.” Soloist Dan O’Leary san7g of a new world waking. We were on a search for a new world anthem of peace. “Part I: Violence at Home” included “Gabi’s Song: Will It Always Be Like This?”
with a stunning solo by Stephen Camarata telling the horrific story of the violence of bullying — based on the true story of Gabi Clayton and her son Bill, who committed suicide after a gay bashing. “Billy Tipton’s Song: Brilliant Masquerade” was a tale of the violence of transphobia and the closet. This jazzy beat piece sang of the life of jazz sax player Billy Tipton, who nobody knew was “born female” until his autopsy. “Joe’s Song: Dead Inside” was a minor-key dirge about the violence of self hatred and cynicism, inspired by the bloggings of Joe. My. God. The last two pieces featured the trio of Ray Perez, Frank Federico and Sanford Smith.
“Part 2: Violence in the World” opened with “The Politician’s Song,” a scornful look at such evil, fascistic dictators as Hitler, Mussolini and Franco — telling of their horrific genocides and ending up by comparisons to the Halliburton warmongers. The music and choreography ironically mimicked the tango, with chorus guys switching partners back and forth. “Song of the Reluctant Soldier: I Enter This Battle Gravely” stated that one should go into battle as if going to a funeral. Soloists Kenyon DeVault, Edward Maravilla and Mike Joyce captured the spirit that “My enemies aren’t demons; they’re human just like me,” as the Chorus sang and kept turning their backs on one another. “The Media’s Song: War by Default” was a charge against news writers conning the public into war. The Chorus held up newspapers, pretending to read the latest yellow journalism piece as soloist John J. Sims sang of “media that’s hungry for a story” and “a chicken-hawk who never held a rifle, but sends our sons and daughters off to war.” The fourth number, “Song of Religious Violence: Holy Dirt,” was introduced by actress Piper Laurie (you may remember her as the scary religious fanatic in the movie Carrie). Part of her impressive monologue posed a thought: “Imagine what would happen if America’s Christianity took the Martin Luther King’s side instead of the TV evangelists’ side.” Laurie concluded, “Nonviolence resistance has never failed.”
“Part 3: Awakening Suite” began with soloist Bob Connett and the Chorus singing a gospel-like “Lazarus Come Out,” an awakening in the form of a song of thanks to caregivers, the restorers of life: “Time to come out into the light of day.” The Chorus sang “William’s Song,” in which it became clear there’s always a nonviolent way to fight back, and sometimes it takes a mom. It was based on the true story of William Wagner and his mother, Carolyn Wagner, who sued an Arkansas school for allowing five fag-bashers to jump her gay son with no official redress. The chorus repeated over and over: “Tell me, why does it take five great big guys to beat up one little queer?” The good news? Mom won the case and there was complete restitution. “My Thanksgiving Prayer” was simply a prayer for peace in a troubled land. “Epilogue” brought the dream (that soloist O’Leary reprised) to a conclusion that “there is a new world waking within my heart now.” The final song of Act I was the classic “My Rising Up” sung by the inimitable Jennifer Holliday in belt-out beatific: “If I start to turn away and fall into the deepest night, shadows will turn light as day, ‘cause darkness cannot fight the light.”
Chris went with a few of us over to Martuni's after the event. Kim Kuzma was there. Oh, my god. Kim Kuzma. What a voice on this woman. It was my first time to meet her or hear her. Just wow. We talked about doing something together for the Upright Cabaret here in Los Angeles.
Oh, I forgot to mention. Big Voice is coming to Indio Center for the Performing Arts near Palm Springs. Mid-January.
I don't have details yet. It's the same place where Jim did Zero.
Anyway, we're standing out in front of Martuni's. The whole night felt electric. Claudine looked fabulous. And he said, "You know, you actually have very angry lyrics and online you sometimes sound angry. But the music is so opposite to that, that it comes out making me feel good. "
He continued, "I noticed this in Big Voice. But I thought maybe it was just because it was in a small venue and it was intimate. But, no, it's something in your music."
Cool!! I have angry lyrics!! Who knew? (I'm the gay James Dean. Oh, wait.) I thought I had a reputation as this mushy sickly sweet guy. Sickly sweet! Get it!? I kill me.
Well, we certainly live in an angry culture. It's like we're cycling through the stages of some great civilizational catharsis.
I don't feel angry or maybe I do. Of course I feel angry. But, you know, usually what people are angry about is not what they're really angry about. True anger resides in the hidden corners.
I do feel like anger is being treated as if it were a serious rational way of thinking, though. Just because it's great theatre doesn't mean it's wise.
When you're angry, you do and say the most stupid things in your life. It's beyond my comprehension that people celebrate anger. We love hearing someone get told off.
I love Judge Judy. She tells you off!
She gets angry!
Maybe all animals are angry. The point isn't whether we or anyone else is angry. The point is what we do about it. I like laughing at it.
I think anger isn't healthy until it can laugh at itself.
Anger without humor goes against the nature of nature/God/common sense, IMO. And I put it in religious terms because there are people of faith who fetishize anger as a something sacred.
Fine, but for me it's a barometer. If we aren't laughing together, we are not connecting.
And if we are not connecting, then we are part of the problem.
Wednesday, December 03, 2008
It was thrilling for me that he flew out from New York and was able to be in the show. He took a wonderful picture of Jim and me.
But like many in the audience, I lost it during the two songs dedicated to two mothers, Gabi Clayton and Carolyn Wagner, whose sons were the victims of anti-gay violence. Together they founded Families Against Hate and were in the audience and recognized from the stage, to many tears. Here's Steve's backstage video of the women meeting the chorus members. There's a few laughs in the clip, but you should get a hanky.
What Joe doesn't know is that Carolyn has been struggling with a lot of health problems. She is battling cancer and, for a very long time has been in the hospital and on intense medication, barely able to speak. We didn't even know if she would make it.
But it was the chorus members themselves who got them there. They pulled together frequent flier mileage and money. It was so amazing. More later!
Bev blogged her night at New World Waking. More photos there. And I have new video coming soon. If you don't know who Gabi and Carolyn (pictured at her blog) are, just wait.
Tuesday, December 02, 2008
I've had so many emails from people asking me how it went last night.
I'll try to find words, but now I know why people take drugs. The adrenalin coursing through my body last night had me floating about six feet above the floor and I couldn't feel anything the whole night.
I was literally numb. I sat there listening to the music, but not hearing it. It was scary and frightening. I tried to relax, but then I'd look down and see that I was pitched forward in my seat, tense and knotted up.
It was happening on that massive stage with that huge chorus and the 50 piece orchestra, but I was listening to the audience. Let me tell you what I did NOT hear. I did not hear throat clearing. I did not hear coughing.
This is a very good sign.
What I did see were tear-streaked faces. And intense faces, actually listening. I looked up and behind me at this magnificent room and saw the seats packed to the ceiling. Before the show, they had to announce a 10 minute wait because the line was streaming out the doors into the street.
In my pre-concert chat, my mind went totally blank. I think I was coherent. But that's about all, just trying to hit the bullet points I had been rehearsing in my mind. Not too many people were there for that part, which is about what I expected. Few people want to sit and listen to someone talk about something they haven't yet heard.
The chorus was on FIRE. My favorite enjoyable moment of the night, aside from Piper and Jennifer, was "War By Default." Probably because it was so unexpectedly fun, yet serious. And the words!
These songs were done in the context of a serious, chorus/orchestral/tuxedo event, the lyrics sounded so contemporary -- even edgy. I have never thought of myself that way. In the rock world, I never fit in that well. But it doesn't mean that that's not who I am.
I don't think choruses are used to this particular kind of social commentary. Not like this. Words like "start a blog and do a dance and smoke another joint." And "Why does it take five great big guys to beat up one little queer." A chorus member mentioned how he loved singing, "So she went out on the Internet" and, discussing violence, "We watch it like football game and wait for it on CNN / Cuz winning's somehow everything and they'll rerun it all again."
The whole piece skewed really young. And yet the philosophical themes are mature and complex. Just hearing Piper Laurie say, "Imagine if America's Christianity came from the Martin Luther King side of the family instead of the TV evangelist side. Where the TV evangelist Gandhi?" from "Holy Dirt," another song that sustained long applause.
In many ways, there was so much for the audience to take in, I think they were still analyzing it as it ended. New World Waking, I was told, hit some people like a sledge hammer.
I've poured nearly 8 years of my life into this piece.
I almost couldn't enjoy it. Seriously. Now I know why writers go insane. In my mind, instead of just enjoying the concert, I was thinking, "Okay... is ANYONE GETTING THIS?? DOES IT REMOTELY MAKE ANY SENSE???"
I didn't know. I couldn't know. It made sense to me, but it was too overwhelming.
The night was too overwhelming.
In act two, they brought out a local critic and tv personality, Jan Wahl, who just stopped the proceedings and said, "I think we just witnessed the birth of a new Cole Porter and Gershwin and Jerry Herman and Stephen Sondheim all rolled up into one." And she had me stand. And the audience cheered me.
But I couldn't absorb it.
Yeah, Jan tends to get hyperbolic and she's a friend, so I took all that with a grain of salt. It was really kind of her to say those things, and I'm reporting it because it did happen, but I know better. 10 years ago I might have wanted to believe it. I might have even tried to believe it. But I'm older now.
I know better. Yes, reader. I really do.
I also know that our car needs another $1000 of work on it because the transmission blew out. And I have no idea where we're going to find it.
That's the reality of a "famous" composer. I stand in a concert hall and take a bow, and the next day, I'm sorting through every last credit card looking for a way to get home.
Welcome to show biz.
Oh, and here's Bev's video from the event:
Monday, December 01, 2008
A friend sent me this saying, "You're writing the soundtrack for our lives."
The opening song on this video is "My Thanksgiving Prayer." It's the memorial on the steps of City Hall followed by a march to Castro Street. This past Friday.
At 7 am, I had to take our car across the street to the Ford dealership because we got here with a leak (after having just had it serviced). When the guy behind the counter asked me why I was here, I just blurted out (no doubt sounding like a crazy man), "THEY'RE SINGING AND PLAYING MY MUSIC AT DAVIES SYMPHONY HALL TONIGHT!!
The handsome guy behind the counter got a big smile on his face and told me he played French Horn and that he was very happy for me.
Yesterday morning, after walking around the City Hall plaza, I wandered over to MCC SF for the morning worship service. Got there early during the choir rehearsal. Kathleen was there singing. My friend, Stephanie, was musical directing.
I was buzzing from my walkabout and barely able to sit.
And then they started singing "Seasons of Love" from RENT.
"Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes" -- "How do you measure a year in the life?" And tears just started gushing from my eyes. I thought about my beloved Dick Remley who died -- how long ago? Has it been seven years? I thought about a new friend of mine named Anne whose husband died suddenly, unexpected from cancer just a couple of days ago, leaving six children -- and they didn't even know he was sick. A week ago he was on a trip and today he's gone.
This song reminds me so vividly that we have to grab every single second of life and live it to the fullest. That none of us, whether we have AIDS or think we think we have years, that it can be taken from us without warning.
On this day, World AIDS Day, we think of AIDS and we try to reach out to people and educate them about this disease. But, really, we should also use it to be reminded that there are no guarantees in this life -- and that the people who surround us are really the ones who give us measure of the value of every moment.
After the emotional church service in a place that can only be called Ground Zero for the AIDS Holocaust, we were reminded that during the height of the worst part of the crisis, there were so many people dying, they just gave up on having a memorial service for any single person, but instead, resorted to a weekly "group memorial service."
I want everyone reading this to imagine your own community or church facing this kind of devastation, where so many of your friends were dying so quickly, you couldn't keep up with the lists.
Rev. Neil Thomas in LA a few weeks ago said that during this period, he become known at the death minister. He was attending or running a funeral almost every single day, sometimes three or four a day. Please try to imagine rushing from one funeral to the next, barely able to keep up.
(He also said that this past year he became known as the marriage minister as gay and lesbian couples rushed to get married -- at least, sadly, until this past election.)
After the service, Kathleen and I went to lunch and spent a couple of hours just talking about New World Waking and the extraordinary way in which it all came together. We celebrated together and talked about the songs and it was really fun because only the two of us know what it took to bring this together.
Kathleen is not someone who just puts notes on a page. She's a true creative artist whose musical education far exceeds mine. (I joked with her that tonight I expected her to give the audience a full music theory analysis of the chords.)
She has lived with these songs and believes in them as fully and as deeply as I do. From the first day I sat with her at that little out of tune piano, to the moment she said, "I have chills running up and down my arms" to the moment she introduced it to the SFGMC Board, to the night she introduced the music to the chorus and then the orchestra.
We talked about the day Teddy Witherington, the chorus Executive Director, called me and suggested not calling it a cantata -- "sounds too boring" -- and the day we settled on the name New World Waking. (It had been called, temporarily, Pantheon Bar & Grill).
She told me how amazing it was to watch the chorus when they first rehearsed with the orchestra.
Oh, man. I could on and on. And I will, but it's time for breakfast and my heart is so full, I'm all but exploding.
Sunday, November 30, 2008
It was early in the morning. The streets were almost deserted.
I stood in front of the magnificent city hall and looked across the street. There was the opera house, a gorgeous monument with Greek (or Roman?) pillars. Next to it is another building just like it.
I felt like I was in Greece or Rome. These remarkable institutions just standing there in the sunlight, a testament to the high arts.
Next to them was this beautiful modern building with a large panoramic glass front.
Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall.
And I was totally overwhelmed to realize that my music would be performed in this building where the usual repertoire is Beethoven, Bach, Ravel, Gershwin, Handel, and all the greatest composers this world has given to us.
I thought back to my high school days in Buna, Texas, a town which consisted of a drug store, a broken down movie theater where the rats would run over your feet, where the only traffic light was a blinking yellow light on the highway, where half the grade school kids didn't even have shoes, where all the men worked at the paper mill down the road -- a place where I couldn't even IMAGINE an opera house or a symphony hall.
Tears just started streaming down my face. The enormity of it all began to overtake me.
Now, look. Some perspective from the other side: In the big picture of serious music, I'm not really even a blip on the map. Few people know my name, really, so I don't mean to sound like I'm even close to being on the same level as the great composers listed above. That's not my point. As big as my ego is, I at LEAST know THAT much.
But I would be an ungrateful fool to not stop and breathe in this moment, this opportunity, and embrace and be thankful for this gift -- and look back to realize how far I've come.
No one knows the long road I've traveled, the little country churches, the dinner theater in Dallas, the endless number of Rodeway Inns and casino lounges, piano bars, hospital rooms, emergency rooms, funerals, and... and... places I don't even remember.
And tomorrow night, my songs will be referred to as "movements." My simple musical stories will become a choral/symphonic work in one of the most celebrated symphony halls in the world.
Even as I write this, tears are streaming down my face. It's almost too much to think about.
But it's real. It's really happening. And I honestly believe that if you look at my background and see where I came from, if there's anything I would want you, the reader, especially if you are an aspiring writer or singer or conductor or performer, to take from this, is that if it can happen to me, a person who has literally come from one of the most poverty stricken corners of the United States, who grew up learning nothing about serious music, who never saw the inside of a theatre until he was in his 20s, who barely was able to play a single Bach three part invention, it can happen to anyone who truly believes in him or herself and who writes from the heart.
I say all these things not to brag about my situation, but it's my dearest and most fervent hope that you will take this as inspiration no matter what your talent. Whether it's in the arts or in business or in education or in anything, really. The only thing holding you back is yourself.
I believe I'm here because I believed in myself and I believed that I had something to contribute -- and because others believed in me and let me know that they believed in me. I believe this, too, of every human being on this earth. Every one of us has something to contribute, a message no one else can bring.
Even if you can't be at the concert, I hope you'll celebrate this moment with me. It will come and go so quickly, but I'm going to hold it in my heart forever.
Find a mechanic open on Saturday night on a holiday weekend? The AAA people said to just forget it and wait till Monday.
Meanwhile, I can't sleep. All I can think of is the 20 minutes they've given me before the show on the stage of Davies Hall, to describe how New World Waking was born.
I AM SO EXCITED!!!
I'm also glad I don't have to perform the thing. All I have to do is just let go and let Kathleen, the chorus and the orchestra do all the work.
AN ORCHESTRA! A CHORUS! A SYMPHONY HALL! MY MUSIC!!!
It's the fantasy dream of a lifetime.
Now go get it!
Seriously. I don't want to have to hurt you.
Friday, November 28, 2008
For those who don't really know who Harvey Milk is, go to Jim Burroway's superb recounting of the moments leading to his assassination posted at Box Turtle Bulletin. And if you are anywhere near where the movie MILK is being shown, go see it as soon as you can. It's the best film I've seen all year.
As he recounts,
Thirty years ago today, on November 27, 1978, tens of thousands of stunned mourners gathered in the Castro for an impromptu candlelight march to City Hall. The sea of candles stretched ten city blocks long. At the steps of city hall, Joan Baez led the crowd in singing “Amazing Grace” and the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus sang a hymn by Felix Mendelssohn.
What Jim didn't mention is that this was the first public appearance by the first gay chorus in the world. For me, the fact that they're going to sing one of my songs on this historic occasion means I get to play just a little part in gay history.
Back then, Harvey was fighting against a proposition that would have started a witch hunt in the public school system to get rid of anyone who is or might be gay. Backed by the loathsome words of Anita Bryant, who compared us to dogs and insisted that we would be the downfall of civilization, it's amazing to be at this moment in history where, once again, the conservative religious forces used the same demeaning tactics to strip away our civil right to be married.
So, things don't change. Only the faces change. The heated hate-filled language continues, except this time it was powered by a 20 million dollar campaign by the Mormons, aided and abetted by even more millions donated by groups led by James Dobson, the Catholic Church and other misguided souls. And, once again, the campaign was filled with lies and hateful rhetoric.
30 years ago, Harvey Milk was killed because he refused to stand down when he insisted that gay people are human beings who deserve to be treated as equals. He refused to stay in the closet and he demanded that all gay people "come out, come out wherever you are."
In his memory and his name, I hope every gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender person will come out to their family, workmates and friends this weekend. Make that call. Stand your ground. Let them know that "the gays" are not some mob "out there in San Francisco making trouble."
Unless and until every GLBT person comes out fully and openly, our chances of being accepted as human beings will fall just a little short.
Come out! Come out now. Come out today.
Thursday, November 27, 2008
If you're looking for great movies to see over the holiday weekend, please do not miss SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE, which, alongside MILK, stands heads and shoulders above anything I've seen all year long.
The sheer scale and scope of Slumdog is staggering, especially for a smaller budget indie film which almost didn't get released until it started winning audience favorite awards at the film festivals -- and has now debuted to universally great praise. If it's not nominated for and Oscar for Best Movie, it not be because it doesn't deserve it.
The story, which takes place in India, but which is spoken mostly in English, is about a boy from the slums of India who is one question away from winning the top award on India's "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire." At the beginning of the movie, he gets arrested by the police and tortured to confess that somehow he's cheated the system.
But, see, as we learn about the boy and his life (through an ingenious plot device I won't reveal), it becomes apparent that there's nothing you can do to this kid worse than what he's already lived through.
And thus we are plunged into a world that is weirdly similar to the one Americans live in, and yet wholly foreign. A parallel universe that's alternately horrifying -- think modern day Oliver Twist with a horrendous man who uses and abuses children to make money -- and hilarious, such as the Indian phone bank school where everyone takes lessons to learn how to pretend they don't live in India.
At its heart, though, this is a love story and if you have even an inch of romance inside of you, you will, like me, be streaming tears. Does it have a happy ending? Well, I said it was a romance. But I am not going to tell you how it ends. And even if I did, it wouldn't take one single thing away from how it all works out.
Lastly, I've always been a sucker for movies that feature people who come from nowhere, who have to endure great hardship. They're so much more interesting that these endless TV shows featuring rich people whose biggest problem is whether to have the maid clean the ashtrays or do it themselves.
Bring your Kleenexes and do NOT let this movie pass by. Moviemaking and movie watching -- it doesn't get better than this.
Listen to the prayer within me. Look into my grateful eyes.
May I humbly stand before you, as I reach out with my hand.
May the music bring a healing to this cold and troubled land.
As I face the burnished off'rings to the gods of pow'r and fear,
Make of me a living off'ring. Let me be your servant here.
Give us grace to face the struggle which the world yet holds in store.
Walk beside us ever loving; grant us peace for evermore.
"My Thanksgiving Prayer"
Lyrics by Rev. Peter J. Carman
Music by Steve Schalchlin
A: Yes, you can sing these songs. They were written so that people could sing them. No, you don't need a chorus and orchestra. The songs are very simple and can be sung solo or by smaller groups, and they sound just fine with only a piano or guitar accompaniment.
A: The SF Gay Men's Chorus intends to have the live recording ready by Christmas, believe it or not. They will make a recording that night, and then mix it, master it and package it in time for the holidays. How's THAT for instant gratification?
A: After we have the recording and Kathleen has finalized all the score, we will submit it for publishing so that it can be available to high schools, universities, church choirs and civic choruses. If we don't find a publisher interested, then I'll hit the Xerox machine and make copies myself.And that goes for people who just want individual pieces of sheet music. I've written out basic piano/vocal charts for each of the songs. And I've recorded demos of all the songs for people who can't read music.
A: Don't let the symphony hall fool you. These are folk songs at heart, meaning songs intended to be sung by folks. Some of them sound better when sung by a rich, trained voice. Some sound best when sung very simply. For some, you might need some rock and roll chops. For others, some Gospel or jazz chops. But, for me, as long as you sing each song with meaning and heart, you can't go wrong.
I've always loved simplicity.
A: Nope. Each song stands on its own and tells its own unique story. New World Waking is like a collage or, as I was describing to someone else, an art gallery, where each painting stands on its own, but, collectively forms a larger statement. NWW is not a narrative, and yet, somehow, each of the songs relates to the other, and by the end, if it works, the listener will be carried along by a flow of emotions that will, hopefully, at its best, help them understand the effects of violence, and encourage them to become a part of the solution.
I hope someday you'll join us.
Frankly, though, I'd be just as happy if the listener just enjoys the singing and the music. For all the "messages" that might be in the piece, we've also packed in some great entertainment.
San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus
Remember AIDS? That insidious disease may have been pushed off the homepage of late, but it's certainly still raging. Dec. 1 is World AIDS Day — and the super-talented, penguin-suited songbirds of the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus, on that seminal organization's 30th birthday, have a whole lot of dazzling gospel going on to remind us of that fact. Joining the chorus to clap her hands and say "Yeah!" will be the gayest dreamgirl of them all, Jennifer Holliday, and she is telling you to just try not getting inspirational tingles as she and the singers perform Broadway gospel musical king Steve Schalchlin's specially commissioned, John Lennon-inspired three-suite composition, "New World Waking! Songs on the Road to Peace." Also in attendance to present Schalchlin's new work will be actress Piper Laurie, though probably not hysterically brandishing a crucifix. (Marke B.)
(My bolding). Broadway gospel musical king?? Fine! Who knew? Did Broadway? Doesn't matter. It's in print. Must be true!
Oh, and that last reference to Piper Laurie "probably not hysterically brandishing a crucifix" is, of course, a reference to her role as the mother of "Carrie" in the movie adaptation of Stephen King's "Carrie."
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Just posted: A terrific article by Richard Dodds in the Bay Area Reporter on New World Waking! When we did the interview I wasn't sure I was making any sense at all. It was my first time to discuss the piece and I felt completely inarticulate. But, happily, Richard managed to make sense of my ramblings and actually made me sound like I knew what the hell I was talking about.
Go to the website, but just in case it doesn't stay on the website forever, I'm copying it here.
Music as an alternative to violence
'New World Waking' premieres in a
World AIDS Day concertPublished 11/27/2008
by Richard Dodds
Somehow, it was the cigarette burns on the piano that made it real for him. Steve Schalchlin was sitting at the piano at which John Lennon had written "Imagine," but the context – a suburban front-yard in Washington State – didn't conjure up the historical import of the instrument. But the cigarette burns were physical evidence that Lennon's fingers once touched these keys. It was also this moment that clarified for Schalchlin what he had been working on for the past few years.
"The way I work is to start writing songs, and at some point they come together and make sense to me," Schalchlin recently said from his home in Los Angeles. "Not only was I writing songs for this piece not knowing where it was going to be done, I wrote it before I even knew what it was going to be."
But with a clarity brought about by his experience at Lennon's piano, trucked to the home of a mother and father whose teenage son had committed suicide after a gay-bashing, Schalchlin could envision a structure and a connecting message among the songs. Before long, he had a sponsor in the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus, a title, and an engagement at Davies Symphony Hall.
New World Waking, with music and most lyrics by Schalchlin, will have its world premiere on Dec. 1 as part of a World AIDS Day concert that also marks the chorus' 30th anniversary. Veteran actress Piper Laurie, a personal friend of Schalchlin, will provide narration during one of the musical sections, while Jennifer Holliday will join the chorus during "My Rising Up," the pull-out-the-stops finale.
"When I heard that the chorus had gotten Jennifer, I was jumping through the roof," Schalchlin said. "We're going to tear the place apart. It will be like Hurricane Jennifer hit the building."
"My Rising Up" is written in a southern gospel style, the kind of music Schalchlin heard growing up as a Missionary Baptist in Texas. Later he became a member of Top 40 bands before becoming a piano-bar performer and the co-author of the musicals The Last Session and Big Voice: God or Merman?. The musical styles of the dozen or so songs in the 45-minute piece represent his diverse background: pop, rock, folk, jazz and doo-wop. But the concluding section definitely favors a gospel flavor, "because that's the sort of inspirational sound that choruses sound so great doing."
And it also helps convey the political, social, and spiritual message of the overall piece. New World Rising comes with a manifesto that notes that religion and politics are failing to provide role models of peace, before stating that "music can cross all boundaries, all customs, all languages, and all creeds."
Schalchlin said he "walked a very delicate line" in trying to make the songs resonate whatever the faith a listener may hold. "I made a very specific decision that each of the songs, whether or not it had a religious connotation, could be heard with equal meaningfulness whatever one believed, secular or otherwise."
The three sections that make up New World Waking are subtitled "Violence at Home," "Violence in the World," and "Awakening Suite." Religious or not, many of the songs do touch on subjects involving violence and discrimination directed toward the LGBT community.
The opening song, following a prologue, is titled, "Will It Always Be Like This?," and it was a song that Schalchlin performed at John Lennon's piano in the front yard of Alec and Gabi Clayton's home in Olympia, Wash. Their son's suicide, and their reaction to the tragedy, inspired the song. A happier ending comes in "William's Song," based on the successful efforts by Carolyn Wagner to protect her son from officially tolerated homophobic harassment in high school.
On several songs, Schalchlin turned to outside lyricists. Music historian Paul Zollo provided the lyrics for "Brilliant Masquerade," a song about the famed jazz musician Billy Tipton, who was not revealed to have been a biological female until his death. Peter J. Carman, pastor at the Lake Avenue Baptist Church in Rochester, NY, provided the lyrics for several songs, including the AIDS-related "Lazarus Come Out."
That song gives thanks for friends and caregivers who have helped HIV-positive people, an issue that has long been a focal part of Schalchlin's life. He began the long-running online diary Living in the Bonus Round in 1996 to chronicle for friends and relatives what he thought were to be his final days. Now, instead of his own illness, Schalchlin is likely to be writing about his musical projects as well as health and political issues that face the queer community at large.Guest star Jennifer Holliday.
His personal experiences with AIDS also provided the basis for The Last Session, a 1997 musical written with creative and personal partner Jim Brochu about a dying musician's efforts to record a final song before taking his own life. Following a New York run, the musical has been staged by numerous theaters, including the New Conservatory Theatre Center in 2001. Schalchlin and Brochu themselves brought their autobiographical musical Big Voice to NCTC in 2007. A member of the audience one night happened to be Dr. Kathleen McGuire, artistic director of the SF Gay Men's Chorus, and later Schalchlin told her about a piece he was creating.
"So we sat down in a little room with a little broken-down piano," Schalchlin said. "It was kind of like doing an old Tin Pan Alley audition."
McGuire quickly gave Schalchlin the green light to proceed, and she has written the arrangements for the 200-plus-member chorus and orchestrations for the accompanying Community Women's Orchestra. The evening will also include a collection of holiday songs, a performance of Kim Kuzma's new single "Guardian Angels," and an encore appearance by Jennifer Holliday singing "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going."
Schalchlin is expecting New World Waking to have a life beyond its Dec. 1 premiere. That performance will be recorded for a live CD, and he's already heard from other choruses interested in the project. "All the songs can be lifted, so other choruses can perform them collectively or individually," he said. "I'm looking forward to spreading it around."
And he doesn't see the material as necessarily restricted to gay audiences. "We have witnessed the events through our eyes, and we propose that music can be an alternative to violence," Schalchlin said. "To me, this is a message from one gay man and one gay chorus to the world."
The San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus 30th anniversary concert will take place at 7 p.m., Dec. 1 at Davies Symphony Hall. Tickets are $20-$100. Call 865-2787 or go to www.sfgmc.org.