Friday, December 31, 2010

Oh, Good Lord.

You should see him, on the bed, looking at his laptop, with the words "beloved star" expanded in the browser.

I have to live with this, people. Please use caution with this kind of language. It only encourages him.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Blizzard Hits.

The snow started while we were in church.
We came out and saw this.

The snow is really beautiful.

I was headed to Jimmy's matinee on 47th. Ducked under the marquee of "Fela!"
at the Eugene O'Neill Theater.

The snowfall is horizontal, with the wind whipping. We even have thundersnow, with lightning.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Our Best And Worst Christmas.

25 Special Holiday Memories at Theatremania.

Jim Brochu
Starting in 1988, when Steve Schalchlin and I moved to Los Angeles, we spent Christmases at the home of Kathleen Freeman. She celebrated Christmas like no one else. Outside, her home was covered with lights. Kathleen greeted everyone wearing a Santa hat and ringing sleigh bells. Inside, every inch was decorated with toy trains, snow-covered villages - all leading to a giant tree filled with magnificent ornaments. In 2000, there was the promise that the night sky would host an astronomical phenomenon, a Christmas star as bright as the one that shined over Bethlehem. After dinner, we went to the backyard. I lifted my video camera and saw light shining brightly in the dark sky. I said, "There it is! The Christmas star!" In her unmistakable deadpan, she quipped, "That's neat since the lens cap is still on." There was a pinhole letting light in. I mistook that for the star! It was also, the worst of all our Christmases with Kathleen -- because it would be her last in that house. The next year, she was on Broadway in The Full Monty; and months later, she was gone. For Steve and me, the greatest Christmas star will always be Kathleen.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

"The Call" debuted by Steve with Jake Wesley Stewart

Last Sunday, Jake and I debuted "The Call," the song I wrote for Father Jeff Hamblin's 30th anniversary in the ministry.

He's Coming Back.

Avril is a woman I met back in Los Angeles while volunteering down at Kulak's Woodshed. I think her accent is Australian? Or maybe she's British? I keep forgetting. Anyway, Marc Platt, who runs the workshop, told us all to write a song -- we had an hour -- featuring the word or the concept of "joy."

I think our group consisted of four women that night -- and myself as a kind of facilitator. 

We were hemming and hawing, trying to come up with an idea. Finally, Avril stood up, stone-still as was her way, and simply said, tearlessly, soberly, "I don't much joy right now. I sent my kid back to Iraq this morning."

That stopped the conversation.

Silently, I wrote down, "I sent my kid back to Iraq this morning." 

It was an electrifying moment, because, when you're suddenly very sad or angry or whatever, your first reaction is to sit down and take a break so that you can start breathing again.

She stood there, staring off. So, I just started asking her questions. I think I said, "Okay, now that you've said that, what's the next thing that comes to your mind?"

She said, without taking a beat, "That now I have to clean up all his mess."

I think we all laughed out loud. Avril smiled, but she didn't move. I wrote down what she said.

And over the next half hour or so, I just kept asking questions and writing down, as word for word as possible, what she said. Then, I went home that weekend, found that sheet of paper, and converted it into music and lyrics, using her words and phrases. The video clip below is from our benefit concert earlier this year:

As we cruise through the holidays, we see lots of soldiers on the TV saying hi to their family. I'm totally a sucker for it, because they are real people, and there really is a war going on.

But, just like when I was writing about AIDS, it's not only the patient who suffers through the war of the disease. It's the caregivers, the family members, the workmates, best friends, shopping pals, hunting pals, movie pals, who all feel the emptiness of that person they love not being present, we're all in it together.

Except we're not. We, at home, are not getting shot at.

Because that's the part we don't want to look at.

And because the war is so amorphous --who's the enemy again? can it ever be over? will it ever be over? what does it mean if we "win?" who will we have defeated? a people? an ideology? a culture? a religion? -- it becomes very sad and unsettling for everyone, whether they have family members in the service or not.

Friday, December 17, 2010

My New Commission.

I was just standing there, after a show at the Laurie Beechman, when Father Jeff Hamblin came up to me with a big smile on his face.

"Hey, I want to commission you to write a song for my upcoming consecration service. The Bishop will be there." 

It was the first time anyone ever blindsided me like before. I mean, I written songs for people and I've written songs for events. But no one ever came up to me and just said they'd pay me to write a song, at least, as far as I remember. (New World Waking was commissioned, but it was largely written before the SFGMC made the offer.)

"Sure," I said. "When is the service?"

"Next week," he responded, his grin expanding ever wider.

Next week.

"Yes. The service is on December 17th." (That's tonight, of course, as I'm writing this blog entry).

And that, dear reader, is what I've been doing for the past week: Walking around in a daze, writing and rewriting this song. (I've also been attending to some urgent personal matters that involve health care. Moving from L.A. to NY has presented some problems, which I will talk about at another time).

I asked him, "Well, what do you want the song to be about?"

He said, "The mission of the church. You know. And it's my 30th anniversary of being in the ministry."

The story grows bigger. This is not just "Hey, write me a nice tune." His consecration as pastor of the church, with Bishop in attendance, and it's his 30th anniversary in the ministry. 

In previous times, I probably would have been terrified at the prospect. But, calmly, I just said yes. Why not? I love writing songs and I've discovered, over the years, that I love writing songs about people I've met, telling  their stories.

But still, the timing. 

If anything terrified me, it was that. I usually don't know if a song I've written is any good or not until weeks after it's written. All new songs sound like The Greatest Song Ever Written while you're writing it. It has to. That's what drives you while you're in the moment of creation.

(This is also what slays many new writers. That song that they felt was the Greatest Song Ever Written, which, in the cold light of a few weeks later turned out to be The Worst Song Ever Written, makes them mistrust their talent and instincts. "How could I have been so wrong?").

But, a song about the mission of the church. 

Big subject. 

So, I wrote to him later and said, "Write me a short essay. If this song were a speech, what would you want it to say?"

As Sondheim famously said, once, Don't ask me to write a love song. Ask me to write a song about a woman with yellow purse who walks into a bar... etc. In other words, give me details. What do you want to say?

He sent me a note and the essence of it was how he believes that music is the one element in a service that actually draws God into the room. It's why he's been so fierce about establishing a strong music program there at Christ Church.

(I've posted pictures of the beautiful building, but I'm not a member of the congregation. And though I usually will sing a solo, one of my own songs, I really am, officially, just a member of the choir. A choir filled with exquisitely fine singers, by the way, all hand-picked by Mark. Last night, at rehearsal, I sat next to Adam Hemming West. You cannot believe this guy's soaring tenor voice, not to mention the fact that he's a great musician and arranger/conductor himself. He and I relate to each other, too, because he also was, in his youth, involved in Contemporary Christian music. I was doing that way back in the 70s, just after Love Song upended the Christian music market, which had, until then, consisted almost solely of Gospel quartets, ala the Oak Ridge Boys or the Imperials. But I'm trailing off here, aren't I? But, the truth is, I used to be kind of ashamed of my past, especially after came out and witnessed how horribly "my people" have been treating gay people. This whole thing about these anti-gay conservative Christian groups being designated at hate groups -- they still think it's because they oppose homosexuality, rather than how they oppose it, but all of this resides in the background as I was writing this song. Yes. Religion can be like a mental illness, and Christians seem to become mentally ill when they confront homosexuality. And all this is going around in my head.)

And here I am back in church singing. 

But what he said. That music literally brings God into a room.

It goes against every anti-supernaturalist bone in my Recovering Baptist body. 

Literally bring God into the room? Is that what Fr. Jeff was saying? 

No, wait. He said something else. "I want to bring musical healing."

I worried for a moment, because, well, I've already written "My Thanksgiving Prayer," which, thanks to the beautiful lyrics by Peter Carman, expresses musical healing. No way to top that. No, the song can contain the element of musical healing but it has to be about something else.

This brought me back to my dad, to his two ministries. Trinity Baptist in Santa Ana, California -- we lived in Anaheim -- and his small town east Texas Baptist pastorship. (I was born in Little Rock, moved to LA area when I was five, went back to Louisiana when I was a freshman in high school, and then moved to Buna, Texas a year later.

Lots of opinions on what the mission of a church should be. But what Fr. Jeff, who also works at a hospital, I think believes, is that when you bring great music to a church, if you build that program first, the music itself will become a healing instrument because you're literally bringing God into the room in a way that even post-modern skeptical people can feel. 

You don't have to "believe" in music for music it to have power. Music is just music. And maybe God is just God. 

Feeling that the word "mission" isn't particularly singable -- MSSSSSH-un. Miiiiii-shun. Amy Shapiro said to me, "How about calling?"

Ah, now that's a nice word. It's not only vocal, but the word itself describes what a voice can do. Call. To call. A calling.

And what is a calling? 30 years, Fr. Jeff has been ministering. And what does it mean to minister? What if you think of the word "minister" like this -- like a nurse ministering to a wound. What if the church thought of itself as a source of healing to a wounded community? 

I look out at the congregation there in Bay Ridge and I see very humble, kind people who don't really have a lot of money. At least, that's my perception. I see one man who comes with a little basket, and he gets some canned food to take home. 

The lyrics to a song are inscribed in the painted scrolls on the walls over the choir loft and behind the altar.
This is a humble congregation of people living and working close to the ground. And they're doing it in this gorgeous, gorgeous sanctuary. 

The thing about a calling, whether it's to minister, to be a doctor, a teacher, a lawyer -- whatever drives you to fulfill your calling is not that it's a calling, but that it's so much more. It's who you are as a person. 

If Fr. Jeff and this congregation -- and the building itself -- are being consecrated as an instrument of healing, then it's because they have no other choice. It's who they are. It's what they do. Sure, they need a leader. But I've seen the little post-service coffee fellowship grow from a few, to a few dozen over the months that I've been there. 

Musical healing. A call for life.

When I first began singing at Christ Church, I wasn't sure I really belonged. But I cannot say no to anyone who wants me to sing my music, especially if they find it to be meaningful, or healing. But as I find myself worrying about tonight, and whether I'll make a mistake, or whether the song "The Call" is any "good" or not, I realize that that's not the point. The point is that this is an honor for me. Not because some "bishop" will be there, or because it's a "big" event, though I'm sure those are marvelous things.

Something else comes to mind as I ponder all this. Thanks to Facebook, I've been reconnecting with all my old pals and roommates from Jacksonville Baptist College. Some of them want to get me saved. Some of them are horrified at how Baptists treat gays. Some don't think much about either way; they just love me and are happy to be back in contact.

But when I was at JBC, I felt utterly alone in my Fabulous Gayness. And, to this day, I still would not be welcome back there. I'm an errant sinner on the road to hell, or something.

But here. The honor is that I get to be with these people. I get to sing in a church again, with great musicians and singers, and I can come "just as I am." And, may I say,  we are having some fun. With trumpets! And a cello!

If you want to come to the mass, it starts at 6:30pm.

Monday, December 13, 2010

This Is Exactly What I Had Hoped.

Last week, I posted an email from Rev. Jean Norton, the minister of music from the United Church of Christ, thanking me for the "gift" of My Thanksgiving Prayer for their city-wide interfaith Thanksgiving concert. I wrote her back, very pleased that the song had been utilized this way. (I put "gift" in quotes because I didn't know they were using it, that's okay. I said on the free download page that I was offering my music for non-profit use, if the situation was appropriate).

In the note, she mentioned that the idea for the song came from the minister of music at the Unitarian Universalist church.

So, I went looking to find out who this obviously wonderful person was, found their website, and sent a note. This is what I got this morning.

Hi Mr. Schalchlin,
So nice to hear from you! I was so happy when Jean Norton sent you a note to tell you of our performance. 
I am a Roman Catholic and new to working for the UUs since February. As you can imagine, it has been a struggle for me to figure out what they are comfortable singing, theologically. :-) Then I was faced with this Thanksgiving Service, joining with the Congregationalist and Jewish communities, as a newbie, never having attending the joint Thanksgiving service in the past. 
And, the UU budget for music is non-existent, at least for this year. I was desperately seeking free resources. I found you just by searching the internet. At some point I must've searched youtube for "Thanksgiving" or "Thanksgiving Prayer" and found the rehearsal video by the SFGMC. Somehow I found your website. I loved the piece and was sold by the story, too.
Our Thanksgiving service was to focus on youth and support for a new youth drop-in center ( I had been aware that gay/lesbian issues lead some youth to leave home and need a service like this center offers. The piece was also easy to learn, and had plenty of flexibility for splitting the parts if we had enough voices in a joint choir, or not, if the voices didn't show up.
So, we rehearsed our choirs separately, had 1 joint rehearsal, then another joint rehearsal before the service. We sang the TTBB score as SATB with piano, with the women in the higher octave. Not quite as tight harmonies, but it was still beautiful. Unfortunately, I have not been able to find anyone who made a sound or video recording. :-(

Thank you for writing such a beautiful piece of music!! I hope to send you a donation when our budget allows.
Sheila Doak
Director of Music
Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Quad Cities
PERFECT! This is exactly what I had hoped would happen when I first began posting these arrangements online, that someone who needed a quick resource, whose budget was strained, but  who was doing something for the community, would take the arrangement, make it fit their situation, and then SING it.

Knowing that, in addition to celebrating thanksgiving, they would also use the song to help benefit a teen center makes me even happier. And happier, still, that they didn't really know me until they went looking!

Now, I've made a couple of new friends, and have seen Peter's and my song used for exactly kind of service we had envisioned.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

The Day John Lennon Died.

I know I've told this story on the blog, but it came roaring back to me when my old drummer, Chris Hawkins, found me on Facebook and sent me this note.

Steve, I am sure you vividly remember Dec.8, 1980. We were in Columbus Ohio playing at the Rodeway Inn hotel. There was snow on the ground and it was freakin cold for us Texas boys. I will always remember that day. We had heard that John Lennon was shot and killed in NYC and you opened our set that night with a few songs of John's. I was only 18 at the time. That day will never be forgotten for me. You made such an impact on me just seeing how sad you were with Lennon's death and you performed a few songs beautifully in John's name. I will be thinking of that day back in 1980 tommorrow just as I have for the last 29 years. It is so great to have contact with you again.

Best Regards, Chris

What Chris did not know at the time was the rest of the story.

It was really cold, as he said. We were in the middle of a long night doing cover songs to a crowd of two, the bartender and a drunk chick at the bar. But the manager said we had to play the whole night, so we had done three or four sets already and I had gone back to the room before the last set, flipped on the TV and saw the announcement.

A profound sadness settled over me. I called my best friend back in NY, Diane, and commiserated with her. Then went back to the club.

With no one in there, I agreed to just sit and sing so that we'd fulfill the contract, and everyone else could just chill until the clock ran out.

I sat down at the piano, feeling the enormity of the death, when I reached out to the piano and began playing "Imagine." I played it all the way through without a single mistake. Now, you're thinking, not such a big deal. Popular song. Everyone knew it, etc.

But I had never played it before.

Not once. Not even in rehearsal. I just heard it in my head, put my fingers on the keys, leaned into the mic, pictured John's face, and started singing.

I guess I must have talked about and sang a few other songs. I don't remember.

So, when Chris sent me this note, I was so happy just to know that he remembered that night from all those years ago -- and that it meant so much to his 18-year old mind.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Gypsy of the Year

Today, sitting with Jake at the Gypsy of the Year competition, Judith Light stepped forward to ask for a moment of silence in remembrance of people who died. She was there at the first one and she said people who weren't alive during that time will never know the kind of extreme loss of that year, when people were dying by the hundreds and thousands.

Having gone through a lot of memorial services, including my own, I tend to be pretty hard to move to tears.

But, without warning, my eyes started just gushing tears. Jake patted me on the shoulder, but I didn't react to him. I wasn't even sure what I was feeling, except loss.

Loss of entire generation of gay men. The ones -- as Fran Liebowitz puts it in the hysterical HBO movie, Public Speaking -- who were the most likely to get laid. That's a punchline, of course, but the underlying truth, she says, is that the smartest, most talented and beautiful died. We're left with third and fourth level talent. Not just the artists, she says, but the audience.

The audience died. The smart, informed audience. As effectively as if they'd been cut down in a war. I would have been one of those victims, too, if my name hadn't been picked in the Crixivan lottery.

I just cried at the enormity of it. The crying turned into weeping and then, when I started gasping, I just took control of it and put it back under control, wiping away rivers of tears.

Honestly? It felt good. I just wasn't expecting it.

I also got an email:
Thank you for your gift of music with MY THANKGIVING PRAYER.  Three congregations that used to be on three adjoining corners in Davenport, Iowa continue meet together annually to celebrate an Interfaith Thanksgiving service:  Temple Emmanuel, the Unitarian Church and Edwards Congregational UCC.  This was our 67th year of worship and fellowship together.  Each year a speaker is chosen representing a community of need in our Quad Cities.  This year we heard about homelessness and gathered funds for the new youth shelter in Illinois, across the Mississippi River. 
Hosted by the Unitarians, we had a combined choir of male and female voices in November, doing our beset to make the PRAYER sound beautiful…and people were moved by your music which the Unitarian choir director chose.  Thank you for making this music available for our use.  Many have been blessed by your creativity.  May the blessings return now to you.
 Advent Peace to you.
Rev. Jean Norton
Minister of Music
Edwards United Church of Christ
3420 Jersey Ridge Road
Davenport, IA 52807
I wrote her back and asked if anyone recorded it. I also invite readers to see if anything shows up on YouTube.

And Iowa. Hm. Maybe I should run for president. As a third and fourth level guy, I'm at least as qualified as that woman with the reality show.

Friday, December 03, 2010

I'm Number Five!

Hello Steve

I just wanted to inform you about a new piece we've published over here at LPN to RN Blog called "Top 50 Blogs About HIV and AIDS." I found Bonus Round to be very interesting and relevant, so I thought that both you and your readers might enjoy the article. Please do let me know if you have any questions or comments --
Warm Regards,
Alba Collazo
Co-founder, LPN to RN Blog

I went there and saw I'm number 5! So I wrote this Alba back and said, "I claim FOUL! That nasty little Shawn Decker came in number 1! That's so wrong! Why... why... why... I was the one who talked him into his online blog/diary in the first place!"

Okay. No, I didn't. I think, actually, this is the first time someone's put me on a list. I wrote her, thanking her very much for the honor, and also mentioned that since my mom is a retired RN, nurses mean a lot to me. They're the real front line of health care, and there's not a doctor who will disagree. (Okay, maybe one or two, but then we wouldn't go to that kind.)

Thanks. As a matter of fact, one of the men I met at the University Glee Club asked me if I ever did health-related concerts for schools. (Yes, I do.)

Jim Brochu to Appear in All-Star Project Shaw Heartbreak House.

If you're in New York, you might want to grab a ticket to Project Shaw's Heartbreak House at the Players Club, as these things sell out fast. Jim will be joining an all-star cast.

Jim Brochu, Alison Fraser, Elizabeth Inghram, John Martello, Brian Murray, Elena Shaddow, A.J. Shively, Emily Skinner, Mary Testa, and Lenny Wolpe will be featured in Project Shaw's presentation of George Bernard Shaw's Heartbreak House, to be presented at The Players, on Monday, December 20 at 7pm. David Staller will direct.

The comedy is sent in an English country house crammed full of revelations, romance, light comedy and earth-shaking adventure--just before WW1 changes everything. Time Out New York's David Cote will hosts the evening, and New York Times journalist David Belcher will narrate.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

For World AIDS Day: Going It Alone

All Singers Come Thursday Night.

Come sing with me!

Show up Thursday night. It's going to be a free-wheeling concert, unplanned. But I know I'll be doing a few of the big gospel numbers from New World Waking. We'll make up the harmonies on the spot. You do not need to know the songs to sing.

9:00 PM. ARRIVE 8:45 PM.

New York Ethical Culture Society Building
West 64th & Central Park West, 4th floor

I Am Spartacus, SoulForce Style.

SoulForce has this simple idea, started by South African AIDS activist Zackie Achmat, and then repeated in Canada by my friend, Rev. Jim Mitulski and Dr. Joshua Love; a way to help end the stigma of HIV. Stigma causes death because, among many other things, it makes people afraid to get tested and to get treatment.
December 1, 2010 is World AIDS Day.  At Soulforce, our focus for this day of remembrance is on solidarity with people who are stigmatized by the diagnosis of HIV/AIDS.  We want to invite you to  join us in an action on World AIDS Day that you can do all by yourself and with people in your community.
Here are the steps:
Take out a plain t-shirt and a big magic marker and print “HIV+” on the shirt.  Then wear it to the coffee shop or work or to school, to the store or the gym.  Encourage people to ask you about it and then tell them “I am standing in solidarity today with people who are living with HIV and AIDS around the world.  As long as one person has HIV, I have HIV and my t-shirt is designed to say exactly that—no one is immune, all of us are in the fight to stop AIDS together.”
Go to their blog and read the whole inspiring history. 

The Faces of HIV.

Positively Aware publishes "A DAY WITH HIV IN AMERICA" pictorial.