Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Olympian Heights!

It takes just as much effort and energy to make a small event as it does to make a big event. So, you might as well make a big event. And yes, I'm talking about Olympia.

The fact that it's where the concept of New World Waking was born. The fact that the professor wants the students to have the full theatrical experience of putting on a show, including auditions for solos, etc.

The fact that we have two days to make it work.

The fact that it's in a place called Olympia.

(You go to Olympian heights in Olympia!)

The fact that everyone wants to get involved and make it great, this project evolved from the original "We should get Steve here to sing" Steve concert to full scale community event, raising money for PFLAG-Olympia,  growing and changing before my very eyes, with a cast of thousands!

I can't just show up and do a couple of numbers. We have to put on a show! So, I have been scrambling through all my folders looking for sheet music, and adding it to scripts, mp3s,etc. into a virtual folder -- thank you, google docs -- and everyone participating in the show can access it.
I'm so glad I spent all last year putting together newer arrangements for different vocal ranges. Given the fact that the first incarnation was a male chorus, most of the arrangements I had before were for male voices.)

The structure of the piece is simple. Songs connected by relevant quotes, or background material setting the context for the next song.

How the songs are sung, what the stage looks like, what costumes should or shouldn't be worn, what choreography should or shouldn't be added, lights, multi-media -- all of that is up for grabs. We can do as little or as much as the material will support. Key being just because you CAN do something doesn't mean you SHOULD.

And maybe some enterprising young filmmaker will tape it all and make a movie. Any volunteers? Or maybe have everyone in the room shoot footage at different times. Crowdsource it and edit that together.

It'll be terrifying that first day. I remember how the songwriter workshops used to terrify me. Creating in front of others!

So, the next question is, when they ask me to write a press release, what exactly do I say? How do I describe, in advance, what I don't know is going to happen?

And how do I let the students know that from this point on, there are no rules?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Movable Feast.

I love music.

Oddly (or not), I don't obsess over music. I don't sit over a keyboard for hours and hours. I don't set a time every day where I will write only music or songs. I know people who do, and I envy that kind of concentration, but, for me, the writing of the song never stops. No matter where I am or what I'm doing, the writing never stops. 

This next Sunday I will be going into the studio to finish up "Rescue." Peter Link and I are still searching for the exact right sound for the album. I've been orchestrating, over-orchestrating, stripping everything down to the bone and back again. 

Right now, there's a temp vocal track. It's one I cut during the time I had the kidney stone. I think that particular Sunday, it had just passed but I was still very weak and in a lot of pain. Maybe we should keep it. 

The next song is going to be "Every Day A New Amen."

I had a long talk -- by phone! -- with my dear friend, D. Whitney Quinn, who is, for me, one of the greatest songwriters on this planet. But you've probably never heard of him because he isn't 19, pretty and on a reality show. 

Whitney and I bonded at Kulak's Woodshed, where I was the volunteer camera guy and he was the quiet, somewhat fragile looking person who sat meekly at the piano and then tore your guts out as he chain-sawed through family pain, existential pain, my pain, your pain, and did it with a wicked little half-grin letting you know this shit hurts but it ain't gonna defeat me.

Since Whitney more or less thinks the same about me -- and he has said so on many occasions; usually we're trying to out-compliment each other. (Your turn, Whitey!) -- it feels great to just talk music with him.

But that conversation reminded me that while a musician can live a life hunched over an instrument, a songwriter has to be out in the world, listening, trying, crying.

He said, "You've been singing a lot in churches."

I said, "It was to my great surprise that the songs from my three theater pieces can also be sung in churches." Then I told him how, by volunteering at Christ Church Bay Ridge, I now have a professional choir filled with young opera and musical theater singers and world class musical director, Mark Janas. So that has led me to singing in church a lot, which love to do. 

We were discussing the current sad state of affairs with regards to music because now it's all about selling out for money. Music used to be our salvation. Now it's a get rich quick scheme, where the younger you are, and more aggressive your parents are, you can become a teen sensation for a few minutes.

The emptiness of the relentless culture -- like a person dying of thirst at sea -- can be depressing, but for an artist who actually believes in the music, like Adele, it's a land of opportunity. It may seem like the corporate monopoly is in full force, but with YouTube, anyone can be found.

And I believe in my my music. As fragile as my body may sometimes be, music still comes out. And it's thrilling for me to know that next month, I'll be heading back to Olympia to work with college students. I haven't done this in years.

And that's why "The Movable Feast," title of the blog entry.

Because I'm now going to extend the experiment of "New World Waking," which, as a performance piece, is a modular, flexible piece of theater. I've sung it solo. I've sung it with actors. I've heard it with choirs. And now we're going to do it with students.

After the great success of trying the "modular" theory here in New York -- i.e. rehearse each cast member individually and then hear it all together, for the first time, along with the audience, thus giving everyone an "opening night" experience, where both audience and cast essentially are one because the cast becomes part of the audience and, with the sing-alongs at the end, the audience becomes the cast -- I thought it might be fun to try it with college students.

When Gabi and Alec contacted me about singing a concert in Olympia next month, and told me I'd be doing workshops with theater students there, it hit me that instead just talking about theater, we could create a theater piece ourselves. Then they can go through the process and see how shows get put together.

What gives all of this resonance, of course, is the fact that it was in Olympia that I encountered John Lennon's Imagine Piano -- I remember the reporter to sidled up to me, asking me I felt his "energy" or "anything" in the piano when I played it. And I remember laughing to myself at how much John Lennon would have hated the thought of anyone turning it into some kind of supernatural shrine.

But something was born that day. A song cycle called "New World Waking." 

If I can engage the students right from the start, maybe even video our work, or find some aspiring filmmaker student who wants to make a film, we could share this with the world. 

But that won't be the point of it. The point will be to sing the songs and create a moment.

Church. Theater. If you're singing or telling truth, it doesn't matter if it's church, theater, a cabaret or the corner bar.

We'll create something unique and meaningful and passionate. 

And then we'll do it again the next night. All for PFLAG. All for Bill Clayton.

We're also going to be doing it again here in New York very soon. No exact dates yet. No performers to announce. But it is going to happen.

I've already been asked.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Olympia July 29 & 30. Save the Date.

Olympia is Holy Ground for me.

It's where I played John Lennon's Imagine piano. (My brother ridicules me on this, saying he touched Ian Anderson's flute or something). But forget them! Onward we go.

That moment fired a musical insurrection in my soul which turned into a free-form piece called New World Waking, a kind of folk theatrical even that, like Spider-Man costume, conforms to the talent at hand.

This time around, I will be conducting a workshop for students from South Puget Sound Community College, some or all of whom will be joining me on stage.

We also plan to have at least one great local guest artist, depending on which persona he thinks is most appropriate.

WHAT: A "Steve Schalchlin & Friends" concert.

WHEN: Friday July 29th and Saturday, July 30th at 8 p.m.

The Kenneth J. Minnaert Center for the Arts Black Box Theater,
South Puget Sound Community College, 2011 Mottman Road SW, Olympia, WA 98512

WHY: a benefit for PFLAG-Olympia http://pflag-olympia.org/

Tickets: $20 general admission, $10 SPSCC students.

I will have more info, like how and where to get tickets, soon.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Korea's Got Talent Singer Tells Tear-Inducing Story.

From Asylum:

Warning, this video had me, and everyone in the room, crying like a baby. Just makes you appreciate the human spirit.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Takin' Over Boston.

Okay, I'm not actually taking over Boston, but Jake and I are singing at the annual meeting of the Christian Science church #TMC2011, right there at the mother church in Boston, along with our friends, Peter Link, Julia Wade and a number of others.

Posing dramatically in front of the mother church in Boston.

I don't really know that much about the Christian Science religion except that they believe very strongly in the healing power of the mind and prayer. And any doctor or nurse will tell you in that if a patient does not want to live, and gives up mentally, the chances of survival are nil. But if a person really does want to live, and puts his whole mind and being into surviving, it makes a world of difference. I am witness to this.

I have sung in synagogues, orthodox Christian churches, liberal Christian churches, conservative -- you name it. I will go anywhere I'm invited because I believe in the healing power of music.

Jake Wesley Stewart and me.
Jake and me.

Peter Link is producing the event we are a part of,
called Expanding Our Music.

CNN Heroes spotlights African AIDS Activist.

During the 1990s in rural Kenya, Patricia Sawo believed that HIV/AIDS was a punishment from God.   When she discovered she was HIV positive, she prayed and fasted for years, hoping that would heal her.  When her condition became public, she and her husband lost their jobs and their home because of the stigma surrounding the disease.  Eventually, Patricia not only realized that she’d been wrong, but also that public attitudes about HIV in Kenya needed to change.  Now, she works to educate her community and care for those impacted by the disease, including the nearly 100 children she supports through her Discover to Recover Centre.

The link to Patricia’s story is available here http://on.cnn.com/h0VOJM.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Driving Miss Dancer

Marge Champion, at 91, has more energy and zip than anyone else I know. When she heard I was going up to the Berkshires to see Jim, she said I could ride with her. In the car, along with her friend, Tom, who drove us, was her cat, Daisy.

At one point, we were approaching a house that she particularly likes, and I got her, on camera, saying that if the owner was single, she'd marry him just for the view.

Loving Marge Champion is the easiest thing in the world to do. She goes to every show in New York, knows dancing like few others, and, for me, makes the case that if you dance every day, no matter how old you are, you will always look good and feel healthy. (We Baptists don't dance, of course. And, all due respect to the preacher, this is one of the dumbest Baptist beliefs. Tell Gene Kelly not to dance.)

Trying to tell her whole story here would take too long, but I took these pictures from a souvenir program.

Marge and Gower Champion were America's sweethearts.

With Donald Saddler, she more recently got rave reviews for their appearance in "Follies."
It was a great ride, and great to see Jim. I'll continue my trip to the Berkshires in the next blog entry.