Monday, April 30, 2012

World Debut of "Fill It With Music."

A new song dedicated to Father Jeffrey Hamblin and musical director Mark Janas, and to the people of Christ Church, Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Miami Sun-Sentinel on "New World Waking"

A terrific article by Philip Valys.

"I was also a big, stocky kid in high school, but bullies made me feel weak physically and emotionally. When I discovered music and theater, that's when I found my strength."

This is why "New World Waking!" an anti-bullying concert debuting tonight at Aventura Arts and Cultural Center, resonates with Castellanos. He sings second tenor for INSIGNIA, the 16-man vocal ensemble of Miami Gay Men's Chorus, which is staging the 45-minute revue created by composer Steve Schalchlin. The concert packs 14 poignant, if brief, anecdotal numbers preaching peace and social justice while tackling themes of violence in wars, homophobia and transphobia, and broader-scale corporate bullying.
"It's a roller coaster of emotions that are hard to deal with, and definitely thought-provoking for me," Castellanos adds. "There's a song for every emotion, and this concert is a book full of inspirational stories and, unfortunately, ugly things we don't want to look at, like bullying and hurting other people and not accepting each other. When you face those things, you realize they don't have as much power as you thought they did."  

Monday, April 23, 2012

Singing In The Choir

This past Sunday, the members of the church choir at Christ Church, Bay Ridge Brooklyn, stayed after the service and sang with me. I've been writing a submission for the Dear Harvey "contest" being held by the San Francisco Gay Men's Choir.

The singers in this choir are so good. And they're also young, fresh, talented, can read music, and sing just about anything. We sang, in the service, a Beethoven "Hallelujah" that would have taken most choirs months to learn. This choir learned it in just one rehearsal.

When Fr. Jeff Hamblin and Mark Janas created this choir, it wasn't merely for vanity's sake. He really believes that  sacred music, especially when beautifully and expertly, and meaningfully sung, brings the presence of God into a room -- and is an essential part of the liturgy. 

I confess that when I began at the church, it was purely because I wanted to sing and work under the baton of Mark Janas, because he is as close to a maestro as I've gotten in my life. I knew, coming to New York City, to put myself with people who knew, and could do, more than me. 

I didn't really know anything about the church itself. And I had never fully participated in traditional liturgical services, having grown up Baptist. I honestly, going into this, didn't even know what a liturgy was. Our country services were far more free-form, though, by habit, most Baptist churches more or less do the same things every Sunday. 

So, as I say, when I started there -- I believe the choir was probably a year or two old, by then -- I knew nothing about the structure of the service. I was there to learn. I was there as a student. With this amazing choir on hand, I could write songs and, with Mark, write arrangements, and hear them the following morning! How incredible is that! 

Eventually, because of the songs I was writing, they honored me with a title, "resident composer." What the congregation seems to respond to is the fact that my songs depart from the style of traditional liturgical music. They're more personal. They bring in a newer Gospel sound. It gives them a chance to experience a variety of music on a Sunday morning. And I generally sing the song just after 'the peace." (Where everyone goes around and says, "Peace be with you." It's a more informal moment in the service -- after the scripture readings and sermon, and before the Eucharist.)

I still don't completely relate, personally, to a liturgical service. The modern skeptic in me, combined with my Baptist heritage. It all feels somewhat alien. But I do love singing the music and being a part of a service that means to much to so many people. This church does good work in the community and in the world, such as collecting money for people in Haiti. 

Next week, I'm going to debut a new song written just for them, and about Fr. Jeff and Mark's work. It won't put Beethoven out of business, but it will be directly from the heart. And that's what really matters.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Out with Mark and Jake.

Jake did his daily run down to the Village to pick up Mark. We were to meet at the 42nd Street AMC to see "The Cabin in the Woods." Though I don't love slasher pics, I heard this one had a little twist, and I love surprises. I didn't realize how funny it would be, though. But definitely bloody.

Then, we went to the Polish Tea Room for soup and a sandwich. Then, over to the hot, new XL Club, which is at the heart of a "gay urban resort" called The OUT NYC. A very nice man took us around and showed it off. I can very much see it as a fun place to hang. (It has upscale hostel rooms, four beds to a room with privacy curtain -- and, at your feet, a wide screen TV with headphones. Hundred bucks a night. Not bad in a neighborhood where even the pod-room Yotel goes for over $250. Of course, you may have to fight off unwanted intrusions, but then, that's just life, isn't it?)

I mentioned before that he, like me, is by nature, rather bull-headed. So, he doesn't like to show weakness. None of us do. But I think if you've had brain surgery, it's not really showing strength to try to do too much. It just makes everyone worry.

He came to church this past Sunday -- I'm in the choir -- and sat with the choir master, Stephen Elkins, allowing Steve to conduct most of the hymns. But then Mark stood and conducted the songs we repeat each Sunday. And I could just see the energy of the music filling him. I think it's a great way to balance what he can do and what he should be doing. And Stephen gets conducting lessons from one of finest conductors in the city.

So, if you're worrying about Mark, I'm here to report that he's letting us do things for him. Carry stuff. Walk him up to his apartment. Pick up the cane when it falls from a chair. Yes, he can do all those things himself, but if he were to fall or get dizzy, it wouldn't be good for him to be alone. He knows this and he accepts it as part of the healing process.

Also, his partner, David -- who is a very creative artist and writer himself -- and Tanya Moberly are putting together a 60th birthday party for him. Venue still to be announced.  Everyone who ever knew him is invited. And instead of gifts -- no place in his apartment anyway -- there'll be a place where people can put a few dollars to help him in getting back on his feet.

 I hadn't known about the birthday party when I first announced my concert plan because we were just back from a trip. So, I'm relieved. We can breathe a little and take our time putting together the New World Waking tour.

And on that note, some really stellar talents are beginning to ask me if they can be involved. They like the fact that they can drift in and out of the performances, and that each one will be different. And no big boring group rehearsals. And all of them love Mark and want to help him in some way.

I'm also adding congregations who have heard about the project. As things become more formal, I'll give out specific news. In this biz, announcing things before they've come to completion is not good for the project cuz you never know what can happen. Luckily, with New World Waking, all I need is a piano and a few willing volunteers.

Monday, April 16, 2012

My First Acting Class.

His name is Andy Gale and if you live in New York City and you're looking for an acting teacher who will bring out the very best in what you do, run, don't walk to Andy's class. If you can get in.

There. I said it and I mean it.

But, be on notice. He doesn't advertise -- he only takes people on referral or recommendation -- and he doesn't accept everyone who wants in. As he put it, life is too short to work with people who don't want to learn or who are unpleasant to be around.

When I first went to one of his classes, it was really just because Mark Janas was playing piano and the class was aimed at singers who wanted to learn how to better audition, and given the fact that I've never had an acting class, I thought it might be fun.

Called "Acting the Song," the format is simple. First, he pulls a song out of his satchel -- usually some number or standard from days of yore -- and we just pass the song around, verse by verse, and warm up. Then, we perform a number, usually something we want to audition with, and Andy directs you with commentary.

Pretty easy, huh?

I did a few of these with new songs, but finally performing "Save Me A Seat" along with the opening monologue from The Last Session. Since I've done this scene/song a thousand times -- and since it's the only actual monologue I know -- I figured I was pretty safe.

And I was.

Except that Andy drew things from me, during that scene that I didn't know were in me. But mostly,  he solidified what I inherently already kinda "knew" but weren't sure about. Enforcement. Security. That's what he gave me.

So, when I heard about his "scene study" class -- same format, no songs -- I thought it'd be a hoot to get out from behind the piano and actually do a scene from something that was not either written by me, or based on me -- both of Jim's and my musicals are autobiographical.

He asked me if I had any monologues and I said, "No. I've never seen the inside of an acting class."

"Okay," he said. "I'll choose something for you."


I said, "Do I need  to memorize it? Are you going to send it to me?"

"No," he responded. "We'll just have you read it. I don't want you to start acting. I'd prefer to start with a blank slate. Too often, I spend most of my time erasing what other bad acting teachers have taught."

Now, I've always admired great acting. The cliche that you hear is that great acting is no acting. But all I could think of was, "Right. Like, how do those great actors cry on cue?" Is there a button they push inside? I could never just cry on cue. I would be terrified for someone to yell, "Action" and suddenly, I have to start crying.

I walked into the room, with Jake (!) who's also in the class (whew), and the first actor got up and did a monologue. He was good, but Andy stopped him immediately because there was something artificial about what he was doing. It wasn't that he didn't have presence and poise. It just felt like, well, acting. As, in one moment, he was standing there saying howdy to everyone, and in the next instance, he was ACTING.

So,  Andy stopped him and pulled a little trick on him that I won't reveal here. But, suddenly the ACTING felt like actual TALK. It was suddenly bursting with LIFE. It made us laugh and feel. The difference was remarkable. Like a wall had been torn down and instead of watching someone emote, I was emoting along with him, being drawn into the scene as if I were a part of it.

Then, he had me go second.


Okay. I can do this.

"The scene I've chosen for you is one I think you'll relate to," he said. "It's from the play 'As Is.'"

I've not seen this play, but I knew about it. It's one of the first plays about AIDS.

He continued, "It's the final scene, and it's a monologue by a hospice worker."

I said, "I've sung for hospice workers before."

He said, "I know that. I thought you should start with something you won't have trouble relating to. And don't rush. Just read."

Well, I looked down at the paper and started reading: "We have a new AIDS patient, Richard."

And I immediately burst into tears.

Really? In front of all these people, on the spot, with everyone watching, I was six words in, and already I was a mess. The monologue was, really, about how this worker felt burned out and angry, at God, at unfeeling families, at nurses afraid to approach AIDS patients, etc.

As I coursed through the monologue, I found myself raging, crying, holding back tears, and just living inside that text. Even the words "Where would I go but St. Vincent's?" had me devastated, as I remembered walking by the now shut-down facility, for a time one of the only hospitals in New York that would even take AIDS patients.

As I finished, Andy said, "Well, no one would ever guess that you've never done this before."

He gave me some notes, telling me that I don't have to hold back, that I can let all the emotions fly.

He said, "When you read this, what situation would you possibly find yourself in, saying these word?"

I said, "The first thought that comes to me is maybe a training course for other hospice workers. Like I'm telling them about my experience. To prepare them."

"Let's go with that. I trust first thoughts."

And I did it again. And this time, it was even more emotional. More connected.

I know I probably have a long way to go before anyone would call me a great or even good actor. But I learned a great lesson that day, watching the others, doing it myself. That the job isn't to PERFORM. The point isn't to show off. The idea is to be present and honest, and to relate to whomever is in the scene with you.

And I knew this. I have known it all along.

But, since acting begins with an artifice, standing in front of people saying words already written, you have to find ways of breaking the artifice and making it real.

In reflection, I realize that, sitting around that table, I was still acting. I had trouble looking into the eyes of the other participants. I was still putting on a little show. So, I have work to do. More to learn.

But, more than anything else, I realized something to myself, "I can do this. I really can do this."

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Friday, April 13, 2012

Honoring the 30th Anniversary, Beirut Veterans.

I'm sincerely proud to have lent the song "My Thanksgiving Prayer" to the memorial page to "the 270 KIA while serving as Peacekeepers of the Multi-National Peacekeeping Force, Beirut Lebanon 1982-1984. To the 220 Marines, 18 Sailors, and 3 Soldiers (241) KIA on October 23, 1983. To the Survivors who will forever live with the memory of that fateful day. To the Beirut Veterans who, after returning home, struggled with PTSD and took their own lives. And to all their Families. ~Semper Fidelis~"

Personal Update (and Mark Janas).

Last week, while on a ship on the other side of the world where Jim was performing Zero Hour, I got word that Mark Janas, my friend, musical mentor and support system for a lot of people on this island, was taken in for brain surgery. Just before we left, he began getting some facial paralysis.

Then, I received notice from Salon producer, Tanya Moberly, informing us he had gone in for brain surgery. There was a tangle of blood vessels on his brain stem, where all the nerves go out to the body -- and that it would only get worse if left untreated. 

He told the surgeon that he was a pianist, and he pleaded that he not lose control of his hands. The surgeon smiled and said he was a bass player, himself, and that he would be very careful.

The surgery was successful and I've spent the last week (along with other friends of Mark's) being with him. His partner, David, is out of state and he asked us not to let him be alone for at least a week.

Happily, Mark has responded to therapy. He's walking much more strongly than before, and though his face is still partially paralyzed, it seems to be responding a little more each day.

As for his playing, it's all there. In fact, like me, he's been up early, in the middle of the night, playing and playing with a passion he says he never felt before. 

So, for friends of Mark who haven't received this news, I'm very sorry to be the bearer of sad news. For everyone, I'm happy to report that he is upbeat, determined and hard to keep down. I've had to give him mini-lectures about allowing us to care for him. About how to be a compliant and healthily responsive patient.

I saw my own endocrinologist and he is thrilled with my progress. I've had no sugar spikes, even with the rich food on the ship. I am doing an injection before every meal, and another at night. I thanked him for his care and he said, "You're the one doing the work."

I've also been speeding up the time table for the New World Waking here in New York. Teaming with the sanctuary choir at Christ Church, Bay Ridge (where Mark is minister of music and I serve as resident composer), along with other friends of Mark's from the cabaret, theater and nightclub community, we are putting together a fundraiser for Mark, so he can continue to recuperate. I know other groups are planning similar shows.

Though it began as a formal concert at Davies Symphony Hall, complete with the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus and the Women's Community Orchestra, New World waking is now a theatrical concert piece with Andy Gale directing, and Jim Brochu and I revising the book as we go along.

The plan for the show is that it's an ecumenical theatrical event touring churches and synagogues, and any other inviting houses of worship here in the City. I already have commitments from several congregations, plus we're talking to theaters and night clubs around the city. 

If anyone reading this wishes to join us, again, we are only now putting it all together, but you can access a folder with a README file, a script, mp3s, and sheet music to the songs. The set-up is simple. A theatrical concert featuring solos, duets, small groups, backed by the full company. People who wish to participate should go to the folder, choose a couple of solos to learn, and be ready to make up the harmonies on the group songs. We will avoid large group rehearsals and improv the backgrounds during the concert.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

TESTIMONY from SFGMC and Stephen Schwartz

If you haven't seen this, watch it now. It's a stunning song based on testimonies from the "It Gets Better" project, and the music is written by Broadway composer of "Wicked," the wonderful Stephen Schwartz. Also, wanted to send congrats to my buddy, Ken McPherson, who got his first mention in BroadwayWorld for his rendition of "Popular" from "Wicked." 

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Jim Brochu at Feinstein's April 29th.

Jim will be at Feinstein’s at the Regency on April 29th, premiering a part of his new show, “Jim Brochu: Character Man,” all about the great Broadway character men and the songs they got to introduce. In this preview, he’ll be singing songs introduced by David Burns, Barney Martin and Zero Mostel.
The evening, Randie Levine-Miller's Showstopper Divos, begins at 6:30pm with a glass of wine and dinner. The show starts at 8pm. Joining Jim will be Tony nominee Stephen Bogardus, MAC Award winner Nicolas King, Myles Savage from the original “Platters” and Broadway baby, and Kevin Spirtas.

The price of the evening is $125.00, includes the wine, dinner, show and party, a terrific price for Feinstein’s.

Order tickets here.