Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Composer Porn

The Last Session-London Music Director Thomas Turner with composer/lyricist Steve Schalchlin
If it's not officially registered in the Book of Mormon as a sin, it outta be.

To sit in a room with a ridiculously talented stranger who's singing and playing your music at you. Thomas Turner has a reedy, affecting tenor and seems incapable of singing without meaning it.

It shows in his playing, too. He has genuine soul.

Our job, this day, was to run through the Sam French (which licenses plays and musicals) score of The Last Session, talk about some of the moments and make a few corrections. And also, to insert new piano arrangements which I have recently completed.

We also discussed the casting. It seems we are getting all our first choices. I can't say anything official yet. We'll wait till after the Olympics. Plus, all the paperwork needs to be completed, etc.

But what I can tell you is that the experience of sitting and listening to someone sing your songs at you is just the greatest and most terrifying thing -- for both parties. They're always so afraid of doing something "wrong" or badly. And I never even think in those terms. All I ever care about is whether they are meaning it. 

Do you see what I mean? Even if this person doesn't have the greatest of voices, I'd rather hear that person than someone who can nail every note, but who isn't fully embodying the song itself. This is not opera. Technique is a consideration, but it's secondary in the overall scheme of things. Or should be. Maybe even in opera. 

However, when you have someone who has a truly beautiful instrument -- and who has spent many years developing that instrument -- and who is a gifted actor, there's nothing like it. Everything is transcended. 

Anyway, that's what we did. I snapped a picture of us, above.


I've been asked to write a more fleshed-out version of how the score came to be. And what specific things we were looking at -- and why we were making any changes at all. So, this is long, but it's informative. For aspiring composers and playwrights, here's how this show score got put together.

Let's start by saying that I didn't sit on a hilltop with quill and a piano, and write it down, note for note. As a matter of fact, at the time I had never really written any music down. In the pop world, where I come from, you don't write out a score. You make a demo. In fact, in L.A. and Nashville, writing out the song is a pointless exercise. If you don't have a demo, you don't have a song. 

I could read music, but it's like being a person who can understand Spanish but not be able to speak it.

So, how can it be that a person can have a musical and yet not be able to write it down? Let's walk down that path a bit. 

First of all, this was 1997 and, in case you're new around here, I didn't write these songs to be in a show. I wrote them as musical therapy. Writing them kept me alive. I was barely able to hold my head off the pillow, sometimes sleeping for days at a time. A "musical" was the last thing on my mind. Mostly because I didn't come from that world. I was a pop songwriter.

When Jim wrote the book, and we did our first workshops, the cast members and I just made up the harmonies on the spot. I was playing and singing. We were more like a band than a show cast.

This tradition carried forward into New York to Off-Off-Broadway where the new producers asked me for the vocal arrangements. Vocal arrangements? You mean we can't just jam? No. This was no longer a workshop.The actors actually need to know what you want them to sing. In professional theater, you can't just say, "Here. Make it up."

I did, at the time, have some rudimentary charts written. (No computer score writing program was available). They looked like something a 6th grader might write out, but they did reflect, for the most part, the basic songs.

I don't think I had ever even seen a Broadway show score, much less knew how to write one out. Luckily, they hired Michael Gaylord, who did a spectacular job for not a lot of money. In fact, at the time, he might have even done it for free, hoping it would move on so that he could get paid later. 

As for the piano, the main instrument in the show, when we cast Bob Stillman, a Princeton/Julliard graduate and Broadway veteran who can sing and play circles around just about anyone in this city, and who is a songwriter in his own right, we sat together going through the songs, and listened to the demos I had recorded.

I would show him what I played and he would "get it." But he was essentially playing the songs as I had written them. He also improvised intros and little musical moments. Eventually, these extras became set in stone. 

Still, with all that, when the actors sang the score, they had permission to also improvise. Bob would play different things every night. The singers sang as any rock band might sing. Absolutely live. It's one of the aspects that makes the show so believable. They might be "playing" a band, but they really WERE a band! 

But, over time, Bob had begun adding a level of sophistication that was beautiful, but felt kind of wrong to me. I didn't know how to articulate it. But it felt less like Steve and more like Bob. And I'm not criticizing Bob here. He would often ask me if I liked something, and I would more or less assent. 

What he didn't know was that I felt intimidated by his, well, awesomeness. And I had no experience dealing with this.

Anyway, we moved up from Off-Off Broadway to Off-Broadway and hired John Kroner as musical director.

At the first new rehearsal, I heard all my chords back in place. Like, out of the blue. So I nudged John and asked him what was happening. He said, "I listened to your demos and I liked those chords better." I said to him, "Oh. I thought I had played those chords because those were the only chords I actually COULD play." He said, "Hey man, you're better than you think you are. Have a little confidence."

Again, Bob never did anything wrong. He was totally asking me and I was encouraging him. Trouble is, I was too timid to say anything. And wouldn't have had the words, even if I had.

When Sam French came around, offering to license the show, they needed a whole score. By then, the cast members were so familiar with the material, every night was a new night. Once again, everyone looked at me and I felt like a complete idiot. Plus, how do you capture something like that on paper, when it's never the same show twice? I suddenly understood all the Deadheads, taping every show.

And that's kinda how this problem got solved. They taped a show and hired someone to listen to it and transcribe everything he heard, including Bob's improvisations and any particular riffs the singers sang. And THAT is what got frozen onto the page. I remember, at one point, wanting to make a correction to something, and was told that, no, Sam French wanted exactly that performance. Or maybe I imagined someone said that. I don't know. It was all very confusing. I was totally overwhelmed by the process.

A score was printed.

Later, after I didn't die, I was asked to perform the role of Gideon. It was my first time to really confront the score as a musician. Well, over the several years, in schools and in colleges and universities, I had sung and played these songs, solo, thousands of times -- and I now had more specific piano arrangements. I was more aware of what I was doing.

And I began writing out the music. Writing out what I was actually playing. At first, it was really hard. But, slowly, I was figuring it out. 

One of the songs I changed significantly was "At Least I Know." I changed the piano rhythm almost entirely. We had changed it, already, when the show moved from New York to L.A. To a more rockabilly style. 

So, now the score has totally new piano arrangements for "Save Me A Seat," "Going It Alone," and "At Least I Know" and we've eliminated the vocal improvisations. I just told Thomas to let the singers find their own improvisations. 

I am so excited, now. I hope they are able to record a new cast album.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Out of The Silence Project

Red Bow White Box - Out of The Silence: A calligraphic event spotlighting bullying.

The “Out of The Silence” project was born in late January, 2012, when Sally Penley attended a PFLAG*-sponsored event in Olympia, WA. The concert featured The Righteous Mothers and Steve Schalchlin, a New York-based singer/songwriter. Sally was so moved by Steve’s lyrics about his own life experience, The Righteous Mothers’ messages, the plight of gay youth and, more specifically, the issues of bullying and teen suicide, that she decided on the spot to figure out some way to help and lend her voice to the cause. She knew she couldn’t be silent.

After the concert, Sally approached Steve and told him she’d like to organize an art exhibit featuring his lyrics and some meaningful quotes on the issues, translated into powerful visual art. He liked the idea and contacted her when he returned to New York, suggesting that she meet with Gabi and Alec Clayton, parents of 17-year-old Bill Clayton who committed suicide after a gay bashing. Gabi and Alec were warmly receptive, gave their blessing to the concept and offered to help guide the effort as we move forward.


'via Blog this'

Growing old with HIV - The Washington Post

Growing old with HIV - The Washington Post:

As HIV-infected adults live longer, they are increasingly affected by such chronic illnesses as heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease and osteoporosis, common problems among many older people.

But studies suggest that those with HIV may be at higher risk for some of those illnesses and may get them earlier than usual.

HIV causes the immune system to fight the virus, and that inflammatory state continuously damages organs, even when antiretroviral medications are taken, researchers said.

'via Blog this'

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Starting Over.

The process of rebirth/renewal isn't a one-time thing. It's what we do every single time we decide to open our eyes. Every day we make a choice to live or to die. How many walking dead people do you know?

No wonder zombie shows are so big now. People love looking into the mirror.

Until they hate it. And then they'll switch back to vampires. Or fantasy heroes.

Meanwhile, they'll wake up again and make that choice. But how do you start? How does one start over even if you wanted to?

Well, it starts with that choice. Once you make it -- really make it -- the things you need will appear. You will find them.

We live in an age in which every possible piece of information is available on a simple touch screen.

If you cannot find it, it's because you haven't really chosen the reboot switch. You may want to have made it. You may have even told yourself that you want it.

But it means changing. Changing your habits. It may be as simple as deciding to not just clean the house, but to create a schedule that forces you to keep it that way. Over and over and over.

The choice isn't merely in your head. It's in your fingers and your feet.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Casting is happening in London.

It's all happening right now. They're casting The Last Session.

It's very exciting.

My New Meds.

My new anti-virals will be Sustiva and Epzicon, which, I think, is the technical term for a sound effect for the TV show, Wipeout .
"Sound an Epzicon when the giant hand hits the fat lady into the water!"

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Poison Darts Part 2.

Good news and bad news.

The bad news is that, upon follow-up, there is still blood in my urine. Dr. Tony says it's time to change my HIV meds, which will happen this week. I've been dreading it because I've been successfully using Atripla -- a three-med "cocktail" -- since it first came out. But, as I blogged before, one of those ingredients, though effective against HIV is, in his words, "a little poison dart to the kidneys."

The new combo will be two pills. One containing two meds and a third in the other pill. The thing about these pills is that they are a continuous form of chemotherapy. The side effects of which are slightly different for each person. I don't know how they'll react in my body. I dread it. But it's inevitable.

In DC this week, for the first time, the International AIDS Conference is in the U.S. -- held back all these years because of some stupid law (enforced by the evil of a racist, homophobic bigot American legislator named Jesse Helms, who had an ongoing affair with a black woman, who has now been removed from this planet by the God he pretended to follow) that prevented anyone with HIV from entering our country. A policy that lingered long past his overdue demise.

But the good news is that my blood sugar levels plunged down to normal range. My endocrinologist said it can take up to a year for the A1C to do that well. Mine went from over 9 to just over 6 in only a few months. He told me, "You're my best patient."

I love being the best patient.

When I started to write this blog, I realize I haven't posted in almost a month. For that I apologize. But during these dog days of intense heat and humidity, it feels like there's little to report except that I've been eating as well as I can, exercising... not at all. My one failing.

But... I've been writing music and lyrics. Writing and writing and writing. Putting myself through boot camp, almost. Every morning, focused intensely on learning, learning, learning.

Also, with the announcement of the revival of The Last Session in London, the producers have been furiously casting, and sharing with us, the possibilities. We will have news soon. It should all be tied up within the week.

So, think about me ingesting these new meds, even as I think of the many in this world who do not have access. Send a little prayer our way. And while you're doing that, I'll ask forgiveness for my ugly thoughts about certain southern dead legislators. It's never a good thing to cast negativity into the world. But I'm as human as the next person and sometimes it's better to just get it out.

Peace, love and justice to all. 

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Andy Griffith Defined Family and America.

The Andy Griffith Show was as much a part of the landscape of my youth as the front yard. Sometimes I thought it was boring because nothing much happened, but if Barney and Andy were in a scene, magic.

Not just because they were beyond funny. But because the warmth was palpable. The feelings of love and respect the characters had for each other was completely believable.

I felt that love in my own home, growing up. It's not that we lived the Andy Griffith Show. It's that it felt familiar and comfortable and true. People are that gentle, kind,  honest and sweet.

And "No Time For Sergeants." Where he manages to make an outrageously Southern yokel character not just believable, but like the only sane person in the world.

Later in life, I discovered "A Face In The Crowd."

Relentless in its exposure of celebrity. A character with no redeeming qualities. Even down to his harsh laugh, which irritates and yet still takes over the room.

An indelible career. A great artist.

If I had a TV network, I'd run these two movies back-to-back, all day long. They are as American as Mark Twain. And maybe just as profound.

Monday, July 02, 2012

BACKSTAGE at '54 Below'

Steve Schalchlin & Jim Brochu attending, and performing at BACKSTAGE at 54 Below,
the hot new night club's Sunday afternoon show.
Photo credit: Russ Weatherford.

Jim Brochu performing at BACKSTAGE at 54 Below,
the hot new night club's Sunday afternoon show.
Photo credit: Russ Weatherford.

Steve Schalchlin performing at BACKSTAGE at 54 Below,
the hot new night club's Sunday afternoon show.
Photo credit: Russ Weatherford.