Tuesday, July 30, 2013

You can see our movie online!

Thanks to Carl Conway Maguire and Megan Stein, Jim and I are now film actors. It helps when you're the oldest people the filmmaker knows.

Old Timers from Carl Conway Maguire on Vimeo.

Monday, July 29, 2013

"Old Timers" was great last night.

My "adopted" sons, the Jasons, who have made many appearances in this blog, including the one where Jimmy served as officiator of their wedding, were in town today. Both are extremely tech savvy, one helping to set up the new Cornell University tech campus coming to Manhattan (to be built on Roosevelt Island).

They went with me to Brooklyn to the Flux Fest, where Jimmy and I were starring in a movie (called "Old Timers") in competition, all based on time travel premises, plus other "prompts" that they picked out of a box. Prompts such as "white" or "mentor" or "revenge," etc. These prompts became the jumping off points for the films, most of which looked and sounded as professional as any feature film. Some even used special effects to great advantage.

Our movie, "Old Timers," is about two old friends who live next door to each other, and, having long ago found a time machine, decided to never use it because it got them into serious trouble once, where one of them was almost killed. Trouble happens when one of them doesn't quite fulfill the "don't use the time machine" mandate.

When it played last night, the audience laughed uproariously. They laughed at each prank and got every joke. And Jim was so gooood. Even I wasn't so bad. (Megan Stein and Carl Conway Maguire managed to edit out all my hammy moments. Thanks guys!)

People kept coming up to me at intermission and were so impressed that I was a movie star!

Ah, the riches and vanities of living in the bonus round.

Tragically, we didn't win any of the awards, but we did make an excellent short film together. I'm hoping they'll stream it soon.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Sewanee Conference & All Saints' Chapel in Tennessee.

All Saints' Chapel, Sewanee Tennessee
University of the South
It was fun to go from being almost a celebrity, hugging hundreds of open, happy people at the World Domination Festival's closing party to, a week later, being an anonymous songwriter at a conference of church musicians in the mountains of Tennessee.

I was in one of my most favorite spots: Tenor in the back row.

For one week a year, about 150 or so organists, musicians, musical directors and choir members assemble at Sewanee, Tennessee to learn about choral conducting, find new music for their own choirs, and generally get to know each other. Mark Janas was on scholarship, so they sent me along, too. As long as I'm writing music for the church, I might as learn something about it.

What I didn't expect was to get a University level lesson in choral conducting by one of the most talented and mind-blowing geniuses I've ever encountered, Richard Webster who is at Trinity Episcopal in Boston. Oh, my god. Working with him, you get things done. He really knows how to listen to the choir.

One of the goals of the conference is that you work all week, rehearsing difficult choral pieces, which you will then perform at the end of the week at All Saint's Chapel on the campus of the College of the South in Sewanee.

So, rather than attend lectures on choral conducting, you sit in the choir and do your best to keep up. I was lucky. At the performance, I had a brilliant baritone/bass sitting next to me who switched to tenor just to help me hang in there. And it wasn't easy. Benjamin Britten is not something to be sneezed at.

And Mark, who you might remember, studied with Leonard Bernstein was blown away by everything we were learning from Richard. You're never too old to learn.

It was really boot camp. It totally wore me out, but it was worth it. And I made some great new friends, too.

This place is stunning.

There's a VW Beetle in this pane of stained glass. Can you find it?

See anything unusual in this image?

I love the way the light catches her hair.

This is Cliff, a talented composer from Georgia.
We loved him and not just cuz he had a car.
The guy on the left is the one who saved my life by singing my part.

Me. Wonderful me.

93 years old and smarter than anyone else there.

Maestro Richard Webster.

Trailer for FluxFest.

Who wants to go to Brooklyn with me? Both Jim and I make quick appearances in this new trailer for Fluxfest, which is this Sunday. There will be 10 high quality short films competing on the subject of time travel. Jim Brochu and I star in the one called "Old Timers."

Flux Fest Promo #2 from Megan Stein on Vimeo.

FluxFest. (scroll down the page).
July 28, 2013.
Sandbox Studios Brooklyn
154 Morgan Ave, Brooklyn

PrashNYC is proud to present “Old Timers,” starring Jim Brochu and Steve Schalchlin. Written by Megan Stein and directed by Carl Conway Maguire, with cinematography by Grier Dill and production design by Brett Warnke.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

To my legal eagle activist reader.

This lawsuit has been brought to my attention and I wanted to pass it along. It's about a man being sued because he strongly criticized the work of an AIDS denialist. I didn't even know they still existed. But the one doing the suing reminds me of Saul on Breaking Bad.

Again, the link http://www.popehat.com/2013/07/23/popehat-signal-vengeful-aids-denialist-sues-critic-in-texas/

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

World Domination Summit Pt. 5: My Secret Weapon & The Mystery Solved.

 For #WDS2013 I had a big surprise: an Unexpected Choir. (Part 4 here).
David Peterson, at piano, drills members from the Portland Gay Men's Chorus.
Since the prizes are better in the bonus round, I always look for ways to bring something unexpected or extra any time I make an appearance. When Chris said it was in Portland, Oregon I immediately thought of my old L.A. friend, David Peterson, with whom I've sung, who's now with the Portland Gay Men's Chorus and I asked him if the chorus would sing with me. He asked me what I was singing for.

I said I wasn't sure what it was. But that it looked like a nice event. (At the time, I hadn't read that much about it). It was definitely not promoting some cult or religion. It's just people.

He said that they would have finished a long season and would be on break, but that he thought he could gather a group who were fast readers. I gave them two pieces: The background choral arrangement of "When You Care" (by Alan Satchwell) that you hear on the CDs and in the show -- with a big soprano part that was no problem for them. And a new arrangement of "Lazarus Come Out," which I had put together quickly, since I usually just improvise it with audiences.

We had one rehearsal to get it right. And I am terrible at this work. Teaching someone a part. My brain doesn't compute like a musical director. I can't hear a bunch of sounds and know which one is wrong. So, as I sat there fumfering at the piano, David rescued me. So did the choir. They made suggestions I immediately adopted and it felt like a real collaboration.

We met for the sound check just before the evening session of the last day. The set just before the keynote speaker -- though one could argue that every speaker was a keynote speaker on this weekend.

My set list was now rock solid in my mind. Connected, then Somebody's Friend. Then Lazarus, with chorus followed by When You Care.

Somehow I knew why Somebody's Friend had to be in there. Because the other three songs are inspirational and uplifting. Which is nice, but we need to know uplifting from what? Unless, we as a group, go into hell together, we're not escaping anything. We're not lifted from anywhere.

SIDEBAR: I've used Unexpected Choirs before:
At the first staged reading of The Last Session, at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, the room had a weird L-shaped configuration, which meant that audiences were on two sides of the stage. So, it was on the smaller L side that we hid the choir from a Methodist church in the Valley. When we reached the end of the piece, where Buddy whips out his cassette and runs it to the booth, the choir suddenly started singing. And in that room, it was so rich, because it was real voices in the room. 
The next time was one I had forgotten about. The National Academy of Songwriters allowed me a place on their annual all-star line-up of The Salute to the American Songwriter concert. I found it after digging around in the old diary. And on that show, I had the choir hidden behind a curtain. I sang "When You Care," surprising the audience in the middle of the song after the first chorus.
That's it! I'll bring the Gay Men's Chorus on DURING Lazarus Come Out! Genius!
St. Stephen's Episcopal Church.

I wasn't nervous about the singing or playing itself. I know how to sing and play. I've sung in concert halls and night clubs, Broadway stages and street corners, churches and synagogues. All the same to me.

I was puzzling over the idea that the point of the presentation was "Living in the Bonus Round." What does that mean? How do I take the last 20 years and put them into 20 minutes, while also singing four songs?

What's "Living in the Bonus Round?" I don't know. They are words that came out of my head when I was trying to describe how I felt to have a new life. Like a game show. In the bonus round, time speeds up and the prizes are better.

I don't run around with a set "program." My theoretical TED Talk hasn't been written out and timed down to the last minute. (But I should think one up, just for the heck of it.)

Do I talk or do I sing?

I decided: Sing.

Let the songs tell the story.

However, what I did do was write up an intro for Chris, that set my story up, including the fact that the last time I was in Portland, I was staggering around on the "last cruise of my life" but that, miraculously, I had survived. Even threw in "And he's with us tonight!"

I started Connected.

I have no memory of the performance, but when it was over, all 3000 people leaped to their feet in the most spontaneously enthusiastic ovation of my life. I was dazed and stunned.

Photo credit: Chris Guillebeau
And in my element. Time for Somebody's Friend. Will they be able to take it? Or will it be like at 54 Below, the week before, when I plunged everyone into a depression.

I went for it.

Photo credit: Chris Guillebeau
I knew I was safe within seconds, though, because I started hearing laughter. They were getting the joke. Yes, Somebody's Friend is intense, but it's also funny, steeped thoroughly in the kind of black humor suffering people use to survive.

At the end of the song, another spontaneous standing ovation. Hey! I like this crowd.

Photo credit: Chris Guillebeau

Time to start "Lazarus Come Out," a song from New World Waking, with lyrics by Peter J. Carman. A thank you song to the ones who stuck it out with us at our lowest, who brought us back to life by their refusal to let us go.

I got halfway through the song and, "Ladies and gentlemen, welcome a select group of singers from the Portland Gay Men's Chorus." And the guys, all dressed in black, streamed onto the stage to great applause -- at which point we started the second verse. And we sounded spectacular.

Photo credit: Chris Guillebeau

Photo credit: Chris Guillebeau
We got to the second chorus and I said to the crowd, "Sing along!!" They sang. And I don't remember the rest. All of it is an out of body experience. 

After it was over, another standing ovation. I could really get used to this. My emotions were dialed up to HIGH OVERLOAD.

Photo credit: Chris Guillebeau
 And then, I looked out over this crowd of people who were true believers that they could change the world. People who had spent money to hang out a bunch of folks just like them. People from all ages, sizes, races, religions, etc. All of whom had made a vow to themselves that they would change themselves and change the world for the better.

I said, "George Carlin once said you can't change the world. You can only screw it up. But you can reach one person who needs what you have. And if there is one person who needs what you have, then there are 10. And if there are 10, there are 1000." Or something like that. I don't know. There'll be video released soon.

I continued, "You don't have to care. No one in here has to do anything."

But when you do, that's when the world starts changing. And I started to sing the words I wrote with John Bettis:

There's a light holding us together
There's a light...

After I finished the concert, I went backstage and saw Chris Guillebeau sitting alone. I asked him, finally, "Chris. I really want to know. How DID you find me?"

He said, simply, "I saw you 10 years ago in Memphis and I knew you'd be perfect." And then he went back to whatever he was working on, preparing for the end of the program.

I said, "I was in Memphis 10 years ago?"

I had no memory. I went back into the diary and saw that there was very little there. 1998, I think. Which means it was probably a college AIDS education concert. It was in the pre-laptop days. Before I even had a functional camera. So, no photographs. Just a quick note that was copied from a discussion board, about how it was a very small venue where I had to use duct tape to keep the microphone stand together.

And that's how things happen.

We never know who's reading us, listening to us or singing with us. Each one of those people will take away something that you can never guess. I'm thinking that the gig was so small, it made no impression on me at all except for the fact that it was there I met Hoover the Pot Bellied Pig who used to roll over and shiver whenever her "mom" put my music on the stereo.

Which is a whole 'nother Tale From The Bonus Round.

I will only know if I was successful by what happens next, by what the heroes in that audience in Portland do with the information, guidance, mentoring and inspiration that came from the stage of the World Domination Summit. If I light just one little fire, then the whole world can, indeed, be saved.

You don't need an explanation when you care.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

World Domination Summit Pt. 4: Rejection Therapy.

The speaker who most changed my life since #WDS2013 was an adorable Chinese man named Jia Jiang.

The first thing he said, after taking the stage, was, "I love rejection!" Then, he told us his story about coming from China to Houston (because of the Houston Rockets).

He found something online called "Rejection therapy," where the point was to go out and try to get rejected. In his case, he decided to spend 100 days trying to get rejected. At first, he was did get rejected a few times, but then, as he persisted, he started to get more and more people accepting his crazy requests -- driving a police car, playing soccer in a stranger's backyard, etc.

Here is his speech (now updated):

Jia Jiang from Chris Guillebeau on Vimeo.

I have always been a bit of a coward when it comes to asking people for things. Maybe it's because I'm from a small town or because I'm actually kind of shy, but suddenly, I have found myself charged with this new energy when I want to ask for something.

To go looking FOR rejection gives your body a different posture. People start wanting to help.

And the fear of being rejected starts going away. As Jia put it, no matter who you are, or how rich you are, or how successful, rejection is a part of life. It never goes away.

Best of all, though, that fear I always had in my gut when I approached strangers -- a constant in my life -- has completely evaporated.

Right now, I'm at a music conference in Tennessee where I'm surrounded by strangers. From day one, I found myself thrusting my hand out and just saying, "Hello! I'm Steve!" Before, I would have been too shy for such a thing. I can't even tell you why. It's just true.

And people here have sometimes grinned and shook my hand. Some turned away, thinking I was some kind of aggressive nut, but my fear of rejection is gone. Absolutely and irrevocably gone.

Why? Because instead of entering into a situation afraid of rejection, I go looking for it. And when I succeed in being rejected, it becomes this weird kind of victory rather than a sting of defeat. Yeah, it's just a trick of the mind, but it totally has worked for me.

He divided his life into "Before Donuts" and "After Donuts." Mine is now "Before Jia" and "After Jia."

So, reader, look at Jia's speech above if that sentence made no sense and let it inspire you. Go get rejected!

It will change your life.

Part 5.

Monday, July 15, 2013

World Domination Summit Pt. 3: The Audience Is The Hero


Nancy Duarte's lecture on the first day set my head spinning.

As I got to the venue the following day, following J. D. Roth's advice, I was sitting over in a little area near the stage prepared for the speakers.

But, first Chris Guillebeau came out to introduce the event with the question, which attributed tosomeone else, "How do we live a remarkable life in a conventional world?" by announcing that on the day before I got there, all the attendees, plus other townspeople had broken a world record by creating a human chain on Willamette River.

Then he introduced Nancy Duarte, someone I'd seen on a TED Talk, because she was talking about storytelling.

As a songwriter, storytelling is one of my fortes and her observations about great speeches -- comparing graphs of MLK's "I Had A Dream" speech with Steve Jobs' iPhone speech and Jesus' Sermon on the Mount -- I was familiar with, but it was fun hearing them live and getting reminded of her main point, that speeches and storytelling are more complex than simply starting, getting to a climax and reaching the end. She even mentioned Evita's speech, which maybe won her husband the presidency of Argentina.

What struck me was this: She said that, like most of us, she though of herself as the hero of her own story, , until it occurred to her, looking out over the crowd, that she had it wrong. She said to us:

"You are the hero."

And that she (and we, the other presenters) are the mentors.

Wow, I thought. A crowd filled with heroes. Interesting.

After that, my mind spun off. All weekend, this little meme kept resonating and repeating itself in my head. The audience is the hero. The audience is the hero.

And I thought, what if we thought that way about everyone in our lives? What if we stop being the Center of our own little Universes and thought of ourselves as people who empower our friends and family, rather than as people trying to get attention in a "me, me, me" world? Indeed. What would happen?

Darren Rowse was next. His speech was empowering, also, as he talked about wanting to be Superman, growing up. But the one nugget I took from his speech was this:

Rather than trying to save the whole world, and getting frustrated, do one thing really, really well. If you start there, all other things become possible. I would go further, if you don't start there, you can accomplish nothing. And how nice to know that that's all it takes. Do one thing really, really well.

After that, we broke for lunch and everyone went to break-out sessions. I was tired by then, so I decided, once again, to conserve energy. Went back to the hotel and laid down for a nap. There was so much great information bubbling around in my brain, it was hard to absorb it all. 

Also, knowing I was going to be performing on Sunday, the last day, I wanted to make sure my presentation incorporated all that I had been hearing so far.

One note, though. It was interesting to me that Chris Guillebeau, far from making this all about himself, as many modern day "gurus" do -- where they rouse an audience into a kind of worship, which turns into a cult of personality, Chris was more like an Ed Sullivan. He was always pointing toward others. He didn't even give a speech, per se. 

Rather, he acted like a curator. All of these presentations were adding up to something. But it was up to us, in the audience, to put those pieces together. And between presentations, he brought up audience members to tell their stories. 

This series is three years old. On the first year, with a simple invitation sent to people who had read Chris' books, he got 500 people. Year two, he got 1000. Year three: almost 3000. And these tickets were sold out on the first day they were put up for sale. With no advertising, no publicity, no sponsorship.

I had to admit it. I was hooked.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

World Domination Summit Pt. 2

#WDS2013 Part 1 is here.

When I finally spoke with Chris Guillebeau, asking him how he found me, he simply said he had two songs of mine on his iPod, "Connected" and "When You Care." He also said that though they'd help me get there and find housing, there would be no pay for my performance. (That none of the speakers were being paid). 

Rather than feel insulted, I was actually intrigued. Really? What kind event was this, anyway? I never turn down a chance to sing, anyway, so that wasn't a problem, but still...

I went to the website, hoping it wasn't some weird religious thing. (It wasn't). Well, then, what exactly was it? There were videos and they resembled the TED Talks. Motivational and inspirational speakers talking about self-empowerment, etc. Okay, I like that.

Even more, no commercial sponsors. No corporate donors logos allowed. Double really? He turns down money? In fact, there was a video from last year. A donor insisted on giving him money, anonymously, and rather than keep it, he gave each of the 1000 attendees an envelope with $100 in it. What? He gave away $100,000 that he could have kept for himself?

Who IS this guy? 

I also checked another page: "If you are a manager or agent or a performer and you would like to submit for an appearance, the answer is we don't take submissions. We will find you."

A follow-up call with J. D. Roth, who was a presenter last year and who was now working for the event, said that unlike other conferences, where you show up, do your thing and leave, they would encourage me to watch the other presenters and get a feel for the event.

Further, they would slot me on the last day just before the keynote address. He asked me if I would mind doing 20 minutes. Are you kidding? I'll sing for 20 hours if you want. But that's a generous amount of time.


Portland is beautiful city. 

Walkable, clean, great public transportation, friendly people. 

After I got there, I walked from my hotel to the gorgeous Arlene Schnitzer Auditorium in the historic Portland Theater.

All the other presenters were gathered by Chris, who is a soft-spoken and very sweet person, for our sound checks. Then, we were off to the opening party being held at the Portland Zoo.

Really? The Zoo? There, we were entertained by the most unusual musical act I've ever seen on a stage: A marching band called March Fourth, some of whom were on stilts.

All the other animals were asleep except this one.
It had been a long day for this fella, so I didn't stay for the whole night. I knew my virus-ridden body needed to conserve energy, so I went back to my hotel and laid down, and though I had no idea what was ahead of me, I knew that this was a different experience.

Now numbering 3000, what I saw on that lawn all spread out were some very friendly people. Very, VERY friendly. And smart, too.

What was this? I would find out soon. In Part 3.