Monday, September 30, 2013

Tales from the Bonus Round now on Spotify.

I wasn't expecting it to happen so quickly, but I'm thrilled that Tales from the Bonus Round is now also on Spotify and, presumably, most other streaming services.

New Album now Available in the iTunes Store.

Featuring two of the songs heard at #wds2103 Tales from the Bonus Round is now available on iTunes.

I hope you enjoy listening to it as much as I enjoyed making it. 

Thursday, September 26, 2013

I recommend this new AIDS blog.

The next generation of HIV/AIDS awareness by Perry N. Halkitis. And look for his book, The AIDS Generation, which features stories of the first generation of people with HIV/AIDS.

Running and Radio!

Health update and some unexpected fun with a friend.

First of all, I got my cards for my Oct. 27th gig at the Metropolitan Room.

Now that the weather has cooled a bit, and it's more fun to run, I thought I'd run down to the Metropolitan Room, which is about two miles. In fact, I've lately found myself avoiding the subways or buses unless absolutely necessary, preferring to run or power walk to my destinations. I remember when I moved to NY back in the early 80s, I was surprised at how small the island actually is, and how close together everything is compared to LA, which was spread out for miles and miles.

I saw owner, Bernie Furshpan, who, with his wife Joanne, has become a great friends of ours. He stuffed my cards into one of the little displays at the front of the club and then asked me if I wanted to co-host a radio program with him that afternoon.

Sure! Why not?

I also ran over to Swing 46, where Jake and Katie work, dropping some off there, and also at Don't Tell Mama, where I've also performed.

There is such a wealth of great performance places here. The Metropolitan Room has a great stage and piano. I think we won't have any problems filling it for the one night. (I hope).

Healthwise, I ran 9 miles the other day. I paid for it the next day, but refused to lie still. I put in another 5 miles -- and then slept all day. Then, 3 miles the next day. But my average run was up to 5 miles before the big 9 mile day, which happened mostly because I had errands to run. And I ran to each of them.

This work is crucial because it's driving down my dependence on insulin, as I wrote about earlier. 

Every street and view in New York City is interesting. I remember the other morning, I hit Times Square just as the tourists were beginning to come out, about 8am, and I overheard these two younger guys, complete with shades, say, "Woah! It's just like the video game."

Yesterday, I enjoyed being the guest of the podcast, Powder Keg of Awesome. I think I still talk too much. But this is a great way to learn. And they were great! Everyone in the "room" was bursting with energy and great stories.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Media Alert.

Tomorrow, Sept. 25th, Steve Schalchlin is the scheduled guest on the Powder Keg of Awesome podcast at 10 am Pacific/1 pm Eastern.

The link to the show page is here:

A Singular Honor.

Maybe it's because I'm approaching my 60th birthday, but I was the recipient of the Artist of the Year award at the 160th Anniversary of Christ Church, Bay Ridge, an Episcopal Church where I am privileged to be composer in residence.

It exists because of the efforts of Fr. Jeffrey Hamblin, MD, who uses the money he earns as a physician to fund, or help fund, the music program.

Helen McShane is the Lifetime Achievement Award Recipient.
Fr. Jeffrey Hamblin, MD; Fr. Gabriel Adde and wife, Nadia.
Fr. Adde received the Ecumenical Partner Award.
His Syrian Orthodox Church shares our space.
These kinds of churches are different from the Baptist congregations I grew up in. And I'm not saying one is better than the other. But the sense of history, and the "presence" of Christians down through the ages all the back to the time of Christ, comes back when we hear them through their music. It's two completely different cultures.

Cono De Paola (R.) receives Humanitarian Award.
Lately, in an effort to expand our repertoire, Kalle Toivio, who is working on his doctorate at Manhattan School of Music, has created a small group that sings medieval music, the kind actually written for these big open Gothic spaces. It's so haunting!

When I first accepted the position, I thought it was a way for me to get my songs sung and to learn more about choral arranging. And maybe even learn more advanced composition. But to compose for a congregation is not the same as taking a position, for instance, at an institution, where the goal is simply art for art's sake. I had to ask myself, what is it I'm trying to write?

Though I've written "sacred" music my whole life, given my Baptist upbringing, this Episcopal and Catholic side of the Church is not one with which I was familiar. I didn't know this music nor did I know the function of it. Or the history of it. Or even the meaning of it.

That's very exciting to me, as a creative person. I love unfamiliar territory. I love the undiscovered.

One of the first clues came during the midnight services at Easter time, where there's a feeling of loss and mourning because of the death of Jesus -- and the sadness that one has not lived up to one's potential in view of what Christians consider the greatest sacrifice of all.

Like a deja vu, I was transported back to another time. The music so perfectly describes the era, with its intense dark sadness, those people into the room via their emotions.

And I thought, of course! The music brings back the people. The "cloud of witnesses." To remind people that they are not alone, and that they come from a history of people who also sacrificed and mourned, and found joy and solace -- all the things faith communities supply when they're doing it right.

So, if I write music that reflects this generation of people, they will endure in the lives of those who will come after when these songs are sung. The music will bring it back because it's the music that expresses the emotions, the feelings of an era.

This is a humble congregation now. In its day a hundred years ago, the pews were filled with people of letters, people of society. Bay Ridge, at one point, was a getaway for the well-heeled of New York.

There are still some extremely intelligent and accomplished people who attend, but there are just as many folks who come in because they're seeking a place of comfort. Who live, or have lived, tough lives. Who maybe just need a place to sit for a few minutes and avail themselves of the food pantry, or share a cup of coffee, afterward.

One can lament what was, but the job is to serve what is.

As I sat there listening to Mark Janas sing my praises before I went to receive my award, I realized that my real job was to reflect who these people are. To write music that will last through the ages. Because, in doing so, I'm saying to them that I think their love and their dedication deserves to last through the ages.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Steinbeck Sleeping.

Sleeping cat. I could sit and look at him for hours when he does this hide the eyes things.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Graphic for my 60th Birthday Concert.

USNY: Shakespeare Update "The Hollow Crown"

In this blog, I'm going to plug a PBS show and a new book about AIDS research. I hadn't actually planned it that way. Just wanted to warn you in advance.

The University of Steve in New York is what I call my current self-generated (bonus round) plan to learn everything in the world there is to know and write one of everything that can be written. Part of that education are the Shakespeare Studies, an inadvertent course (correction)

It happened after I was invited to participate in Andy Gale's advanced scene study acting class after having worked with him and the students at Manhattan School of Music. BTW, Andy doesn't have a website and he doesn't go on Facebook. Currently, however, he's performing in a production of "Fiddler" out in Portland, since, aside from being one of the best acting coaches in the City, he's also a working actor and singer. He mostly works privately with a great number of stars whose names you would know. The class I entered is filled with amazing actors. Young and old. Mostly unknown, but really talented.

Since I had never been to an acting class in my life, I felt a bit unprepared. I thought, it's absurd to be taking an acting class and not know anything about Shakespeare. That's like a music scholar never having heard any Beethoven.

So, acting as my own curriculum counselor, I assigned myself the task of reading all the way through Shakespeare and memorizing at least one speech from each play that grabbed me for whatever reason.

For more info, I recommend
this book by Perry Halkitis.
(I'm doing this, also, as a cognitive exercise because, as I spoke about previously, longterm AIDS survivors (The AIDS Generation) are facing not just an unknown future, but an unknown present. How do you know when or if your brain starts going wacko? And what do you do after you know it's started? It has driven more than a few people mad.)

And Jim is always looking at me as if I've lost my mind. But then, he always did.

I say all this because every action I take in life right now has to be weighed as to whether it's healthful for me or not. To not be actively engaged is not healthful.

I read Twelfth Night and enjoyed it because it was much sillier than I was expecting. You go into Shakespeare thinking it's this impenetrable wall of  intellect. You know. Boring. Serious.

Then, I read Merchant of Venice and Hamlet, like taking a tour through all the greatest hits. There was a familiarity in them in that I have sat through movies and some productions of Shakespeare and stuff, but if you had asked me what either of those plays were about, or what happens in them, I wouldn't have been able to tell you.

They didn't stick. It felt more like the first part of an investigation where I was gathering facts.

If I was going to find my way in, I had to find my own door.

I read them using "No Fear Shakespeare,"  (another plug) where Shakespeare's language is set alongside a modern language translation. And I suppose it was like learning a new language, in a way. Not just many of the words, but the arrangement of the nouns and verbs, which is more like Spanish, which I know from having spent a summer in Monterrey, Mexico as a Baptist missionary among the heathen Catholics.

It was Richard II that got to me.

I knew zero about this play. Nothing.

I had learned a speech from Merchant -- which I can't even remember right now -- and it got me very excited. I had learned my first monologue, realizing I could do it. Several times in class, I pulled it off. But, since this is all really new to me, mostly I was over-acting. I could tell. But I did it! And it felt great!

I thought, screw this reading through them all. I'll just google Shakespeare monologues and find one I like.

I came upon the "hollow crown" speech from Richard II. And I fell in love. It's about having nothing left. Being totally at the bottom and remembering that, for all our pretensions, we're all just human beings.

The speech possessed me for weeks. I would recite it while riding the bus to Brooklyn on Sunday morning. I would walk around the City, reciting it. Wouldn't that be cool if a whole City walked around quoting Shakespeare?

I didn't even read the play! I just needed that speech, about how death sits in that crown, keeping court and laughing at pomp and ceremony.

And I thought, Yes! In the bonus round, you sit and laugh at how frail and stupid and unkind and sick and silly and smart and all full of ourselves and lost we all are. Whether we're the ruler of some nation or a lonely guy sick in bed, the rock star of the moment or living in a war zone, the movie star or the teacher or the student or a child.

There the antic sits.

Ben Whishaw as Richard II in "The Hollow Crown"
And there Richard sits. If he's King, he's still in prison. If he's a pauper, he's still in prison. And yet he is God's chosen! But whether Divinely-annointed or not, his fate is the same: death.

I remember when I had accepted my own death, it was like the weight of the world lifted off my shoulders. There he sits. Hello, death! Nice meet you. How warm your embrace almost was. How not scary you were when I met you face to face.

When I read about this BBC/PBS co-production, and that it's called "The Hollow Crown," where they've filmed all the history plays beginning with Richard II, and that Ben Whishaw is playing Richard, I about felt like I did just before the Super Bowl back when I lived in Roger Staubach / Tom Landry Dallas.

It is a miracle to me, having grown up pre-Internet, that I could so easily find all this great wealth of our civilization, and usually for free. What a time we live in.

If you wish to join me and attend the University of Yourself, by the way, there is no tuition. And everything you need to learn is on the Internet.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

The Word I Couldn't Remember.

"I've got a patient in his 40s and his cognitive function is..."

This was my doctor talking to me yesterday.

I don't remember the word he used. Degraded. Screwed up.

I was sitting in my running shorts. I had run to the appointment, continuing my training (for SteveFest60). The clinic is down on west 17th street.

"You've gone from using 60 units of insulin a day to zero after only a month of daily aerobic exercise."

"Yes, and 40 at night on the Lantus, down from 60." (That's the basal insulin).

After the exam, he was writing out the prescription for the blood tests for three months from now. He numbered them off but had missed one. I said, "And the thyroid." (I have Grave's Disease. My right eye is a little googly and tends to wander off.)

He snapped a happy grin at me. "And your mind. Your mind is quick. I talk about you when I do presentations."

"You talk about me??" I beamed.

"We don't know the long term affects of this virus. What's the difference between him and you? That's what we have to find out."

I ran-walked and jogged home. Took my blood. 75. Just in time to eat.

The man in his 40s whose cognitive function is impaired. That's the word. That's the word I couldn't remember. Impaired. That guy didn't impair himself. And the same virus that's attacking him is attacking me. I don't know what's going to happen, or is happening, to me.

I don't know what kind of life he leads. But, as I say in my concerts, the music gave me life. My friends give me life. Learning. And physical training gives me life.

God bless all my fellow positoids. And to all who love us.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Bonus Round Portland Performance Now Online.

Steve Schalchlin from Chris Guillebeau on Vimeo.

I am grateful to Chris Guillebeau for inviting me to the World Domination Summit 2013. You'll hear several references to other speakers in my talk. All of their talks are also online and I absolutely ENCOURAGE you to click around and listen to them.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Service. Community. Adventure.

It has become this mantra for me. Ever since I experienced it at the World Domination Summit, those three words just keep ringing and ringing in my ear.

My most immediate, daily, adventure is my health. My new running/exercise routine is having startlingly strong effects on my body. Feeling good really can be thought of as an adventure when you're physically or mentally down. It takes a conscious effort to, every day, make the choice to live. To grow. To learn.

My new album is also an adventure.

But what am I doing in terms of service? One thing is my volunteer work singing in the church choir. There are also other things I do, such as helping friends with tedious tasks. I like being useful. Does that make sense? Like stuffing envelopes or stapling things.

And then, finally, community. Where is my own personal community? In this world of connectedness, I belong to many communities. My close personal friends are one. But I feel just as close to my cyber friends. I always have. Given the fact that I was doing this before almost anyone else, I was able to develop deep friendships across great divides, back when we were all innocents here on the Net. Before it became a corporate whatever it is today.

One thing is sure, though, and they don't teach you this in high school or at home, you really do choose your community. You hand pick your friends. And what I have found myself doing is hand picking people who are smarter than me, better looking than me, younger and older than me, more talented than me, more loving than me and more generous than me.

And then, I try to become the best parts of them. Another adventure! And what a service to mankind, to boot! To always be thinking of growth and maturity and intelligence and forward motion. What a gift that is to others around you. And how did you get it? Through service. Through community.

As I was running the other day, I was thinking about how, for instance, the adventure of the new album came about because someone did a favor for me. I realized, in retrospect, that I might not have recorded this album if not for Peter Grundy's artwork. He crystallized, without my ever having "set a meeting," everything in that image of that piano. I looked at it and said, "That is my album."

All of the lecturers at the World Domination Summit were there, volunteering their services, because that amazingly open community of -- I was gonna say "True Believers" -- but that term has negative connotations. Maybe a better word is sincere. But not naive. This is a generation that is beyond being naive. The Net has taught us all to be suspicious.

So, that image wasn't merely a connection between artist and songwriter, the environment itself of the World Domination Summit informed what Peter created. I had the lucky job of being the one musical act (except for one woman who played one song on guitar).  

The three energize each other. They create each other. The community energized the art which was a service to me, and now it gets turned into an adventure.

When people ask me how they also can "live in the bonus round," I never had a clear answer. But when I saw the words community, spirit and adventure in all the literature from the Summit, I knew I had my mantra. And it's not even mine. But that's the point. You don't have to die, or almost die, to live a remarkable life.

And, in a mundane and ordinary world, why wouldn't you want to live an remarkable life?

I saw an article recently about how young people want "to be famous," as if that's a career option. I suppose it is. In this world, it's actually quite easy to get famous if you can be weird enough. But what if you chose, instead, to opt for a remarkable life that may or may not lead to fame?

For a songwriter like me, fame is part of the equation because if people don't know who you are, they won't buy a ticket to your show. So, getting recognition is part of the job description. But that's not my goal in life. My goal is to live a remarkable life.

And though I've always kind of known how to do it, instinctively, having it set forth in three simple words is very, very helpful.

Service. Community. Adventure.

Now that's living.

Saturday, September 07, 2013

Tales from the Bonus Round FAQ

Yes (with slight exception). And on two songs, my friend Bill Goffi, a terrific musician who plays and sings all over town, came in with his guitar and played on two of the tracks. It feels like a jam session because it was a jam session. I think we had run over the songs once together.  
And, I admit at the the end of one particular song, I fixed one wrong note. It would have been a mistake to leave it and I didn’t have the energy to re-record the entire song just to fix one note. So, maybe we’ll make it a guessing game as to which note got fixed. 

Impossible. In theory, it seemed like an easy thing. 
But in practice, recording an album “live in the studio” is not the same as performing a concert in front of people, where you can relax and go from song to song, bringing in the energy of the audience.  
 What I found was that everything I ever put into an entire concert went into each song.
 Songs like “At A Hospice, In The Atrium,” where I go right back to that place, where I was surrounded on all sides by unseen people on respirators, breathing their last breaths. I remembered the little out of tune upright. I saw the empty chairs and pictured the people in their rooms with their doors open to hear me. 
And it wasn’t just them. I thought of their friends, their families, their co-workers, how each one represented a world of people. Sorrow this deeply felt overwhelms you.  
And to go there, to get from one end of that song to the other, is like running a marathon as I did my best to hold it together. After, I could barely sit up.  
I just hadn’t realized how intense this plan of mine would be. And then -- and singers know what I’m talking about -- to turn the page and plunge right into the next song. “Somebody’s Friend,” anyone?  
I recently read an article about how someone loved Bob Dylan’s demo of a particular song because, when you hear something from the creator, it has a stamp of authenticity that no one else can bring to it, even if those others have better voices or are better musicians.  
 For me, so many songs are born from great and intense pain. Even the ones that end on a happy note. I don’t have to use acting technique to find that sorrow. I am transported there immediately because the song brings me back to that original place and those original feelings, which can only be imperfectly rendered because they’re a story about The Thing Itself. I’m feeling The Thing Itself.  
So, where does that leave you, listener? Hopefully, to authentic moments and memories of your own. You don’t have to have sung in a hospice to know the sorrow of loss. You don’t have to have been through the mill of the modern medical establishment to know pain or confusion or anger or frustration.  
That’s why a song is a conversation. The listener does not hear, deep inside, what I hear, but, when we connect, the listener hears something just as profound. What I discovered I could not do, after laying down a track, was to sing and play it again. Once sung, it was out of me and I had no capacity to go back and relive the song all over again. I had to just move on.

I set it aside for another day. I actually recorded this in four sessions.  
Session one was me getting used to the piano and the sound. I was also trying out a bunch of different songs. We didn’t keep anything from that session, but someday I’ll let you hear some of it.  
Session two, kinda the same thing. Tried out more songs. Re-recorded a few from the first session. And from that second session, we got several keepers: Somebody’s Friend and Going It Alone, for two. Those, of course, I knew better than the new songs. 
 But, on session three, I nailed it. The album you will hear is almost all session three.  
Session four, I added a song, “My Rising Up,” and re-recorded one of the guitar songs with Billy Goffi. At that session, also, Stephen Elkins came and we added harmonies to “Rising.” 
What I did not do, except to just spot check that the sound was good, was listen to the playback of any of the songs during the session. I didn’t listen to what I had just recorded.
Instead, I turned the page and we moved on to the next song. 
If it felt right while I sang it, and I knew I hadn’t done anything egregiously wrong on the piano, then it was a true performance. 
And that’s what I wanted to capture: a private, intimate, unedited concert between you and me, listener. A voice, a piano and even the environmental sounds around us -- piano noises, my foot keeping time on the carpet, smacking my lips accidentally, mispronouncing a word.  
Not a perfect performance. Not a “definitive” recording, all tricked out with strings, drums, horns and production. A real performance. How the song felt on this day at this time. 
When you put headphones on, it will feel like you’re sitting on that bench, the sound of the piano brilliantly in your face, hearing exactly what I hear when I play and sing alone. Oh, the concerts I have given that no one will ever hear! (I don’t know how to rehearse and not mean it. If I’m singing a song, I’m singing the song.) 
Mastering. That’ll cost about a thousand bucks, so I’ve put up the Bonus Round Emporium* to help defray costs.  
I had forgotten about mastering when contemplating the original budget, which is stupid. Mastering is what brings the sound up to a professional level. It’s at this level that we will make sure it sounds exactly as I’ve described.  
 *If you purchase something, I'll send you a free advance mp3 as a thank you gift. 

It should be only a few more weeks. After the mastering is done, I will upload it to Tunecore, which will distribute it worldwide to every download and streaming site in the world. I intend to make these songs available in every format, whether free or paid. I’ll probably upload some rudimentary youtube videos, maybe with just the logo of the album. 

No record label would want me. These songs will never get radio play alongside Katy Perry. I’m too old. And if they did, I’m not sure what they would provide. In the old days, labels did the marketing and distribution. Today, distribution is as easy as signing up for an account.
Also, from my time at National Academy of Songwriters, I’ve seen record label contracts. No thank you.
Marketing? Most people ignore ads. The only real marketing is one friend telling another about a song they love. So, if you like the music, you will tell others. That’s the only marketing that means anything in this connected world. 

Amazon will manufacture the CD, if you order it from them. I did not plan to manufacture any because that’s expensive and, also, I have no place in this small apartment to store even one box of CDs, much less 1000. 

What’s next is my 60th birthday, which we'll celebrate at the big concert on October 27th at The Metropolitan Room in New York. (My actual birthday is the 4th, but this being SteveFest60, the celebrations will go all year long, you understand.)
Also, another album. In fact, we’ll make it a trilogy. Two more albums to come! But first, let’s get this one up and available. When I began this journey, none of these web stores were available. And I didn’t realize, back then, that I could make a record without all the bells and whistles.
Maybe on the next one, I’ll get a few more musicians and we’ll make it sound like a living room concert. I would like that.

Friday, September 06, 2013

Bonus Round Emporium Is Now Open.

Featuring the brilliant "Tales from the Bonus Round" logo of artist Peter Grundy, not only will you find beautiful items to purchase, such as mugs, t-shirts and cards, but you'll be helping me pay off my recording studio bill and helping to spread the word about the new album, which will be released in about a month or so. Bonus Round Emporium.

Longtime readers know that it was the sound of the piano that brought me back to life in 1995, writing the songs that became The Last Session. So, when Peter created this piano graphic, based on my appearance at the World Domination Summit 2013, I was stunned by its meaningful simplicity and beauty and I knew I had to co-opt it for the cover image on Tales from the Bonus Round.

Look at this gorgeous mug.

And several people requested these cards:

First thing I did, after setting up the store was order a t-shirt:

The fabric is thick and ultra-high quality, just like before. I still have an old Bonus Round t-shirt from over 10 years ago that we sold through Cafepress and it almost looks brand new.

So, please, if you would, at least look at the items for sale, and help me pay off the bill for this album. No, I didn't spend a lot, but there are always a few unexpected costs that come along.


Monday, September 02, 2013

That Weird Space Ship Looking Thing At The End of the Block.

This is the first pic I took. 
It was being created on the top of an abandoned car dealership, which, according to the signs on the sides of the building, is supposed to become a big shopping mall. But it's been empty ever since the cars moved out. So, I thought, "Hey, maybe this is the grand opening!"

Now you can see them building a double platform.

This is a full shot so you can see what a scene this is.
Directly behind (above) the "space ship" is the Jacob Javits Center.
To the left where the buses are lined up is the Lincoln Tunnel.
Behind that is the Hudson River. On the other side, New Jersey.
The Javits Center recently planted grass on its roof.

Somewhere along in here, on the timeline, Jim figured it out. He'd seen some ads for a new game show called The Million Second Quiz" with Ryan Seacrest on NBC. Can you see what they're constructing?

Yes! An hour glass.

The other night they were lighting up the sky with all these spotlights. You can also go online and play the game to get qualified to be a contestant. I think part of the deal is that whoever is playing, you have to live in this hourglass for 11 days. 

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Manhattan Photo of the Day: The Grove at Lincoln Center.

The grove at Lincoln Center. Photo credit: Steve Schalchlin
This is a totally unretouched photo I took yesterday at Lincoln Center. As many times as I've been there, I never noticed this little grove of trees. When I looked through the lens and saw how the sun was washing out the edges, it just mesmerized me.