Friday, June 27, 2014

When the piano's dead.

I sat there playing, but it wasn't music coming from those keys. It was just noise. Damn Charles Ives. I started listening to this amazing album using Spotify of two people I never heard of before. Susan Graham and Pierre-Laurent Aimard singing a selections of songs from Ives, along with the amazing Concord Sonata.

I had it on in background while reading a new biography of him that was just released. And this music is like a magic trick. Sometimes the songs sound like the voice is in one key and the piano in another. And yet, my brain doesn't process the dissonance as dissonance. It sounds right. And yet, logically, I know that these are not "normal" note/chord relationships.

I suppose it takes a bit of an "educated ear" for this to happen. I don't see putting this on in a bar. It would probably sound like noise to a lot of people.

But what's also doing is making my brain crave it more, like craving sugar. And when I sit down to write my "song of the week" for the Jack Hardy Exchange, all the chords sound boring. Everything sounds boring next to Ives. It's like rock and roll for the brain.

In his own time, after the turn of the previous century, he was departing from conventional harmonics and rhythms and was mostly ignored or ridiculed. So, he wrote largely in obscurity until a concert of his ridiculously difficult Concord Sonata was played in New York in 1939, I believe.

Then, he was criticized for copying other similarly bent composers even though his works predated them.

So, what am I saying about myself? What Ives did came from his heart. His dissonance is used in service to what he's hearing in his head. Many "modern" composers work almost from a place of mathematics in putting together tone rows and other forms of dissonance. Clever but soulless, not that I am all that educated about them. Perhaps I'm just displaying my own ignorance.

Well, I take that back. It does have something to do with me. I put moments of dissonance in my Mass because there was a narrative going on in my head that was a comment on what was being sung. In the Agnus Dei, instead of writing something really beautiful, I thought of it asking for peace in a world where there is no peace. I had this gut instinct to just clash all the voices together like a trainwreck.

Not saying I am on the level of virtuosity of an Ives. Far, far from it. Just that I listen to his songs and they cut right through me. As the book explained, he almost seemed to be able to write what a songwriter thinks before he turns it into a song. It's mesmerizing.

So when I hit the keys and "pretty" sounds boring, maybe it's because there's something more beneath it all that needs to be excavated. I do hope so. I also hope it makes sense.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

First Review of the London Cast Recording of "The Last Session."


Rob Lester sums up his rave review on the website Talking Broadway, "...the recording crackles with energy and drama, capturing the performance of a committed cast-in a show with a lot to say (still)."


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Report of World Premiere of Mass.

Here at the University of Steve in New York, we performed the Mass I've been composing for the past three years. Part writing exercise, in that it was an attempt to learn more about music and choral arranging/composition, and part gift to the community of Christ Church Bay Ridge, as well as a few statements of my own about faith, I guess I'd call this a graduation project, maybe.

The day was long in the beautiful building. I did not bring a camera. I know why. I needed to just be there, fully engaged. Not thinking about anything but the performance. I didn't want to be an observer of my life. I just wanted to live it.

However, Stephen Anthony Elkins brought a camera and took a few shots. This is with Andy Gale, who directed the evening. You may ask, why would we need a director? Aren't we just gonna stand there and sing? Well, no. Because I had some ideas about moving the choir into the "audience" or surrounding them, etc. but it was all vague.

Having Andy (and musical director Mark Janas) there to guide the evening, I didn't really have to do anything except run errands, rehearse my own solos -- yes, I sang three, along with playing the piano on "Antarctic Suite I: Landscape," which turned out better than I ever dreamed. It's a tricky little piano riff, and it's so in my bones, I just played it myself. 

Composer Steve Schalchlin with Director Andy Gale.
Composer Steve Schalchlin with Director Andy Gale.

Steve Schalchlin in church watching rehearsal.

Kalle Toivio

Conductor Mark Janas rehearsing in the warm afternoon.
Conductor Mark Janas rehearsing choir at Christ Church Bay Ridge.
Magnificent organ pipes displayed.
One of my goals was to demonstrate how valuable a music program can be for a church, and that when we relegate "arts" in our culture to a sideline activity, it's like cutting off our hands and feet.

For the members, it promotes community. For the church, it fills the halls with beauty.

And for me, it has been a school. An institute of higher learning. It's a safe place to try things and fail. When I began this journey, I never thought I'd write a Mass. It just seemed like a good idea. Not having grown up with Masses -- being raised Baptist -- I didn't really know what one was. I actually had to Google it.

But, slowly and painfully, for the past three years, I've written the "Ordinaries," one by one. These are five statements or chants or affirmations that compose the Mass. What I tried to do was to just write, musically, whatever emotion each one brought to me. For instance, the Kyrie made me feel a yearning from a place of feeling helpless. And on and on, each one was written in the original Latin, which is why I called it Missa Appassionata.

Then, after going to Sewanee last year, I learned that Episcopals prefer everything (but the Kyrie, which is in Biblical Greek) in English.

Steve Schalchlin and parishioner Lynne Pagano with
Jennifer Bassey.
Oy. Do you know it's like to take the music you've written according to the Latin and try to re-translate it back into English, and not just sorta get the words, but the words are specific, in a specific order. I compromised just a little, but it's all there.

I also, in putting this together, made it too hard for most choirs. It wasn't intentional. When you know something, you tend to think it's easy. But, we learned in rehearsal, this was not easy material. At all. In fact, it really complex and hard to learn. I felt sorry for my singers.

As for the concert itself, our friend Jennifer Bassey schlepped all the way out there -- she's an actress from All My Children. She played Marion Colby. She seemed to like it. Jim liked it.

A few people cried all the way through it.

It was an out-of-body experience for me. I was just glad I got through it and didn't make any mistakes during my parts.

As a composer, the best part was hearing the other soloists. It felt like every song was tailored just for them. In fact, the reverse was true. I knew their voices, so Mark and I picked the ones we thought would best embody the material. And man, were we right. These kids were amazing.

Mark Janas

Kalle Toivio

Andy Gale

Rebecca Aparicio
Maria Fernanda Brea
Natalie Dixon
Claire Gierber
Yunnie Park

Danette Sheppard 

Kendra Broom
Elise Gaugert
Emily Lockhart
Lori Lusted

Grant Bowen
Adam MacDonald
Aaron Sanko
Jake Wesley Stewart
Carlos Saenz
Stephen Wilde

Bobby Gamez
Sean Grant
Paul Kolecki
Greg Hoyt
Christopher Whipple

Missa Appassionata: The Bay Ridge Mass

“Fill It With Music” Soloist: Steve Schalchlin
“Kyrie Tremulare”
“Water in the Wilderness” (Isaiah 43: 16-21) Soloist: Natalie Dixon
4. PSALM (CHANTED)*** -- Psalm 29:1-4
“The Waters Have Lifted Me Up” Soloist: Adam MacDonald
“Sea Glass” Soloist: Claire Gierber
“Credo Sine Cera (ENGLISH)”
“Every Day, A New Amen”***  (2 Corinthians 1:20)
Soloists: Steve Schalchlin / Elise Gaugert
“Alleluia Celebrare”
“Lazarus Come Out”** – (John 11: 38-44) Soloist: Sean Grant 
---------THE PEACE--------
“Antarctic Suite I: Landscape”
“Sanctus (Holy, Holy)” Soloist: Maria Fernanda Brea
“My Thanksgiving Prayer”** Soloist: Steve Schalchlin
“Agnus Dei (Lamb of God)”
“Let the Living Waters Flow”* Soloist: Kendra Broom
“Gloria Jubilus”
“My Rising Up”**
Soloists: Steve Schalchlin / Danette Sheppard

For this concert, the traditional order of the Mass has been slightly altered.

Music & Lyrics by Steve Schalchlin except where noted.
*Music & Arrangement by Mark Janas **Lyrics by Peter J. Carman  
***Music by Steve Schalchlin & Mark Janas

Sunday, June 01, 2014

My Mass begins rehearsal Tuesday night.

I never, growing up, would ever have guessed that I'd compose a Mass, but Mark Janas and I have been working non-stop for the past week, editing, revising and getting the 17 numbers into rehearsal shape. 

This is the first time I've just taken a breath.

Rehearsals start Tuesday, there's another on Thursday and then the concert is Saturday.

Because this is completely new, no one knows what to expect. That's the exciting part. I think it's going to be one of best nights anyone will ever have. Not that I'm prejudiced or anything. 

It has only energized me, doing this project, and it's thrilling to finally see it come to life. It's all thanks to Fr. Jeffrey Hamblin, who has financed this entire music program out of his own pocket from his work as a doctor working graveyard shifts at the ER. And also thanks to Mark Janas, who gave all of his time this week to me, to edit and revise all the arrangements. It was a massive undertaking.

And now, on Saturday, it flies. One night only.

I wonder if anyone will come?