Friday, January 23, 2015

Presenting at Manhattan School of Music.

Mark Janas teaches a program for the vocal students at the prestigious Manhattan School of Music. It's a special class of students who do community outreach to both elementary schools, to teach them about opera; and to senior centers, singing a special cabaret show.

This entails showing them how to approach singing the American Songbook, which can be tricky and sometimes difficult for operatic singers. Many simply cannot make that transition. But when they can -- when they can "bring it down," so to speak, and sing conversationally, they then have that reserve of training to draw on when they need it. And this can be spectacular!

With Andy Gale as an acting/performing coach, these students are getting the best of the best. And my purpose there was to sing my own songs and, as Mark would put it, show them, in real life terms, how powerful music can be in the lives of those who hear it, when its sung as if life itself depended on it, which mine absolutely does.

I'm honored to be able to do this kind of outreach. I don't come from an operatic background, so a part of me always feels inadequate. Most of these singers can, technically, sing rings around me.

But, somehow, whatever I bring to the party, it seems to be enough. Mark gave me over an hour to work with them and all of us were drenched in tears by the time it was over.

Now, they'll work on their own shows. I'm excited to see what develops.

Monday, January 19, 2015

New World Waking in Boston.

Last week, I offered to let any group perform New World Waking, and the challenge has been accepted by the EarthStone Theater Company, which is run by some students at Boston Conservatory.

So, today, in honor of MLK Day, I want to present this number from the recent New York staging.

Borrowing from my Mass, I brought in the Sanctus, sung here by Maria Fernanda Brea, a student at Manhattan School of Music, the opera program. I promise she will some day be on the stage at the Met.

But, you'll see that the narrator begins the moment with a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King -- about how violence only breeds more violence -- pairing that quote with "Holy Dirt," about how some religions care more about their ideology than they do the people they say their deity or prophet loves.

It's like a contest to see who can kill them most people to defend the honor of some holy object or person -- and whoever kills the most, wins.

In class yesterday...

In class yesterday, one of my new songs got ripped to shreds. Well, not really. They loved the melody and concept, but felt they were mismatched -- and that the "story" in the song was unclear. I hated hearing that, of course.

 Except, today, I love having heard it. Because now I know how to approach a rewrite.

Being a songwriter is such a pain. When an idea is new, it's THE GREATEST IDEA ON EARTH, and then you start singing it and the fresh new car starts getting dings and bumps and scratches. Or, they were there but you just didn't see them because NEW IS ALWAYS GREAT!

But, how valuable to have informed, honest reactions. You cannot grow without it. You have to suck it up and look at what you've got and then fix it. And fix it again.

That's a metaphor for life, btw.

It never gets easy. It only becomes familiar. But if your life is easy, you're either dead or you've lost the meaning of life.

OTOH, the two other songs got a splendid reaction. I still think there's work to do, but at least I feel I can see the runway and can land pretty smoothly.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

You can perform New World Waking.

If you're a student or non-profit group looking for an hour-long piece for a fundraiser or a social action meeting, I am allowing, for a limited time, a free license to perform it. All the material is online, fully downloadable for no charge.

Write me at

Monday, January 05, 2015

Announcing an honor.

Today, it was announced that I have been honored with the first Broadway World Special Editor's Award for Excellence in Songwriting by the editors of BroadwayWorld,com. Here is their description:

In a field with many deserving candidates, this year's first ever BWW New York Cabaret Award for "Excellence in Songwriting" goes to Steve Schalchlin, a New York-based composer and lyricist who has been on quite a cabaret roll the past two years. Although his two biggest recent projects, the CD and subsequent show, Tales From the Bonus Round, and his song cycle, New World Waking, were years in development, Schalchlin performed both in New York over the past couple of seasons. Bonus Round-which featured Schalchlin at the piano as lead singer--was performed as a cabaret show at the Metropolitan Room in October 2013 (and received a BWW Award nomination for "Best CD Release," and one of the songs garnered a nomination for "Best Original Song for a Cabaret Show"), while New World Waking received a standing ovation when performed at the Urban Stages Winter Rhythms Festival last month. "What makes Steve stand out above the rest for his recent body of work is that he not only writes both music and lyrics, but also performs his songs," says BWW New York Cabaret Editor Stephen Hanks. "But even more impressive is that his songs in Bonus Round compellingly chronicled his battle with the life-threatening AIDS disease, while New World Waking offered important messages about how our planet needs to finally overcome violence, war, racism, and prejudice-and how it might be possible through the power of music. Schalchlin's lyrically powerful and pleasingly melodic songs couldn't be timelier."
I have to thank, of course, Stephen Hanks, who has been a most ardent supporter of many of the best performers on the vibrant and growing cabaret scene in New York. For years, he has attended hundreds and hundreds of cabaret shows, essentially documenting this era in the world of New York Cabaret -- a scene that is always in flux.

With the death of so many live band clubs, many musicians and songwriter who, in earlier times would have been playing in blues clubs or folk clubs or rock clubs are finding themselves welcomed on cabaret stages.

Sure, traditionally, cabaret envelopes the Great American Songbook from earlier in the 20th century, so a certain amount of performing, acting and singing skills are required. But that doesn't mean there isn't room for a many more genres of music -- especially new material with personal, intimate moments, which is what cabaret is really all about.

Friday, January 02, 2015

Looking Back and Racing Forward.

This has been one of the best years of our lives.

For me, creatively, it's been a revelation even to myself beginning with the performance of my Mass, Missa Appassionata, back in the Spring. With a choir of world class voices singing my music, led my Mark Janas and directed by Andy Gale, I'm still not over the powerful way these singers embraced the piece and made it soar. (A recording is on the way!)

Then, we got into our new apartment -- after 11 years on the waiting list! -- and we finally have a home to call our own. It's hard being a poor actor/writer in New York City. We spend so much of our time working on our art, doing things for free, and hoping for attention, it almost sometimes feels like we're doing it for ourselves.

Maybe this year, the rest of the world will find us.

But it was the performance of New World Waking that really felt like a triumphant conclusion to an eventful year. Thanks to the fact that this new place we're living in, which is filled with singers and actors and musicians, I am able to access a rehearsal studio during the earliest morning hours, which is when I like to work.

So, every day, faithfully, I am down at that piano working from 3 or 4am to 7 or 8, depending on whether anyone else has signed up for the 7am hour, and wow, what a difference it makes to have all that time alone to just write and play and sing.

I suppose the best thing I can say is that I'm grateful. Grateful and thankful and humbled and thrilled to still be alive and thriving when so many men of my generation died in the holocaust of AIDS.

All I can do is hope that I haven't wasted their legacy by wasting even a moment of time here in the bonus round. Not many people get the kind of privileges afforded me. And being alive is at the top of that list.

I apologize that I don't update this blog as often. I will commit myself to doing more this next year.

These past few years have really been years of study and work and transition. I never dreamed that I could be capable of the kind of work that has poured out of me. Who IS that guy?

What I do know is that as we get closer to my 20th year in the bonus round, I can see how much I person can accomplish when I'm surrounded by friends, and when I surrounds myself with people who are more talented, more accomplished and more driven than even I can imagine.

What next, you ask?


Absolutely everything.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Happy New Year with New World Waking.

Also read the sensational review posted at Broadway World by critic/editor Stephen Hanks.

CABARET LIFE NYC: Steve Schalchlin's 'New World Waking' Is a Spiritual & Political Wake-Up Call for Non-Violent Social Action and a Case for the Healing Power of Music.

As culture writer and film critic A.O. Scott put it in the New York Times this past Thanksgiving weekend, "Ever since the financial crisis of 2008, I've been waiting for 'The Grapes of Wrath.' Or maybe 'A Raisin in the Sun,' or 'Death of a Salesman,' an Emile Zola novel or a Woody Guthrie ballad-- something that would sum up the injustices and worries of the times, and put a human face on the impersonal movements of history.  
The originals are all still around, available for revival and rediscovery and part of a robust artistic record of hard times past. But we are in the midst of hard times now, and it feels as if art is failing us."   
So into this void, at least in this little part of his and our world, steps a Steve Schalchlin, with an intelligent, compelling, and extremely tuneful commentary on some of the current ills of American society and the entire planet, and his idealistic but utterly conceivable notion of music being the conduit for non-violence and peaceful change. "