BRIEF BLOG INTRO:
Hello. You caught me at a rather exciting time in the bonus round. For my 60th birthday year, I made an album. I'm doing some concerts around New York City and I even composed a concert Mass which will debut on June 7. I update a few times a month these days, and I don't spam. So it's easier to keep up with me by following by Email. When this blog began, it was to track my death. I'm told it was the first AIDS blog. You can start at the gruesome beginning if you want. Or just jump in and maybe we can learn some life lessons together. Welcome to the Bonus Round. I'm Steve, The Songwriter.

Friday, November 30, 2012

So, I was just walking down the street...

And saw a video camera set up with a sign in front that said, "Tell Us A Story." So, I told my story. Turns out it was for a film class project. I think they liked my story.


TELL US A STORY from carolina cimenti on Vimeo.

Shining Eyes.

This video from the TED Talks brought tears to my eyes. The simplicity of how this great musician and conductor, Benjamin Zander, reminded me why I write and play and sing. I want you to watch it.



I found it on a blog of a music teacher named James L. Smith, which I found because I was searching for Beethoven's string quartet, Opus 132, third movement, which I was searching for on recommendation from my musical mentor and friend, Mark Janus -- which came from because he had just critiqued the "Agnus Dei" I have composed for my Mass.

He said, "Beethoven wrote this after a long illness and it was his celebration of being alive." And the reason we know this is because Beethoven wrote this fact into the title of this piece. Mark continued, "It's like the music you wrote for The Last Session. It just came directly from his heart. And it's written in Lydian mode."

Beethoven was also completely deaf when he wrote it. As I researched it, just looking at that piece of sheet music and hearing it in his head was his own form of meditation. Or in his case, how he connected to God.

But, interestingly, that's not why he recommended the piece. It happened because I did some sloppy work -- my word, not his -- that became a happy accident, you might say.

I had just finished the Credo. It's in D minor and it's very solid. It tells a story, both in the text -- I kept to Latin, in this case -- and makes an affirmation: This is what I believe.

I see The Agnus as a kind of prayer for peace. But there is no peace.

No. It's that one prays for peace, or meditates for peace, or works for peace, or writes for peace because there is non-peace.

In church each morning, we sing an Agnus Dei that I find breathtakingly beautiful. The tenor part is so luscious and melodic, it just feels good coming out of your chest cavity. In writing my Mass, I knew I couldn't match that. I'd just be rewriting that version. (I will later insert the composer of our Agnus. I'm so terrible at names.)

Also, it's in English.

So, I thought, "Well, let's go down a half step to Db. But, in order to express the disquiet -- the non-peace that I feel after having stood up and been so declarative -- I need some chaos. It needs to feel wrong, but still working within a tonal structure. IOW, I'm not going for avant garde. At least, in my mind, it feels like traditional romantic music.

So, I started on the 5 chord. The Ab. At the end of the song, for some reason, it just felt right to end on the Gb. I wanted that tonality.

But when Mark looked at it, what he saw was a piece of music written in Db which ended in Gb, and which never, because of the accidentals, never landed on a Db anywhere in the piece.

So, his suggestion, which made perfect sense, was to just change the key to reflect the fact that it's actually in Ab, the first chord -- and then change keys to Gb, at the end. He also said that it was not a necessary thing to do, but something to think about.

Which is what made him think of Lydian mode, where you kind of do that intentionally -- but which was not the case here.

So, I had a choice. What key is this in? Did I really intend to write it in Db? Not really. It was just my starting point. I never would have written it in Ab if I hadn't intended to add some chaos to Db. The chords, ever more dissonant, kind of went their own way. What I hope is that it makes sense, emotionally.

If you didn't look at that video, go look at it now.

Yesterday morning, I was a guest in a classroom filled with students studying social work. How to deal with clients and patients. It was the first time in a long time that I've spoken in public in that way.

I had to revisit the time before the The Last Session. I had to remember how those songs came about. It's so funny. Each time they asked me a question, the answer would invariably be "I wrote a song about that."

"Did you go to any groups? What was it like to learn you weren't going to die right then?"

I gave them the Spotify link and the iTunes link. Told them about how many social workers over the years have used my music as therapy for their clients.

One website, in discussing this Beethoven string quartet, said he wrote that it shouldn't ever be played in public. That it was for just his friends to listen to, in small groups. A piece he never heard except in his head.

So, after I go home, I looked it up. And found this:




I felr dumb as a dog watching a person drive a car.

I kept trying to keep up with the score, trying to see what notes he wrote. I got more and more frustrated.

Then, I started to write this blog and, just as background, let it play again. And then I could hear it.

This was the private music he wrote in his own head in celebration of the fact that his stomach stopped hurting -- after a long time of pain and suffering.

I was missing the music by trying to analyze it before I heard it.

Sometimes I find myself trying to analyze my music before I write it. This Mass -- I'm writing this without touching the piano. It's not completely like Beethoven, though, because I can "listen to the sheet music" through score writing software. All of which reminds me that I have a long path ahead of me when it comes to learning music.

And it's up to me to find that path and walk it.

But as I looked into the eyes of the 25 or so students yesterday morning, as I had to go back to the darkest of days, recalling how we all connected online through the BBS services, how this diary had become a case study for students all over the country studying social work, that it all started with a simple need to express a feeling.

To tell a story in song. To just be real, from the heart.

That's what moves an audience.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Big Voice: God or Merman?

What? You didn't get to see The Big Voice when it was running in New York? Now you can. Here it is.


Friday, November 16, 2012

Shubert Alley Nov. 15, 2012







And then you come to Guy Fieri's restaurant, which just received the all-time worst review in the history of the NY Times.


And a new Jekyll & Hyde Restaurant opening soon.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Times Square Photo Series: A Hidden Treasure Mysteriously Appears.

Look! Jim shaved his beard. And he's lost a lot of weight, which he very proudly shows off to everyone.



So, we were standing in Times Square, looking around, when we suddenly spied this stripped down building, which normally has been covered with huge billboards:


Jim said, "Look at those statues. Have I ever seen those before? I don't remember them." I crossed the street to examine it more closely. Clearly, someone, in renovating this building, has revealed a facade that's been hidden away for a very long time. My first thought was that the statues were generic statues of the type you might find in someone's back yard by the fountain.


But then I saw the inscription chiseled across the top. The show folks shoe shop? Really?



Then I zoomed in on the first statue.


Barrymore as Ophelia. Ethel Barrymore?


Mary Pickford as Little Lord Fauntleroy?? How old is this building?


And... who?


Rosa Ponselle? Even I don't remember that name. (She was an opera singer.) I quickly called Jim over and said, "This is even more interesting than we thought.."



After we got home, Jim found this link at Theatermania.

See This Amazing Broadway Relic Before it Becomes a Place to Buy Leggings
In the book Forgotten New York: The Ultimate Urban Explorers Guide to All Five Boroughs, Kevin Walsh explains how these actresses were chosen: 
"In 1927, the I. Miller company took the public vote to determine the most popular theater actresses of the day, with the idea of placing statues of them above their new seventh avenue store. The results came in, and sculptor Alexander Sterling Calder was chosen to depict them in some of their most famous roles." 
The business of making shoes for leading ladies is much different than the Al Bundy shoe business.


Photo credit: Tristan Fuge at Theatermania.
(For some reason, I didn't get a good shot of Marilyn.)






Times Square Photo Series: Peace and Quiet

Today, after doing soup at the Polish Tea Room, we were walking through Times Square. Now that it they've widened it into a plaza, there is more room to do public exhibitions. For instance, the other night, Microsoft filled the entire place with computer work stations for Windows 8.

Today, I spied this little hut.















Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Edwin Booth's 179th Birthday Celebration at The Players


Edwin Booth was the most famous, respected and celebrated actor of the 19th century. The Players Club was his mansion on Gramercy Park, which he donated as long as he could live on the upper floor. His apartment is still there, exactly as he left it. There's even a skull someone donated to him for his performances of Hamlet, which was his most famous portrayal.


The Master of Ceremonies was David Staller, who produces the fantastic Shaw Project there at the Players. Jim and I were sitting with Keith Merrill, who produces a wonderful Noel Coward themed series of play readings. There were several speakers who told the story of Booth. Particularly, the shame he felt after his brother, John Wilkes, did that thing that he did at Ford's Theater.

Nichole Donje reading "Edwin Booth's Youth by his sister Asia Booth Clarke and William Winter.
Tom Vinciguerra read a story about how Edwin Booth had, unknowingly a few years earlier, saved the life of Abe's son, Tom, when he almost fell off a train. "A Booth Saves A Lincoln." Then, John Martello read Edwin's Letter to the People of the United States, denouncing the horror caused by his brother.

Jim Brochu read "The Curse of Rome" by Laurence Hilton,
a story about the power of Booth's acting. 

This is a huge portrait of Booth as Cardinal Richelieu.
It was said that he did the entire play with his legs bent so that, at the exact moment,
he straightened them up and the audience gasped that he could grow an extra foot tall.
Now that's special effects.

Keith Merrill and Steve Schalchlin in front of a portrait of Booth.
 After the short readings, we watched a slide show produced by Elizabeth Jackson. Then, took candles and went into Gramercy Park and laid a wreath at the statue of Booth.




Then, David Copeland read "On Edwin Booth's 104th Birthday - Nov. 13, 1937" written by Player Edgar Lee Masters.


History is fragile. It gets lost too easily. I love little ceremonies like this. The Players Club was a daring adventure in the beginning. Imagine society men hobnobbing with actors!

Nowadays, society people appear on reality shows.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Kidney Stone Mystery Solved?

So...

After many tests, some of which are too gross to get into, we have results.

My kidney stones seem to be coming from an accumulation of uric acid. In some people, this can become gout. In me, it apparently creates kidney stones.

At least, that's our presumption.

In plain talk, it means that my diabetic diet, the meat proteins I'm eating -- chicken, fish, meat -- are creating a great deal of uric acid. So, the prescription is to cut down on "meats" to one meal a day, in smaller portions, and up the plant protein quotient, and add in some whole wheat carbs to make up for the lost calories.

(I can just hear my vegetarian friends and readers wagging their fingers and saying, "I told you so.")

So... good plant proteins. I need some new recipes.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Clips from Jim Brochu's Character Man

Post Sandy: 3 am gas line 10th Ave Manhattan.

Facing south. Running right to left is 42nd street. Up and down is 10th avenue. The Yotel is on the left with all the purple. World Trade Center, up center. The line is to the Hess station on 45th. Yesterday, they announced gas was now being rationed.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Giving Thanks: The Untold Story of 'Shades of Blue'.

My brothers and various family members have been posting 30 Days of Thanks. I don’t think I want to do that, necessarily. Not that I can’t think of 30 things to give thanks for. I just hate the pressure. And, if I mention people, will other people feel left out?

So, what I would like to do is say I’m thankful for my crazy family. They are long-suffering. Also, my friends, both IRL and cyberly, and to the Bonus Round readers.

But my first thanks has to go to Jimmy for keeping me alive. And how he accomplished this task can really be tracked back to before The Last Session. There were a number of months -- I don’t know how many -- that led to the moment I wrote “Connected,” which set it all off.

THE UNTOLD STORY OF "SHADES OF BLUE"

I had been sick/bed-ridden for a year or two. But then, I had started to play music again. I could finally sit up at the piano, after what seemed like forever, lying in bed or on the couch, too weak to do anything but stare into space or be online in the earliest incarnation of the internet, where many of us positoids were getting getting our information about the disease -- what was working and what wasn’t.

And the playing and singing of the music was bringing strength back into my body. So, I was asking everyone around me to help me write words. Any words. Just words that I could set to music. We had a neighbor who contributed something. But then Jimmy, answering the challenge, wrote a lyric called “Shades of Blue.”

So, I wrote music for “Shades of Blue.” We didn’t really intend for it to be anything. A writing exercise. Maybe he saw a picture in a book or saw the phrase somewhere that caught his attention.

Anyway, as he was writing the book for The Last Session, we were choosing from among the songs on our list and there was no dramatic place for “Shades of Blue.” But he found a place for a snippet when the engineer needed a sound check. (It has a particularly lovely hook).

But I never wrote the song out in sheet music form. Back then, I wasn’t very good at it. Plus, during that first workshop, I was so sick, I could barely write out anything.

However, during the Los Angeles production, the cast wanted to go into the studio to make a souvenir CD for the fans. We didn’t have the money to make an actual cast recording, so instead, they sang other songs I had written, and Bob Stillman recorded his version of “Going It Alone.” (We also recorded “Preacher and the Nurse” with Michelle Mais, since she wasn’t in the NY production.)

One of the other “outside songs” we recorded was “Shades of Blue,” and it was done by Jeff Juday, who replaced Joel Traywick during the run. Jeff had a gorgeous voice, and I remember I just gave him the lyrics and played it for him -- and we did it in a single take, if I recall.

Okay. Fast Forward to last month. John Yap of JAY Records, fully committed to the cast album, asked if we could record a bonus track of “Shades of Blue” and have Buddy (AJ Dean) sing it; theoretically, the version he has handed to Gideon at the start of the play?

Problem is, I got this request on Saturday. The session is Monday. I’m in New York with the Storm of the Century headed at me. They’re in London. They needed the music now, so he can learn it. First, I would send them the mp3. But where would that be?

The TLS LA Souvenir album is very rare. I think we only pressed 500 and donated the money to Youth Guard, who sold it on their site. I looked into our boxes and found one -- but when I opened it, it was the wrong CD. The manufacturer had put something else in the box.

So, I looked through some ancient hard drives. Eureka! There it was! I knew I had ripped it, at one time or another.

And this is where I realized I’ve learned a few things over the years. I listened to it and effortlessly reproduced it onto score in about two hours. Fifteen years ago, I would have labored on this for hours and hours. Days, even.

Sent it off. Thomas Turner, the musical director, suggested a different key. So, we did that. And then he and AJ learned it at the studio and recorded it right after they finished the rest of the score that day.

And the hurricane is now upon us. Lights are going out all over Manhattan. We are on 43rd street. We hear the darkness is spreading. First, the bowery. Then, the Village, Then all the way to 34th. The power blinks for a moment, but stays on. We’re safe.

All the while, I’m Skyped into London, listening to the session and giving notes from my computer and they are hearing me over an iPhone lying on the counter.

So, what does all this have to do with a thank you to Jim?

Well, he had now seen how playing music was bringing me back to life. He saw me begging for words. Any words. Anything to make music with. And “Shades of Blue” eventually led to “Connected.” In fact, without it, maybe “Connected” would never have been written.

So, when you get your London Cast Album of The Last Session this spring, and you hear a simple little love song at the end, know that it is much more than just a simple love song.

It was a gift of life.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

I think things like this.


New York in the Aftermath of Sandy.


Down below us, there is a gas line -- mostly taxis trying to get fuel -- that has been there for a week. The line goes from 45th street down 10th avenue to below 14th. It feels like this is the only open gas station in Manhattan. But they wait. Patiently, until someone tries to cut in line, either inadvertently or accidentally. And even then, it doesn't take long for the interloper to be thown back 30 blocks to the end of the line.

Mark has been in the dark for a week. I kept leaving messages and he finally called, once he found a place with wireless. Andy's lights got turned on yesterday.

I can't go to church this morning because there's no easy public transportation -- if there's much as at all -- from Brooklyn back into Manhattan because those subway lines aren't working and it looks like the lines for the buses are long, long, long.

Mostly, Jim and I -- thankful that we have power -- have stayed close to home. There's a collection box in our lobby for clothing and food. I'm going to take the extra food I bought in case we lost power and put it all in there. We just got rid of a bunch of clothes only a few weeks ago, but I'm going to look for more. Maybe a blanket or two we don't use. The problem is that NY apartments are small. You can't live in them unless you strip down to bare minimums to begin with. All one really feels is helpless. 

Friday, November 02, 2012

Pre-Mix of Two Songs from The Last Session.

JAY Records has released this monitor mix of "Going It Alone" from London's The Last Session. AJ Dean with Darren Day. Thomas Turner on piano.

And also "When You Care" with Darren Day, AJ Dean, Simone Craddock and Lucy Vandi (with a touch of Ron Emslie at the end).

These are just pre-mixes so that you can get an idea of how great these singers are. The final mixes will be ready in the Spring.

Vote to nominate The Last Session...

...for Best Off-West End production. Follow this link and then, on the drop down menu, The Last Session is not in alphabetical order, but toward the bottom of the list.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Scenes Post-Sandy: New Yorkers are Nice.

“Everyone is being so nice,” she said as she looked at the prices on the salad bar. “These aren’t bad at all!”

“No,” I agreed. “This is where we come for chicken salad.” Instead of the bodega across the street.

She told me she had heard there was an open grocery store on 57th street and she had been taking the now-working M11 up until someone told her about this store on 42nd.

She was from below 34th street on the West Side. Probably Chelsea. Her neighborhood has no power, so all the shops are closed.

Many of the shelves here were bare of certain staples. Fewer meats. And there were no chicken breasts at the little meat market across the street. Only legs and wings.

She said, “I’ll get stuff here and then take the M11 back.”

I told her she could get that on the 9th avenue corner.

Like the others, I got a few things and then stood in the long line. No one was griping. No one was hoarding.

The car horns are honking constantly. The traffic on 10th avenue is a nightmare.

We've been told to stay in unless there's a reason to go out. So, that's exactly what we're doing.