The Better Than Expected Tour
Volume 4 Book 5 of
Living in the Bonus Round
(Part 7)

In Venice, CA.

[ Book 4-4 ] --  [ Pt 1 ] [ Pt 2 ] [ Pt 3 ] [ Pt 4 ] [ Pt 5 ] [ Pt 6 ] [ Pt 7 ] [ Pt 8 ]
[ Pt 9 ] [ Pt 10 ] [ Pt 11 ] [ Pt 12 ] [ Pt 13 ] [ Pt 14 ]

October 26-Nov. 3, 2005.
Hard Drives & Healing Music.
I have a lot of catching up to do with this diary and as I type it out, I'm facing a deadline: my hard drive on my trusty three year old laptop is about to bite the dust. I know this is a fact because each time I boot up, I get a message:


So, here we go:

First of all, I have to mention that my brother, Scott, has been given a big, new job back in Texas. He's the Director of the State Mental Retardation Facilities with 11,000 employees and a huge multi-million dollar budget. I wrote him and told him I can't imagine having the responsibility of ONE employee, much less 11,000. So, congrats to my bro. He's a great guy and he deserves the honor.

On Sunday 30 October, I was invited by the American Composers Forum/LA to be a part of a quarter annual "salon" which features local composers of note being interviewed, followed by presentations of their work. Usually, the composers are from the academic world who write symphonies and serious "classical" music. So, I wasn't sure that I totally fit in, being more of a bar musician who made good in the theatre, but I was willing if they were.

I drove down to Venice, CA, to a recording studio called Tuttomedia, home of a beautiful Steinway. I met the organizers, Kubilay Uner (who is a composer himself and, due to a last minute cancellation became one of the other presenters) and Alex Shapiro, a gorgeous woman (also a composer) who I met years ago when I was at NAS. Alex would be the host. The other composer featured would be Carlos Rafael Rivera.

Windows just above the piano.

I wasn't sure what to expect. In a way, I felt out of my league. Though I've  had some training, at good ol' Jacksonville Baptist College, I know way more about pop music than I do about "serious" composition. But, at least I was walking in with a nice credit, that I'm currently nominated for those Ovation Awards!

I brought my video camera to the event. There wasn't much room so I set it up behind me.

Alex Shapiro introduces me and says I'm their first videographer.

A couple of shots during the opening interview.

Since this was an "audience" of fellow composers, I began my remarks by talking about the healing aspects of music. How, when I was very sick and trying to make myself better through alternative therapies, before the new drugs came on the market, I went to the piano, after not having played for almost two years, and began playing music. I told how the power of the music -- the actual vibrations of the wood and strings -- had a healing effect on my body and that that's how Jim got the idea to begin giving me "homework assignments." At the time, we never knew the songs would become a musical (The Last Session).

A member of the audience asked me if I had any other stories to tell about this and I told him about the autistic children and the pot-bellied pig. Longtime readers of this diary know this story, but, in short, a music therapist came up to me after a performance of TLS and said she had played my original demo of "Going It Alone" for a roomful of autistic children, most of whom were unreachable -- and that it caused the entire room to stop for the length of the song. Then I told them about Hoover the pot-bellied pig in Arkansas who used to hear my recordings and run to the center of the speakers, roll over and start shaking in ecstacy. (More on this later).

Alex told me I was the first composer to make her cry during one of the salons, a proud achievement! At one point, after I sang "Connected," someone went in the back and got a box of Kleenexes and passed it around.

The time went quickly. It felt good to be back singing those songs again, though I also sang "The Closet" from The Big Voice and "My Thanksgiving Prayer" from the upcoming cantata, New World Singing. At then end, I thanked them for inviting me and that I felt honored to be playing and singing in front of "real" composers.

Next came Kubilay Uner, a wonderfully gregarious modern composer whose played a recording of -- well, I'm not sure how to describe "Kubi's" music. It's clear he's highly educated and well trained. He takes themes and then develops them over soundscapes. He brought trumper player Lorenzo Trujillo to play along with one of the recordings. When I looked at the score, my only question to Lorenzo was, "How do you read this?" Kubi operates at a level way above anything I can even imagine, much less perceive. What I do know was that I loved it. It was accessible and fascinating.

Kubilay Uner.

Lorenzo Trujillo.

Carlos Raphael Rivera, who was the third and last composer interviewed, also totally blew me away. He was an American of Cuban/Guatamalan descent who went into deep detail about a guitar quartet he had recently written using Cuban and South American rhythms. As he described each rhythm, he detailed how he first studied them and then incorporated them into the score, which was recorded by the Aquarelle Guitar Quartet. When I looked at the score, which he brought along, I was dumbfounded. Neatly and copiously written out were all the rhythms that the guitarists had to play by hitting their guitars -- and just below that were the actual notes that they played. Every single measure had a different time signature. And yet, when he played it, there was no sense of feeling jarred. It flowed beautifully. The piece was called "Cuba-Quin" and is found here. For his interview, I sat in the front row and took photos.

Carlos Rafael Rivera.

Alex Shapiro discussing his music with him.

Carlos again.

Carlos Rafael Rivera.

The day after the event, I received an email from the man who asked me about musical healing. His name is John Steinmetz and his letter really touched me deeply. So I asked if I could share it here.
Dear Steve,

I attended that salon yesterday and didn't say anything at the time,
but I was very moved by your songs and your story. I don't think I've
ever heard anyone take something so personal and make something out of it that moved me so much. I love your combination of deep feeling and caring attention to the words and music. How wonderful that you found so many ways to turn scary, sad, miserable situations into affirming music. I really enjoyed the twists and turns in the lyrics, too.

I did mention when you were leaving that many of us composers feel like other people are the "real composers." As I'm writing this I realize that all it takes to be a "real" composer is the kind of care and attentiveness and soulfulness that you show so inspiringly. It doesn't matter what style or whether the music is short or long or for a lot of people or just one, or whether meant for oneself or others, or even whether it's going to get written down and come out the same every time. What matters, at least for me, and what makes the music real, is that mysterious ability to care enough to keep tinkering with it until, as Kubi says, it resonates. Since you're reating real music, you must be a real composer.

I also loved your story about the way musical sound brought you back to life. I don't think I've heard a story like that before, although it reminds me of a doctor I heard about. There is (or was, I don't know if he's still around) a Dr. Tomatis, an ear and hearing specialist, who discovered that sound had a previously ignored healing power. He noticed this when working with some monks. The story, as I remember it, goes something like this: In the monastery
the monks used to sleep very little and work a great deal, but they had become weak and tired, but no one had found any disease. Tomatis visited, and during his examinations discovered that the monks had recently changed their religious practice, and had educed the amount of chanting in their services. Tomatis recommended that they resume their singing--pre-dawn chants, and chanting at various other services throughout the day. Apparently when they restored chant to the daily schedule, their energy and health returned rather quickly.

After this experience, Tomatis began to look into the way that particular sounds energize people. He believed that, independent of the melodies and meaning, certain kinds of sounds--particular frequencies--stimulated human energy by means of the ears. He prescribed recordings of Gregorian Chant and Mozart, believing those musics to be particularly rich in the helpful frequencies. He also discovered differences in children depending on whether or not their mothers had sung to them in the womb!  He developed a listening therapy for children with certain emotional or mental disabilities, and some of these children improved after their ears were stimulated with frequencies that imitate the way a mother's voice sounds from within the womb.

Anyway, musical sound does seem to have a fundmental power that we just barely understand, and you are living proof of that. Thanks for sending that power back around, for keeping it going.



November 4-10, 2005.
The Secret Trip.
I woke Jimmy up and said, "Today is a secret trip. The approximate length will be an hour. There will be moderate walking. Wear comfortable shoes."

See, the big deal here in North Hollywood is that they finally opened up the big busline that crosses the Valley from the subway station to the west. They were able to do this by tearing up an old unused train track and replacing it with a corridor for the buses. We took the camera but only got a few shots because the batteries were low.

Here I am at the station:

Here is Jimmy. He doesn't really love walking all that much. Plus, he likes to pose with a cranky face. It's his favorite pose.

In this shot, you can see the corridor for the buses and the fancy new stations. So, anyway, we get on the bus. It's nice and comfy. AC is great. We're making our way to the back (it's a double bus) and who do we run into? Marie Cain! My songwriting partner on TLS and Big Voice! She's on her way to her daytime piano playing gig.
So, you see how exciting our life is. To amuse ourselves, we go for a ride on the public bus system to nowhere in particular. I did see this one thing, though, that made me laugh out loud. As you might or might not know, cellphones need antenna. All around, I see antennas set up on poles or carefully hidden on buildings, etc. But this was the first time I ever saw this:
It's not a real tree. It's a metal pole with fake palm branches at the top. And the antennae are painted green. This is why I love LA.


The Valley Theatre League has nominated us for new awards! Best Lead Actor in a Musical to Jim. Best Supporting Actor in a Musical to me. Best Musical Director to me. (That's my first musical director nomination.) Best Stage Manager Cate Conner.

On November 9, Jim did another reading of Zero Hour at the Pico Playhouse in West L.A. The theatre was PACKED and the response was terrific, including more queries from producers. It's really fun to watch this play get born and to watch it evolve from reading to reading.

I also finished editing a new vlog called "Musical Healing" taken from my interview at the afc/LA Salon, and it's now available for viewing. I've been using a new vlog site called because Ourmedia, as well intentioned as they are, just cannot seem to find people to donate server space. So, the service is very spotty. You can find it here:

November 11-13, 2005.
Veterans Day For Chuck.
"They were like jack rabbits," Chuck said, sucking on a cigarette. "We'd be out in the jungle just on the edge of a clearing and suddenly them little fucker's'd just pop up out of the ground. Right out of a hole and we'd pop 'em.

"We had to sleep out there. I'd be with my buddy. You don't know what it's like to have a buddy till you been in the service. I was Special Forces. They'd fly us into Cambodia or somewhere behind enemy lines. We'd be the ones who'd go after the really bad guys. Take 'em right out. They still got 'em in prisons all over the the place, you know."

(I had just asked Chuck if he was a vet.)

"Oh, I could tell ya stories," he continued. "This here's nothing," he said, surveying the streets of San Fernando Valley, his shopping cart only beginning to fill with the treasured cans and bottles of the day. "This ain't tough. You know how we'd sleep in the jungle? Your buddy'd lay on the ground and your job was to keep the bugs off of him. Yeah, you'd sit there continually just brush off the bugs and creepy crawlies and snakes. Keep 'em out of his face and off his body. And he'd been keeping the other eye out for anyone sneakin' up on ya.

"Then you'd lay down and he'd do the same for you. I slept, too!" he said with a crackle and that wicked grin, missing most of his upper teeth.

"Yeah," he said looking around at the new condos just built. "This ain't nothin'."

We saw another guy pass on the other side of the road, stumbling down the broad avenue carrying a big plastic garbage bag. "Look at him!" Chuck said with scornful disgust. "He's just an old drunk."

"'Course I'm a alcoholic too!" He said with still a trace of disgust but also with quiet resolution followed by a laugh. "You know the difference between him and me?"

I looked over at the other fellow who never looked our way. His face with bloated and red as he staggered under the weight of the bag.

"He's gonna take that stuff and just buy more booze. Me, I buy food. I don't stay drunk all day. I just like my beer. I settle in at home in the evening, turn on the tv and have my beer. What I'd really like is an electric skillet. I got a microwave but I'd love to just cook me up some hamburger."

I knew from our previous encounter that he needed some shirts, so I had already collected some of our shirts and things and had brought them to him. Comparing Chuck with the other guy, I could see that Chuck was clean. He had on a clean shirt and relatively clean pants. He told me that leaning over into bins would put grease stains on the shirts and pants that couldn't be cleaned. "I wash 'em," he said. "But sometimes they just get too stained and it's useless. I go through a lot of shirts and pants."

"Oh," he said, returning to the subject of Viet Nam, "I could tell you stories." He got a far away look in his eye.

"You know what, though?" he said, his features hardening up. "The worst of it was not there. The worst was what happened after we got home. Nobody cared. Nobody noticed us. They just wanted us to not be there. They didn't want to be reminded. And the government?" He spat.

"I could go over to Veterans Affairs right  now and get a check if I wanted to, but I won't have nothin' to do with 'em."

I suddenly remembered that I had set aside a five dollar bill in my pocket for Chuck, waiting to see him again.

I said, "Hey, Chuck. I got somethin' for ya. It's not much, but remember the other day when you told me that you could spend a whole day at the two-dollar cinema for five bucks after getting some candy at the dollar store? I want to buy you a day at the movies."

He saw the bill and recoiled a bit.

Chuck did not beg for money.

"Seriously. I'm not trying to insult you. It's just that I saw they just got 'Serenity' and 'Wallace and Gromit' down there and you had told me you loved sci fi and animation. I wanted just to buy you a day at the movies. Please. It's not much."

He got a big grin on his face. "Yeah? They got Wallace and Gromit??" Sheepishly he took the bill, looking around to see if anyone was watching.

I continued enthusiastically. "And I just saw 'Serenity.' It's GREAT!"

He cackled again. "I will do that. I will go today!" Then he playfully and slapped me on the belly. "You're a nice guy," he said genuinely, looking me right in the eye.

"Well," he said. "I better get movin'. I just saw someone goin' onto my best street. You know what, though? Most of them don't know nuthin' about recyclin'. I could follow along right behind them after they've been through the bins and STILL fill up my cart," he said crackling that laugh again.

After my run, I got home, powered up my dying computer which is miraculously still running and saw that it was Veterans Day so I took a demo I had just remixed of "My Thanksgiving Prayer," collected a bunch of pics off the net and edited together a video for Veterans Day. You can see it here:

Happy Veterans Day, Chuck.

Happy Veterans Day.

[ Book 4-3 ] -- [ Pt 1 ] [ Pt 2 ] [ Pt 3 ] [ Pt 4 ] [ Pt 5 ] [ Pt 6 ] [ Pt 7 ] [ Pt 8 ]
[ Pt 9 ] [ Pt 10 ] [ Pt 11 ] [ Pt 12 ] [ Pt 13 ] [ Pt 14 ]
© 1996-2005 by Steve Schalchlin.
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