Volume 3 Book 7 Part 15 of
Living in the Bonus Round
Steve speaking to the Gay Men's Chorus of L.A.
Click on image for larger picture
(the one that's now on my desktop, btw)
[ Book 3-6 ] -- [ 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 ] [ Pt 15 ] [ Pt 16 ]
February 22-27, 2004.
Rabbi Steve & the GMCLA.I found myself completely and utterly inarticulate on Monday night. I had absolutely no idea how to frame even the most compelling thought. To stand in front of the Gay Men's Chorus of LA knowing they were about to sing "When You Care" I wanted to say so much, but when I stepped up to the mic in front of all those amazing singers, knowing the history of this chorus, how many people they lost to AIDS. They fact that they were singing my song.
I know I stumbled through it, about how I was alive because of my friends caring about me. That it's the big anthem at the end of The Last Session. That John Bettis generously collaborated with me on it, a man who had written some of the greatest pop songs in history.
What I wanted was to tell them that this was a greater honor even than the day we stood in front of Tom Hanks and gave an acceptance speech for the GLAAD Award (and I love my GLAAD Award).
When I was in college, I loved the choir. I took two years of college from a very excellent musician and singer, Bro. Orr. By the second year I was arranging songs for all the choirs. (But things happened and I ended up joining a band and didn't go to third year in college -- that's a whole 'nother story. I was the song leader and choir director for a big church in Dallas when I was 19. Completely unprepared for the real world. Got caught up between opposing forces of a congregation and my blossoming sexuality. Fell out with the pastor and made a dramatic exit back to the safe haven of a band living in a $50/mo. garage apartment -- and that's also a whole nother story, but I digress).
I have always felt that the most beautiful instrument in the world is the human voice. And I always cry when I hear choirs. I start crying the moment the voices hit my ear. (This is also true of tap dancing, by the way. I cry when I hear all the feet in a huge tap number all falling into place.)
I also shudder at the thought of a tap dancing choir, but anyway.
I wore my Gideon costume.
It's one of Jimmy's old denim-ish shirts.
When the voices started, it was absolutely haunting. I flashed back to my college days, I could smell the old wooden church houses in the hills of east Texas.
Tenors in foreground. Baritones to back and right.
The piano sits in the center.
Someday I want to be sitting right there with a mic,
singing with this chorus. That is now my official fantasy.
Bruce, the director, is someone I've talked about here previously. He's a magnificent musician and leader. I really do see a similarity in tone to Indianapolis. I wonder if this tone, this sense of community, strength, joy and hard work in an easy atmosphere of fun and great love, is endemic to all good choirs? Or is it because they have great choirmasters? (Personally, I believe everything starts at the top.)
So that was Monday night. Wednesday night, I sang a presentation for students at the University of Judaism. The night was cold and rainy. I mean literally, it felt like a north Louisiana rain where the streets are so slick, they're solid black, but gleaming with reflected headlights and street lights. You can barely make out the painted stripes indicating the lanes.
I knew it was on Mulholland Dr. just south of where the 405 meets the Ventura Freeway. I set out a half hour early, drove so safely I was the safest driver on the planet, giving way, not speeding, not going too slow, keeping the car in front of me WAY far in front of me. Found it easy.
Up on the hill. I was so concerned about the rain, in fact, that I bundled up and got halfway there before realizing I had left my camera. You'll have to follow me in your mind's eye.
Instructions: Fourth driveway. Turn right and park.
Driving up the hill I saw a driveway but it wasn't an access driveway. It led down to some behind some building. I found a driveway and turned in. There was an overhang for my car. But the building was overhead, farther up the hill. There was an outdoor staircase. I was wearing my hooded raincoat.
Went up two flights of stairs and saw some buildings. But they were dorms. I milled around and found another parking lot above mine spread out in front of a big white student center. Through the glass I saw kids watching the Lakers versus the Nuggets.
Several girls, students, asked me if I was looking for someone. I said I was the speaker. They started jumping up and down and hugging me!
Soon, we moved into the new student union building where I sat behind a little upright piano. The thing is that I was genuinely tired. After the hard work in Indianapolis and running around here catching upon work, by the time I began the two-hour program for these kids, I felt like I was at the end of a marathon. I wasn't sure I had the focus or the energy to give them my best.
So, rather than worry about it or stress over it, I just relaxed and went through the songs, one by one, telling my stories and finally answering questions. What made this different, though, was the tone of the questions. There was one especially hip looking guy who asked me, "How can I be of better service to people with AIDS?"
Now that stopped me. No one has ever asked that question before. I thought about Deacon Tim at the Carl Bean House and what he had been telling me, how people contribute things sometimes that the homeless and destitute that he serves cannot use.
My response was to go to a place like Carl Bean House and ask. To do research. To find someone who does the service for people in need and find out specifically what things a person like that needs. True love isn't just throwing things at people. To "love" is to see the person for real and to take the time to find out what they need.
Still, because I was feeling so tired, I felt I had let them down. Then I got this note from Abby, who booked me.
What can I tell you. The night was absolutely magical. The students who were there were absolutely blown away. Just so you know the 20 students who were there make up a sizeable percentage of the population of the school since it's so small. We are a very service oriented group of people and I am not surprised that people wanted to know how they could help. The undergrads are very committed to the idea of diversity and the fact that you were able to combine music and talent with your message just blew them away.I realized, from this letter, that more than ever, the reason I was brought back from the edge of death was to have moments like this. Even when I feel the most unworthy -- and trust me, I felt like I let them all down because of how tired I was; I knew it wasn't my best concert -- the message that's been given to me holds its own power.
As for myself, I think you know that I've been dealing with a benign tumor in my liver for about a year now. It's only threatening me in terms that it causes some pain and it has to be surgically removed in about a month or two through a very long and tedious operation (at least for the surgeon, I'll be asleep). However, to hear you sing and to remember all of the strength that I have been shown by everyone that I know living with HIV/AIDS helped me to realize that I can deal with the day to day of being sick and that I have to find something that helps me. Your music touched me in a totally different way now that I have the experience of being a patient.
In addition to the fact that when you sing "Connected" I am instantly connected to all of the people that are in the room, but also those who are not in the room who I sometimes have only a tenuous connection with since they have passed on so long ago. I have never heard more thanks for bringing a speaker to campus than I did on Wed. night. I know that you were heard loud and clear and that they want you to come again next year. You have a way of touching people, (especially the queer students in the audience who don't get to hear enough about struggling with sexuality and identity as do the hetero students) I can't say if it was the new found emotion that I heard in the songs or the fact that each time I hear you play it's a little bit different, all I know is that your music reaches me in a very deep and vulnerable place that has been reserved for a very deep kind of love for other people.
I am always grateful when I can visit that depth of my soul. Thanks for coming and sharing with us yourself and your music. You are truly one of my rabbis and I look forward to sharing many more occasions with you.
Warmly, with love and affection,
I have to remind myself to sometimes it's better for me to just get out of the way and let the music and the stories speak for themselves.
© 1996-2004 by Steve Schalchlin.You have permission to print from this diary and distribute for use in support groups, schools, or to just give to a friend. You do not have permission to sell it.