Rock, Roll & The Ring Cycle: A Chat with Shem von Schroeck

Rock, Roll & The Ring Cycle: A Chat with Shem von Schroeck

Shem von Schroeck joins the Houston Symphony for Journey, The Eagles, Fleetwood Mac & More.
Shem von Schroeck joins the Houston Symphony for Journey, The Eagles, Fleetwood Mac & More.

So often, we like to keep music in neat little genre boxes: rock music is one thing, classical another. This weekend, however, three decades of rock ‘n’ roll take center stage at Jones Hall with the Houston Symphony’s Journey, The Eagles, Fleetwood Mac & More concerts. Many rock classics will get the full orchestral treatment, showing that maybe these musical worlds aren’t as separate as you might think. Shem von Schroeck, one of the world’s most talented and versatile musicians, will join the orchestra to perform these great songs. Recently, I got to ask Shem a few questions about his experiences singing everything from Hall & Oates to Wagner.

Calvin Dotsey: First of all, I just want to say you have an awesome name. Is there a story behind it?

Shem von Schroeck: Thank you for that. There’s really no story, other than that I was named after one of the sons of Noah (you know, the guy in Genesis with the ark). I have yet to meet another Shem, but I do know there are a few others out there.

CD: How would you describe the music you will perform for your upcoming concert with the Houston Symphony? What unites this program? 

Fleetwood Mac in 1973.
Fleetwood Mac in 1973.

SvS: I consider the 60’s, 70’s, and early 80’s the Golden Era of pop music. I feel lucky to have had it in front of me during my musical formative years. The songwriting in that “golden era” was very solid—no gimmicks, no tricks—just good craftsmanship: true American song power. There is an earthy, tangible component to the The Eagles/Fleetwood Mac sound. Other than the great poetry of the lyrics, I think the earthiness is what drew listeners to it in the first place and continues to do so decades later.

CD: Do you remember when you first heard this music? What impact did it have on you?

SvS: I do. Rumors was voted “Class Favorite Album” in my 8th-grade yearbook. Every band in my local area was attempting to cover The Eagles and Fleetwood Mac songs. It helped shape much of my musical structure. I’ll never forget the first time I heard Journey and Steve Perry’s voice. It changed my whole concept of the male vocal approach. It was an honor to play with him in his band many years later and hear his voice up close and personal. What a thrill!

CD: What inspires you when you are preparing and performing this music?

SvS: For me, preparing and performing are the ultimate polar opposites in terms of the actual experience. Simply put, preparing isn’t my favorite thing in the world, but I absolutely love performing. Same with rehearsing: I’m not a fan. There is such a thing as being over-rehearsed. Too much can take some of the gusto out of the performance. There’s something invigorating about walking out on stage and just going for it, while trusting the gifts God gave you, knowing they won’t let you down. That’s why I love Dean Martin—one of the all-time great performers. Rarely did he rehearse. Being the consummate pro, he knew his material and simply relied on the joy of performing to drive his performances. The audience could feel it and was always left begging for more. I believe the audience is just as important to the performance as the artists on stage. The performer owes them his or her best. The audience has always been my true inspiration.

CD: Do you have any favorite songs you would like to highlight for the audience?

Album art for Hall & Oates' single, "Sara Smile."
Album art for Hall & Oates’ single, “Sara Smile.”

SvS: “Sara Smile” has always been a favorite. I haven’t performed it in quite some time, so I’m looking forward to getting out there and belting it out. I’m also blessed to have my father, Artie Schroeck, be involved, as he penned two of the symphony show’s arrangements: Billy Joel Medley and “Don’t Know Much.” Lastly, I think the audience is going to love the rock medley—13 minutes of great vocal and orchestral material.

CD: What do you enjoy about singing with a full orchestra? How is this experience different from singing with a smaller ensemble? 

SvS: My gosh, there is nothing quite like it. Working with an orchestra to me is like standing on a magic carpet and just letting the sound lift you off the ground and transport you to another world. At least that’s how I like to think of it. I enjoy playing with small ensembles and in intimate settings. But there is no comparing it to the concert hall. When you have dozens of musicians and artists all coming together to deliver a show to an enthusiastic and appreciative audience, being a part of that experience is beyond gratifying. Performing with an orchestra—especially the likes of the Houston Symphony—gives me the feeling that I’m part of something truly special.

CD: In addition to rock ‘n’ roll, you also sing a lot of Wagner. Off the top of my head, I can think of one other tenor who had such a varied repertoire – Peter Hofmann (who also sang Wagner and rock). Do find that there are similarities between the music on this program and the music Wagner wrote for his Heldentenors?

SvS: None whatsoever! [smiles] I think the great Peter Hofmann would have agreed. I miss him.

CD: What do you like to do when you aren’t rocking out or pulling a sword out of the tree in Hunding’s living room?

In Wagner's Die Walküre (part 2 of the Ring Cycle), Siegmund proves that he is a hero by pulling a sword out of a tree (kind of like King Arthur).
In Wagner’s Die Walküre (part 2 of the Ring Cycle), Siegmund proves that he is a hero by pulling a sword (called Nothung) out of a tree (kind of like King Arthur).

SvS: Well, in order to at least look like a Siegmund worthy of Nothung, I try to stay pretty active. Athletics and sports are a big part of my everyday life. I box three days a week and do Systema training (Russian Martial Arts) at least once a week. When “soul meets body meets mind” life falls much more in line. I enjoy the outdoors of hiking and mountain biking, too. I think my three favorite words in succession are “middle of nowhere.”

I love being creative, whether it be composing, producing, film making, or novel writing. (I am well over 300 pages into my first fiction novel. What a colossal undertaking!) History and astronomy are two of my greatest interests. But my favorite thing to do is travel with my best friend: my wife. We are fortunate that my performing engagements have allowed us to travel to many interesting and exciting places. We’re always learning…To learn is to grow; to grow is to better oneself; to better oneself is to be happy; to be happy is to truly live.

How can you resist a close like that??? Hear Shem von Schroeck sing with the Symphony in Journey, The Eagles, Fleetwood Mac & More May 6, 7 & 8, 2016! Click here for tickets and more info.

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