Guest Blogger: Carol de Giere is the author of Defying Gravity: The Creative Career of Stephen Schwartz, from Godspell to Wicked. Today, we are celebrating Stephen Schwartz’s 65th birthday!
A small upright piano arrived at the home of Stan and Sheila Schwartz on Long Island when their son Stephen was seven years old. It wasn’t long before the boy started goofing off from his piano lessons so he could improvise new tunes. No one imaged his creative “noodling,” as he calls it, would become one of his strategies for writing songs for Broadway and Hollywood, including the megahit musical Wicked.
Now, at age sixty-five, Stephen Schwartz still centers much of his work around his pianos, including his two grand pianos at home in Connecticut and one in his New York City office/condo. While writing scores for musicals, he almost never writes notes on paper as a first step. And even though his lyrics have won awards, when he feels his way into a character’s psychology, he likes to keep his hands on the ivories. “It’s my belief that music has a certain internal emotional logic, and therefore it should rule the song,” he says.
Schwartz’s credits to date include numerous stage musicals, such as the Broadway hits Wicked, Pippin, The Magic Show and Godspell. His movie credit list is not too shabby either, including lyrics for Disney’s Enchanted, Pocahontas, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and songs for DreamWorks’ The Prince of Egypt.
As he marks his sixty-fifth birthday on March 6, 2013, even with his many achievements he still has no desire to retire. After all, one of his collaborators, Joseph Stein, with whom he worked on The Baker’s Wife and Rags, continued working up until his final days at age ninety-eight. Schwartz is currently penning lyrics for a DreamWorks animated feature as well as songs for a Broadway show about Houdini. (To keep up with his activities, subscribe to The Schwartz Scene newsletter.)
While the songwriter keeps busy writing new musicals, he also takes time to help up and coming composers, lyricists, and librettists through his role as Artistic Director for the ASCAP Musical Theatre Workshop and as President of the Dramatists Guild.
When I was writing his biography, Defying Gravity (Applause Theatre and Cinema Books, 2008), I noticed that Stephen was especially good at talking about his creative process. I decided to include many of his perspectives and tips in a series of “Creativity Notes” so that other writers and fans could enjoy the insights.
For example, one of the challenges that every writer faces is deciding how to work with feedback while maintaining his or her vision for the piece. This is especially critical for success in collaborative arts like musical theatre. As Wicked developed, Schwartz and his collaborator, Winnie Holzman, found it challenging to sort through feedback when everybody around them had opinions. In my Creativity Note about this I included one of Stephen’s reflections about this process: “Ultimately, I think you have to take everything in and understand what in your show is communicating and what’s not—and then write what you think you would like to see, informed, of course, by what you have learned. My experience has taught me that when I write what truly moves, amuses, or interests me, it usually communicates with others.”
As many millions of owners of his cast albums will testify, what Stephen Schwartz writes seems to touch on their own life experience. That’s the magic of creativity at its best.
Defying Gravity takes readers into the creative world of Broadway and film composer Stephen Schwartz, from writing Godspell‘s score at age 23 through the making of the megahit Wicked. For this first authorized biography, de Giere draws from 80 hours of interviews with Schwartz and over 100 interviews with his colleagues, friends, and family. Her sympathetic yet frank narrative reveals never-before-told stories and explores both Schwartz’s phenomenal hits and expensive flops. The book also includes a series of “Creativity Notes” with insights about artistic life, and more than 200 photographs and illustrations.
Temple of the Souls is a story about the virtual extinction of the native Taino people by Spanish colonizers in 16th-century Puerto Rico. Directed by Lorca Peress and produced by Multistages, this production is playing at the West End Theatre in NYC Dec 8th-23rd to rave reviews. Order tickets here.
Backstage‘s Clifford Lee Johnson III writes:
Playwright-lyricist Anita Velez-Mitchell and composers Dean Landon and Anika Paris (Paris also contributes some additional lyrics) use a “Romeo and Juliet” love affair between a Taino man and the daughter of a conquistador to depict the tragic consequences of that cultural collision, which they achieve with passion and clarity. Director Lorca Peress makes the scenes involving the central characters crisp and pointed…The most successful element in “Temple of the Souls” is its score, which is filled with accessible melodies in an Andrew Lloyd Webber vein. “I’m Not Dreaming,” a duet sung by Amada and Guario, is as achingly tender a ballad as I’ve heard all year. MultiStages can be proud for having introduced us to this songwriting team. I hope we hear more from them.
The fact that the collaboration ended up “all in the family” was not the initial plan. There was originally another composer who backed out of the show due to time conflicts. Lorca, my sister, had been developing the script with Anita, my grandmother, for about a year, and called to ask us if we’d be interested in composing Anita’s opera. We are contemporary songwriters first and foremost. And Opera is a skilled specialty. So we all spoke with the understanding that if Dean and I composed the music, it would lean more toward a classical pop feel in the realm of Sondheim or Andrew Lloyd Weber. This would change the direction and style of the show, but we would navigate our way through the process. After we hung up the phone, we went into the studio and wrote the finale. It was as if the words and music were floating off the page and into the air, taking on a life of their own. There was an unheard message in the history of the Taíno people and we were telling it. We sang every vocal part ourselves; bass, baritone, tenor, mezzo, and soprano, even hitting a high C, and then collapsed. After listening back, we knew we were onto something magical. And now two years and twenty songs later we have completed a musical drama premiering Off-Broadway.
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Making Your Mark in Music by Anika Paris is available from Hal Leonard Books and book sellers nationwide.
Since the age of seven, Anika Paris has been playing piano and writing songs, as well as singing and performing. Making Your Mark in Music re-creates the nurturing approach that she experienced growing up with a symphonic conductor father and a poet mother. Three solo records, songs in film and TV, touring the world, and ten years of teaching have all led to this authorship. Making Your Mark in Music serves as a personal mentor for the reader through stories and trade secrets passed down to the author over the years. This book, one of the very few on stage performance for musicians, blends psychology, Eastern philosophy, the art of conversation, and performance techniques valuable to performers of all levels. It reveals the inner workings of performance from an artist’s perspective while also functioning as a self-discovery and artist-development journal.
Included is a closer look on DVD of the author coaching artists, with before and after footage of each performer. The book also reveals what many readers want to know, through interviews with industry professionals. Record executives answer the question, “What exactly are you looking for?” A psychologist explores who we are and what role we each play in music. An image stylist talks about how to best fuse fashion with music. A television host discusses how to keep the audience tuned in. And a sound engineer explains how to keep the music playing. Find all of this and more in a book that will help you make your mark in music.