Before the close of the May 17 ASCAP Screen Music Awards, a group of composers and lyricists gathered around a piano to pay tribute to Stephen Schwartz, the legendary Broadway composer as well as an Oscar winner for the scores and songs from “Pocahontas” and “The Prince of Egypt.”
Having all been mentored by Schwartz, this group’s song from Schwartz’s smash musical “Wicked” ended appropriately with the line, “Because we knew you, we have been changed for good.”
Held at the Wiltern Theatre in Los Angeles, the evening honored creators of the most performed music in film, television and video games, concluding with Schwartz receiving the organization’s Founders Award. ASCAP is the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers.
Performances punctuated the award ceremony. Angela Parrish, the first voice heard in the film “La La Land,” sang the musical’s “Audition” and “City of Stars,” written by Justin Paul and Benj Pasek (lyrics) and Justin Hurwitz (music). The Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles performed a medley of Schwartz’s movie music, and composers played their award-winning themes from television, film and video games.
From onstage, Megan Hilty of “Smash” said Schwartz’s music “has changed my life in so many ways.” Hilty, who starred in “Wicked” as Glinda the good witch for 4 ½ years for the Broadway, Los Angeles and touring productions opposite 17 different Elphabas, then sang “Corner of the Sky” from “Pippin,” which she said had been her audition song for Carnegie Mellon University.
In conversations before the show, guests couldn’t praise Schwartz enough. Michael Weiner and Alan Zachary whose musical “First Date” has appeared on Broadway and in 75 other productions in U.S. cities and around the world, said they first met their future mentor during high school.
“He wrote us a note,” Weiner said. “He said, ‘You guys are great,’ and he’s mentored us ever since.”
Before beginning work on the Tony Award-winning revival of “The Color Purple,” songwriter Stephen Bray, known for his collaborations with Madonna, said he and his co-writers attended ASCAP’s Musical Theatre Workshop, where Schwartz serves as artistic director.
“Coming from the pop world, with no real knowledge of how you tell stories with songs, we thought we’d better run to the person who knows the most about creating a show,” Bray said.
Early in the evening during a private chat, Schwartz talked of his work with young composers, “You have to have talent, but talent alone is not enough. You need very thick skin and you have to have perseverance,” adding of his work with young composers, “It sounds so noble and altruistic, but it’s fun to spot talent and find ways to encourage them, and then it enriches my life because then I get to see the great work they do.”
Later, while accepting his award, Schwartz said, “These amazing composers and lyricists who were out here tonight … the fact that they feel that in some way I have helped them or supported them or encouraged them is a source of immense pride for me.”
He then thanked ASCAP for always having his back and allowing him “to make a living from what I do.”
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Ellen Olivier is the founder of Society News LA.