'Wicked' Composer Stephen Schwartz Receives Top Honor at ASCAP Screen Music Awards

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Stephen Schwartz

Praised for his commitment to the musical community, Schwartz's other credits include 'Pocahontas,' 'Pippin' and 'Godspell.'

Stephen Schwartz was the guest of honor Tuesday at ASCAP's 32nd annual Screen Music Awards at the Wiltern Theatre in Los Angeles, receiving the prestigious Founders Award for nearly five decades of writing lyrics and music for some of the most beloved musicals of all time. 

Of the two-hour event, which honored top achievements in film, television and video game composition, nearly a fourth of it was dedicated solely to singing Schwartz's praises with multiple speeches and live performances of his music. Having written such hit musicals as Wicked, Pippin and Godspell, and contributing lyrics for Pocahontas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Prince of Egypt and Enchanted, there was plenty of notable material to choose from. Actress Megan Hilty, who played Glinda the Good Witch in Wicked on Broadway and also starred on the musical-drama TV series Smash, performed "Corner of the Sky" from Pippin; a group of ASCAP Musical Theatre Workshop alums (and Schwartz mentees) gathered to sing Wicked's "For Good"; and The Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles closed things out with a medley of songs from Schwartz's film scores for Pocahontas, Hunchback of Notre Dame, Prince of Egypt and Godspell.

But as much as Schwartz's work was lauded, so, too, was his contribution to the greater musical community and the influence he has had on generations of artists. That has included Oscar-winning La La Land composer and lyricists Justin Paul and Benj Pasek, who recorded a video thanking Schwartz for his support through their careers and recalled extensive notes he offered on a demo submission of theirs at the earliest stages of their careers.

As Schwartz was surrounded by his community of friends and colleagues on Tuesday, he, too, was moved by the sense of community that he was so praised for cultivating. 

"I've always considered this part of my family, the ASCAP family, and to be given this recognition by members of your family and people who have been so supportive and important to me over the years could not possibly mean more to me," he said in his acceptance speech. 

Speaking before the event, Schwartz — a 48-year ASCAP member — further elaborated on this idea. 

"In the end, what I'm proudest of is that I've been able to be a member of this community of songwriters and musical theater creators and musical film creators and be able to give something to the community," he told Billboard. "I've certainly received a lot, so if I can give back a bit, that's something I take pride in."

And while the night was about more than Schwartz alone, the sense of community prevailed throughout. The evening also featured performances by composers and songwriters performing their original material, including Angela Parrish with a La La Land medley of "Audition Song" and "City of Stars," Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein with the Stranger Things theme, Ben Wallfisch with the Hidden Figures theme and more.

Meanwhile, in awards voted on by their fellow composers, Michael Giacchino won the 2016 Film Score of the Year for Zootopia; Didier Lean Rachou won the 2016 ASCAP TV Composer of the Year for his work on TLC's Long Island Medium, Discovery's Yukon Men and more; and the Video Game Score of the Year award was a tie, with two teams receiving the honor: Tom Salta (Atlas Plug) & Klayton (Celldweller) for Killer Instinct: Season 3, and Michael Salvatori, Skye Lewin & C. Paul Johnson for Destiny: Rise of Iron.

Rachou's win was the first for a reality TV composer in the category, and he said that after working so regularly in seclusion, the night provided a good reason to "get out and have a drink" with his peers. He continued, explaining the kind of emotional attachment this forms with his subjects. 

"The funniest thing is when you slave over a show and you emoted to a character, you helped his arc. He was going through an incredibly difficult time alone in my studio, he was on my screen — the Deadliest Catch ... I see him at the premiere party and I say, 'It's so good to meet you, I went through you.' He couldn't care less!" Rachou joked. "It's that kind of thing, when you're alone, you simply try to do justice to these people's stories."

Alex Heffes, who performed his theme for the Netflix series 11.22.63 at the event, speculated that today's so-called Golden Age of Television is that the second time around for composers. 

"I remember when I started, we were told back in the '60s and early '70s there was this incredible time for writing in TV where everything was recorded live on these weekly shows and that seems to have come back round again," he said. "For 11.22.63, we recorded everything live every week on the stage at Sony and Fox — it made me think, 'Yeah, this is back to what I'd heard about how it was in the beginning.'"

As for the night's reason to celebrate, ASCAP president Paul Williams pointed out how important composers' work is with an example from his own life. 

"Go look at The Muppet Movie without music," he said. "Kermit's charming, but Miss Piggy is almost intolerable without music. ... It's important to honor the people that are doing the great work."

This story first appeared on Billboard.com.

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