Stephen Schwartz, Pete Seeger, and Sting

by Carol de Giere on March 10, 2014

Musical Influences

As a Broadway and film songwriter, Stephen Schwartz is constantly developing songs for shows, but he also listens to the music of pop music artists and lets the mosaic of sounds from his life influence his work. As he explains, “I am influenced by all the music I love and it somehow conglomerates in my head into whatever my own style may be.”

pete-seeger1His habit of listening to music started at an early age. One of the musicians who influenced Schwartz as a child was Pete Seeger and his performing group The Weavers. Seeger, who passed away on January 27, 2014 at the age of 94, was an advocate of the power of music. As reported in the LA Times, one of Seeger’s approaches to music was encouraging others to join in a sing-along. “Gifted at connecting with audiences, Seeger called his ability to inspire regular folks to sing along his ‘cultural guerrilla tactic.’ ‘There’s no such thing as a wrong note as long as you’re singing it,’ he told the 15,000-strong crowd at his birthday celebration.”

Schwartz says that the sing-along for Pippin’s “No Time At All” was inspired by a concert he attended with his parents when he was young. It was a performance of the Weavers that included a group sing of “Good Night Irene.”

sting-police-album sting-the-last-shipAs an adult, one of the artists that Stephen Schwartz has followed has been British singer-songwriter Sting. Schwartz comments, “…I’m a huge fan of Sting and he was very influential in many ways on my writing.” Two of his songs are particularly Sting-inspired, by his assessment. One is “Stranger to the Rain” from Children of Eden, and the other is “Dancing Through Life” for Wicked.

Soon musical theatre fans will have a chance to listen to what the British songwriter can do in Schwartz’s field of musical writing. Sting is completing his first Broadway musical, The Last Ship, and it opens on the Great White Way this fall after a pre-Broadway tryout in Chicago over the summer. Director Joe Mantello, who worked with Schwartz on Wicked, has been brought into the musical development process. Among the cast members is Rachel Tucker who played Elphaba on London’s West End (and sings “Defying Gravity” on her solo album The Reason.)

On Writing A Musical

Recently PBS aired a show that provides a sneak preview of The Last Ship. As part of the evening, Sting shares his experience of having to abandon a piece. As theatre fans may know, musical writers often let go of songs and put them in their “trunk” of unused material to be retrieved and potentially recycled in later show. The tune for Wicked‘s “As Long As You’re Mine” was one of Schwartz’s trunk songs.

As part of the evening aired on PBS, Sting articulated the experience of writing for a show and why it is different. “I didn’t enter the musical theatre blithely thinking it would be easy. It’s not. The landscape is strewn with bleached corpses on either side. What I hadn’t realized is just how precise and exacting a medium it is….[He lists and praises his collaborators]…. Occasionally they would tell me that a song I had written wasn’t quite right. This is novel for me; it’s hard for me as my finest couplets are being thrown in the bin and I’m spluttering my flimsy protests. But every song in a musical fights for its life. Every character fights for its life. Every verse in every song fights for its life, every line. Every line is scrutinized with an intensity that’s unusual.”

Watch Sting on PBS; order the deluxe CD The Last Ship [Amazon Exclusive Super Deluxe Edition]; Order tickets or sign up for the mailing list – Official website

Read about Stephen Schwartz’s experience of writing for characters in Defying Gravity: The Creative Career of Stephen Schwartz, From Godspell to Wicked.

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