Celebrated Grammy and Academy Award-winning composer Stephen Schwartz returned to his alma mater, Carnegie Mellon University, to accompany School of Drama students in the ninth annual Singer-Songwriter Cabaret at Greer Cabaret Theater on Oct. 19.
Schwartz, who graduated from CMU's College of Fine Arts in 1968, is the first of the composers in this series to return to work with junior music theater students on songs from his repertoire, including "Morning Glow" from "Pippin"; "For Good" from "Wicked"; and "The Spark of Creation" from "Children of Eden."
"I come back to Carnegie Mellon every year if I can," Schwartz said. "It makes me very happy to be able to continue the cycle [of alumni coming back to work with current students]. I think that's one of the great things about this school is that people who went here had a positive enough experience that they want to give back."
As part of the ninth annual Singer-Songwriter Cabaret at Greer Cabaret Theater on Oct. 19, alumnus Stephen Schwartz came to campus to offer students a Master Class before joining them on stage for a cabaret featuring Schwartz's music.
Teaching Professor of Voice Gary Kline created the cabaret class nearly a decade ago as a vehicle to teach students about engaging an audience as a performer. Skills such as working a microphone and developing banter help students become more versatile artists, able to perform in an intimate concert setting as well as a Broadway musical.
"I think the cabaret class allows for a different kind of performance," Kline said. "The success of the cabaret depends on how well the students can really communicate with their audience and connect with them; look them in the eye and say this is me — I have no makeup, no wig, no character except who I am."
The cabaret class is comprised of 13 students who spend six weeks perfecting the songs of a specific composer. A couple of days ahead of the final public performance, the honored composer joins the students to give a master class and coach the students. Past composers include Andrew Lippa; Stephen Flaherty; Richard Maltby and David Shire; Kait Kerrigan and Brian Lowdermilk; and alumni Michael Kooman and Chris Dimond.
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Working with Schwartz, 50 years after he graduated from the same program, was a special honor for students.
"Not everyone gets to work with Stephen Schwartz, or any composer, on their own music. It's a blessing to be able to collaborate with him and have him coach us," said Dylan Jackson, a current junior music theater student.
"'Wicked' was a very important musical for me when I was a child," added fellow student Georgia Mendes. "It is kind of surreal — to grow up listening to this music and to now be a part of this world, I feel really honored and grateful."
One of the great traditions at Carnegie Mellon is the passing of knowledge from alumni to current students — handing the baton of excellence off to the next generation. The cabaret is quintessentially Carnegie Mellon.
"This cabaret is so CMU because Carnegie Mellon University promotes individualism," said student Cate Hayman. "The point of the cabaret is you don't play a character, you just play yourself, singing words that aren't your own. Stephen's writing has such a big range that our cabaret spans from opera to funk and gospel. Everyone found their way in through their music and is able to showcase themselves as individuals."