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Hi Sarah,

Thank you for putting up this website in homage to your brother Howard. I have always loved Disney songs from the early 90s, having been raised on them as a child. Only recently have I tried to find more information about the songwriters. I started reading more and more about the different people involved and eventually noticed the name Howard Ashman pop up in places. I wanted to find out more about him, but there isn't too much information out there.

Eventually I got the Beauty and the Beast Blu-ray release, which led me to watch Waking Sleeping Beauty. It put tears to my eyes when I found out more about Howard's unfortunate passing, especially since he never got to see how huge of a success Beauty and the Beast was. I think the saddest thing of all though is that people don't realize how much Howard influenced not only theatre but animation history. It is my opinion that if we were to attribute the renaissance of Disney and the animation industry as a whole to one person, it would indisputably be Howard.

I can go on and on about Howard, as I do when I talk to my friends. He has made a great impact on my life through his music which is a testimony to his sheer talent, attention to detail, perfect casting and execution. It blows my mind when I look at the catalog of his works which range from show-stopping songs like Be Our Guest and Under the Sea to incredibly heartfelt songs like Part of Your World and Beauty and the Beast. His songs are like fine wine, which get better and better the more I listen to them.

There will never be someone like Howard Ashman. They have tried to fill the void he left, but no one for the past twenty years has been able to do what he does. No where near close. Here's to Howard Ashman, who will always remain in our hearts and minds. Thanks for all the memories.

Michael

Comments

  • Thanks for the beautiful note, Michael. I especially like the analogy to fine wine. Howard and I watched a pencil rough of Beauty one afternoon at his house. When it was over, he turned to me and said, "It's going to be good." A master of understatement.
  • Great to hear from you, Sarah. Haha, from the clips of Howard I have seen, he looked like he was quite humble. I especially loved the clip of him talking with Jodi Benson on how to sing "Part of Your World". Pure genius and a perfectionist.

    That clip deeply moved me. You can actually feel Howard's emotions and heart in not only the words of the song but also the way that he told Jodi to sing it. The clip inspired me to be the best in all of my endeavors and to approach things with a sincere heart. It would be great if there were more video clips of Howard in action.
  • I definitely agree with your statement that there hasn't really been a voice in the Disney musicals who has really been able to capture Howard's spark and genius. This is not to say they've lost talent. Tim Rice and Stephen Schwartz are amazing lyricists (Pippin, Godspell and Superstar are amongst my favorite shows) but they just lack something, God knows I don't know what that something is), that Howard had that made the films as memorable as they are. I appreciate films like Pocohantos and Hunchback, but they lack some of the life only Howard could bring to his work. Howard wrote work that anyone could enjoy, ages 1 to 1,000. He never dumbed it down*, or made it too smarmy. Somehow Howard was able to write lyrics that were perfect for any audience, which is one of the reasons why I think "Little Shop" may be the most well-written musical of all time, and one that is hugely popular, because anyone can enjoy it. It's themes: universal. It's songs: hilarious.

    *A great example of not dumbing down work comes in PART OF YOUR WORLD in the "Little Mermaid." now most people would say you can't have a 3 minute number in a 'children's film' of that nature, but Howard pulled it off. I especially loved his use of the word reprimand in the lyrics. Not a 1st grade word, and yet as a kid i still understood it :)
  • You definitely hit the nail on the head, Andrew. Rice and Schwartz are very talented lyricists, but they are missing something only Howard had. I totally agree that Howard's style appealed to almost everyone and that he never made it cheesy or smug. People compared Ashman and Menken to Rodgers and Hammerstein. I need to listen to more of their work.
  • Yes, listen to all of Rodgers and Hammerstein. Howard used to talk about how Hammerstein was so sentimental, yet so honest in his sentimentality. Then, for some amazing wordplay, listen to Rodgers and Hart. Interesting how two different lyricists bring out different talents in the same composer.
  • Sarah, when I saw your "Feed Me" blog posting, I didn't realize you had added a whole separate discussion area. I thought you were just asking for more comments, so I added one there. It's fascinating to see that jetaimaster and AndrewMarco came to the same conclusions as me regarding the special something Howard brought to his work that is somehow missing in Disney's films since then. I agree completely with their articulate comments.
  • Thank you for both comments. I'll try to point people here more articulately. Do you think the "Feed Me" at the top of the home page works? SHould we be more straightforward with it?
  • On Jetaimaster's comment about Rodgers and Hammerstein, my husband just reminded me that the other thing Howard admired about Hammerstein was his understanding of form in terms of writing lyrics.
  • I've watched interviews with Sondheim regarding Hammerstein, and he too talks about how much understanding he had in writing musicals. I mean the guy did create the first real book musical.

    and about the feed me section title, you could just refer to it as FORUMS which is what a lot of websites do.
  • So just out of curiosity, what makes a great lyricist for a musical in everyone's opinons?
  • Good question, toonmate. I believe that a great lyricist is one who has a complete understanding of various musical and writing styles, and can command those styles to make people feel certain emotions. The lyrics to a song should bring out what that song is trying to achieve. For example, "Part of Your World" completely moves the audience to feel for Ariel's dream of becoming a human. Another example, "Under the Sea" convinces the audience that it would probably be better for Ariel to stay underwater. The lyrics of a song walks hand-in-hand with the music; their ultimate goal is to serve each other unconditionally and work together to achieve a higher purpose.

    An even greater lyricist is one who is able to write all the songs to a musical. Not only that, the songs should feel like a complete catalog. If one song was missing, then the entire film would be incomplete.

    I believe that Howard Ashman set the standard for what a great lyricist should be. Actually, my definition of a great lyricist is based upon solely on his work. He was unconventional and was hands-on in many parts of production whether it be character, dialogue and casting. Normal lyricists wouldn't have such power and influence, but he did and that is what made his work extraordinary.

  • While I greatly agree with your opinon on this, jetaimaster, one thing I also would say is that a lyricist also writes songs that not only help convay the emotions, but also help tell the story as well. Take for example Little Shop of Horrors: while some of the songs like Suddenly Seymour and Somewhere That's Green are great songs to help convey the emotions that the characters are feeling, there are songs like "Feed Me" and "The Meek Shall Inherit" that help move the story along as well as to help convay the emotions the characters are going for.

    But like I said, I really love what you've said and respect your opinon on this; but like I said, this is my few cents also putting in here.
  • Oh, I'm not disagreeing with your point. Moving the story along is important as well, some in more songs than others. Just look at "Belle" and "The Mob Song". It's incredible how Howard was able to do it.
  • To me, it's a sign of great lyric writing when you can both convey character and emotion and move the story along - in fact, add important information. Not to get all Solomonic on you, but you're both right, in my book.
  • edited June 2011
    Everything about Howard's lyrics is wonderful, but his trademark and genius to me will always be his sense of humor and the effortless quality his lyrics have. They achieve so much with character, emotion and story and yet they don't feel labored at all (though I'm sure he labored on them). Every time I watch Little Shop I marvel at how natural and successful EVERY joke in that script is. It NEVER feels like he shoehorned a joke in.
  • Howard was his own best editor, I think. It's hard not to fall in love with all your writing - and to cut out a joke (or even a song) you adore.
  • Well, sometimes it's easy; but other times its a bit hard to take something you really adore out of something your working on. I took three creative writing classes, and one of the things my teacher said was that the hardest thing to do was not only critiquing yourself, but also to take something out of a story/poem/script/play that you really adore yet know it doesn't move the story along. So in some ways, it's a tad bit hard every once in a wihle.
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