News

Winners Announced for the Musical Theater Songwriting Challenge

Students from Michigan, Utah, and New York Claim Top Prizes

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group photo of students and teachers

The Songwriting Challenge finalists, mentors, and music directors at the welcome dinner at the offices of Samuel French, April 20, 2018. Photo by Natalie Powers.

A song about the zombie apocalypse won first place in the Musical Theater Songwriting Challenge final competition. Junior high school student David Volpini from Macomb, Michigan is the national songwriting champion, receiving the top prize of a $25,000 school scholarship—courtesy of the National Music Publishers Association S.O.N.G.S. Foundation—for his song “Day Number One.” The final was held at the Greene Space in New York City and culminated a weekend of workshops in which teams of mentors, music directors, musicians, and singers worked closely with seven high school songwriters to shape their original songs into stage-ready compositions.

Coming in second place with a $10,000 scholarship contributed by BMI, was the duo of Eliza Corrington and Braxton Carr from Syracuse and Harrisville, Utah respectively. Their song, “Ten Seconds to Infinity” follows astronaut John Glenn and his wife Annie on a journey of love and space travel. Third place was awarded to Tucker Donelan from New York City whose song “Caleb’s Confession” tells the story of Pastor Caleb whose faith is severely challenged by the impact on his congregation of the opioid crisis. Tucker is awarded a $5,000 scholarship from the Entertainment Industry Foundation.

The other finalists—Jillian Guetersloh from Bedford, Massachusetts (song, “Nothing at All”), Fritz Hager from Flint, Texas (song, “If I Lie Here”), and Aaron Richert from New Orleans, Louisiana (song, “Lucky”)—will each receive a $1,000 prize. All of the finalists will have their song published in a collection book by Samuel French, the premiere licensor of plays and musicals. The Musical Theater Songwriting Challenge is an initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with the American Theatre Wing and collaborators Playbill, Inc.; Disney Theatrical Group; and Samuel French.

About his win, Volpini said, “I’m in shock right now. It [his song] was better than I thought it would sound. I am beyond thrilled with how they [the band and vocalist] did it.” About watching the performance, he said, “I was so glad to see people laughing where they were supposed to laugh.”

In describing their song to the audience and the judges, Corrington and Carr noted that John and Annie Glenn are “two true American heroes” whose “love story needs to known.” Afterwards Corrington said amidst tears that she did not anticipate winning any one of the top three prizes, “I prepared myself. I’m ready to get this $1,000 [awarded to the runner ups]. I’m ready to get published. This is all I could ever want. And then we were granted this beautiful award and I’m just so happy.” Carr added, “To come here [to New York for the final competition] is one thing, to win second place is another.”

Tucker Donelan said, “I’m on top of the world. I’m a little delirious. It was the best feeling to have written something that people enjoyed performing.”

The event could be summed up in the words librettist, screenwriter, and novelist Tim Federle, one of the competition judges, who observed, “I’m learning so much about writing tonight. I’m so inspired for the future of musical theater. I just want to say that about all of you [finalists].”

About the National Endowment for the Arts
Established by Congress in 1965, the NEA is the independent federal agency whose funding and support gives Americans the opportunity to participate in the arts, exercise their imaginations, and develop their creative capacities. Through partnerships with state arts agencies, local leaders, other federal agencies, and the philanthropic sector, the NEA supports arts learning, affirms and celebrates America’s rich and diverse cultural heritage, and extends its work to promote equal access to the arts in every community across America. Visit arts.gov to learn more about NEA.

About the American Theatre Wing
The American Theatre Wing is currently celebrating 100 years of service to American theater across the nation. Its programs provide theater education opportunities for underserved students through the Andrew Lloyd Webber Initiative, develop the next generation of theater professionals through the SpringboardNYC and Theatre Intern Network, incubate innovative theater across the country through the National Theatre Company Grants, foster the next generation of musical theater writers through the Jonathan Larson® Grants, honor the best in New York theatrical design with the Henry Hewes Design Award, and illuminate the creative process through the Emmy-nominated Working in the Theatre documentary series. In addition to founding the Tony Awards®, the American Theatre Wing is the new home of the Village Voice’s Obie Awards®, Off Broadway’s Highest Honor.

Contact

Victoria Hutter, hutterv@arts.gov, 202-682-5692