Music To Our Ears: Final Recordings from Musical Theater Songwriting Challenge Now Available!

By Paulette Beete
A group of young people smile for the camera.

The winners share a good laugh. Photo
by Natalie Powers.

On October 20-21 the 2019 NEA Musical Theater Songwriting Challenge winners, their mentors, and music directors were joined by New York City-based musicians and vocalists to give the winners’ songs the Broadway treatment. But you don't have to head to Broadway, to hear their songs. Instead we're bringing Broadway to you! Click on each songwriter's name below to listen to (and download) the professional productions of each of the winning songs and to learn a little bit more about the creative team.

two women, one younger, one older, sit in front of an open laptop

Tessa Barcelo with mentor Anna Jacobs. Photo by Natalie Powers

In TESSA BARCELO's song "Queen," Queen Iana of the mermaids exhorts Veida to use her storytelling powers to save the mermaid kingdom from the pirates. But Veida insists that she can’t because “I’m the biggest wreck to ever hit the sea.” A mermaid chorus backs up Queen Iana as she urges Veida to, “Stop listening to the voices telling you, you cannot do anything.” 

a man wearing headphones stands with his arm around a young woman in front of a microphone

Emalee Flatness with music director Daniel Lincoln. Photo by Natalie Powers.

EMALEE FLATNESS's song "Carolina" takes place as the American Civil War comes to a close. As Union soldier Arnoldus lies dying, he thinks of his wife Elizabeth and their children back home yearning to be taken back to them. Elizabeth, not knowing of his fate, looks forward to being reunited when he “comes home to stay.”

Makai Keur, a young man with curly hair

Makai Keur. Photo by Natalie Powers.

"Charles’ Song," by MAKAI KEUR and JULIAN WATSON centers on Charles Williams, a soldier fighting in Australia’s Great Emu War of 1932. Charles has just found out that Mavis—the woman he loves—has been with his commanding officer and “brother in arms” Major GPW Meredith. The song that begins on a reflective note quickly shifts to darker thoughts of revenge.

a young woman sitting next to an older man on a couch talking

Breezy Love consults with mentor Cesar Alvarez in the control booth. Photo by Natalie Powers

In BREEZY LOVE’s song, "Hangin’ on Life," a teenager is trying to decide whether or not to attend college and what to do with her life. The character feels like she is, “Hanging on life like it’s some kind of rope, whipped in the wind, beaten and thrown.” The song is about knowing when to hang on and when to let go of the things that don’t serve you.

a young woman with long blonde hair stands in a studio

Sophia Schwaner in the recording studio. Photo by Natalie Powers

SOPHIA SCHWANER’s song "At Sea" takes place in the ancient world at the time of the Persian Wars. The Greek queen Artemisia has allied herself with the Persian Emperor Xerxes and is leading his forces and ships into battle against her own people. In the throes of combat, she proclaims, “Just keep going, target the enemy, keep rowing, don't look at how they bleed. Not knowing, who is friend or foe, just go.”

A young woman holding an iPad stands over other women working at a table

Akira Sky with Anna Ebbesen and J. Oconer Navarro. Photo by Natalie Powers.

AKIRA SKY’s song, "I Don’t Know What Happened," is sung by a multiracial girl named River who finds herself transported from the rare record room of a thrift store back 50 years to 1969 New York. River meets her grandmother as a younger woman and fears that their conversations may have set events in motion that would permanently alter her life and others.

The Musical Theater Songwriting Challenge is an initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts and the American Theatre Wing in collaboration with Disney Theatrical Productions and Samuel French, Inc., a Concord Theatricals company. Stay tuned for the  release of the guidelines and application due date for the 2020 competition early next year.