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Songwriting Challenge

When we were kids, we dreamed of having a home and place where we could belong. And theatre and cast albums were that thing for us.
Benj Pasek and Justin Paul

The next generation of musical theatre songwriters compete for a chance to showcase their composition while receiving coveted mentorship from musical theatre masters

About the Competition

In partnership with The National Endowment for the Arts, and with collaboration from Concord Theatricals, Disney Theatrical Productions, iHeartRadio Broadway, and NMPA S.O.N.G.S. Foundation; this national contest is for high school students with a passion for writing songs that could be part of a musical theater production and the wide range of musical styles represented in contemporary musicals. The goal of the program is to engage the musical theater field in nurturing the next generation of songwriters.

For this fourth year, the Songwriting Challenge will provide finalists with a coaching team consisting of a mentor and music director (both musical theater professionals) to hone the students’ original song into a professional quality composition. Coaching teams will work with their finalist remotely to further workshop, finesse, and expand the finalists’ song. After numerous working sessions, each finalist’s song will be transcribed, performed by Broadway singers and musicians, recorded,  featured in the iHeartRadio Broadway matinee, distributed on streaming music platforms, and compiled into a songbook created by Concord Theatricals.

Join the songwriting conversation using #IWriteMusicals.

To start an application, read FAQs and Guidelines:


The National Endowment for the Arts’ Musical Theater Songwriting Challenge for High School Students (the “Songwriting Challenge”) began in 2016 as an opportunity for students in three cities to showcase their songwriting talents as they competed regionally for the opportunity to participate in a final competition in New York City.


Ada Fender

Ada Fender's Great Grim Green takes place in a fantasy world called Morania where Liz, an orphaned, now 27-year-old peasant girl, lives. Liz is tired of not knowing who she is and being rejected by those around her. She decides to visit a witch, known as the Great Grim Green Guinevene, who she asks to make her into a new person. The song was inspired by the idea of someone feeling so misunderstood that they want to completely change who they are.

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Adam Jones

Adam Jones - The setting is 1940's- early 1950's New Orleans where a tall, well-dressed Black man named Quincy steps off a train. Quincy is from a well-off family in upstate New York that has roots in New Orleans. He has returned to the city with a sense of duty to serve as an educator for poor children there. The song starts with Quincy's father, Robert worrying about his son's safety in Deep South. As the music changes to a New Orleans jazz sound, Quincy gets caught up in a Mardi Gras parade that despite the festiveness, confronts him with racial realities and reflections.

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Alejandro Rodriguez

Alejandro Rodriguez - In 1940s Germany, Elijah Metzinger has been forced to leave home when his homosexuality is revealed to his family and later, to the authorities. He goes into hiding with three Jewish fugitives, one of whom is Rosalyn Freyda. Rosalyn fled Spain during the Spanish Civil War, leaving behind her mother, to live with her father in Berlin. “In Days From Long Ago,” Rosalyn sings with a younger version of herself about being forced to adapt to a new life, let go of her past, and lose everything that she loves. Throughout the song she realizes the importance of the memories, which are the only thing keeping her hope alive.

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Chelsea Rose

Chelsea Rose - Dorothy Rose is a quirky high school sophomore whose selfassumed popularity doesn’t match reality and who yearns to have genuine friends. On a Friday evening, she calls three of her peers hoping to get together, only to be rejected by each one. Amidst the disappointment, Dorothy confronts and then comforts herself, realizing that it is less important who you are with than what you bring of yourself to create a fun Friday night.

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Henry Crater

Henry Crater - Your World/Safe is part of a musical about the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. The night after the shooting, Cameron, a senior at Stoneman Douglas, grapples with grief and the urge to step into the world and take political action against gun violence. Sofia, another Stoneman Douglas student, consoles her badly shaken younger sister with whom Sofia took refuge in a cramped, dark closet during the shooting. David, a friend of Cameron’s, anxiously anticipates the local rally that he and Cameron have organized for the next day—a rally that will mark the beginning of the March for Our Lives.

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Jane Brinkley and Ashley Schmittle

Jane Brinkley and Ashley Schmittle - The setting is rural Oregon, 1956. Lana’s husband has left her with their three children to fend for themselves. Lana, who is closeted, meets Jo, a woman from an upper social class at a traveling carnival. Jo invites Lana to her home for dinner where Lana learns that Jo’s husband, Nate, has been physically abusing her. A mishap during dinner sends Nate storming out of the house. The two women adjourn to the garden and argue about what should be done about Jo’s domestic situation. Lana urges Jo to escape with her, eventually declaring her love for Jo just as Nate returns.

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Joseph Mosby

Joseph Moseby - Every few generations, a special storm brews over the region of Truden that creates the mythical bluestone which gives its holder the ability to draw energy and power from their surroundings. Although a bluestone hasn’t appeared in decades and many doubt its existence, Korin, a slightly deranged researcher, believes an impending storm will yield such a stone. With it, he can liberate himself, his family and his people from the tyrannical king. But Korin’s plan reaches the ear of the king who throws him in jail. However, also in the prison is Fleming who has been hired to repair the prison’s clock. Fleming harbors dreams of saving his people too which Korin tries to incite, urging Fleming to overcome his fear and release him from prison so they can go off in search of the bluestone together.

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Leilani Patao

Leilani Patao - Ailani has lived in Hilo, Hawai'i her entire life. In the summer of 2019, the Mauna Kea protests begin against the building of a 30- story telescope on sacred Hawaiian land on the mountain of Mauna Kea. At the same time, Ailani moves to New York to study literature at college. But she is deeply disillusioned when she learns that her college isn’t interested in the kinds of stories she has to tell about her Hawaiian people. Once she realizes that she doesn’t have to compromise her writing for the sake of a professor, she leaves school and returns to Hawaii. Now, it is December 2019 and Ailani sits down to write the story she has wanted to the whole time. Ailani sings about her people, their spirit, and their mountain.

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Sierra Blanco

Sierra Blanco - Todd is a high school senior at a pre-eminent high school in Palo Alto, California. Todd is an athlete and, reflecting the high academic standards of the school, is second in his class. Emerging from a mandatory counseling session with an ineffective guidance counselor, he is preoccupied with life’s changes, the loss of his friends, and a previously stable world. He meets his girlfriend Heather who rejects him and he sings the song to himself but for her. As he struggles to accept the messiness and difficulties of reality he sings, “Maybe the world can’t be golden but it still can glow.”

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Soleil Singh

Soleil Singh - Hallie, an aspiring actress, dreams of pursuing a career in theatre and “making it to Broadway,” despite her tiger dad’s prearranged plans to have her pursue a “safer” career, such as engineering. Her friends encourage her to gain the courage to let him know via a phone call before heading home from boarding school for winter break. In her own quirky, awkward, and nervous phone call she continuously tries to leave the perfect voicemail, before finally just blurting out the news that she is pursuing her passion. And maybe some other news. . .

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Viola Durfee

Viola Durfee - Lila is a 15-year-old girl with autism. Intelligent and quirky, she is proud of her low voice which has placed her as the only tenor in her choir of sopranos. Lila sings this song to herself, as she imagines what it would be like to be free from the taunts and teasing she regularly endures and to stop having to pretend she's someone other than herself. Eventually, the voices inside her head telling her she can't achieve what she wants get louder and louder until she lets it all out at once. But that release sends her back to basics and she decides that while not accepting others’ negative opinions about her is hard, it’s not impossible and she can “spread these wings and fly away / And I think I know just the way."

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Xyzsa Pagaduan

Xyzsa Pagaduan - The singer is a teenage girl stuck in a relationship in which she is in love with a boy who wants only to be friends. In her optimistic way, she believes that she sees a side of him no one else can and that she can bring out that special part of him. The boy visits her for comfort after his every breakup and over and over, her feelings for him grow until he leaves to pursue a new infatuation. Gradually, she lets go of her pride, willing to “settle for less, for him,” claiming his “leftover love” for herself.

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Akira Sky

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.

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Breezy Love

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.

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Emalee Flatness

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.”

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Tessa Barcelo

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.”

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Makai Kuer & Julian Watson

Makai Keur and Julian Watson’s song Charles’ Song, 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.

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Eliza Corrington & Braxton Gerald Carr

Eliza Corrington is a sister to 5 brothers, and an optimist with a burning passion for musical theatre and performing. An early memory of hers is turning on the song “Roxie” from the Broadway show Chicago and singing along and dancing around the house. She has been involved in theatre for 15 years, both onstage and behind the scenes. She participated in her local theatre organization, the Nibley Children’s Theatre, every summer for a decade, performing in the ensemble, as a lead, in stage crew, and as a composer and arranger. Her most significant moments in theatre have been while performing for DaVinci Academy, some favorites including being ensemble member and student director in Fly By Night in 2017, competing in the 2017 Utah Shakespeare Festival and 2018 State Utah Thespians Festival, and recently Baroness Stride in Jekyll and Hyde. She loves every moment of being in DaVinci Academy’s theatre program and being able to learn from the many talented students and directors she is surrounded with. Her love for music extends beyond the contemporary Broadway world and into the classical music sphere. Eliza has played violin since 3rd grade and has been a member of the Northern Utah Youth Symphony for 5 years. She plays violin, percussion, and piano, but her favorite instrument is her voice. Her dedication to multiple areas of fine arts is complemented by her joy for STEM, especially anything that has to do with space. Determined to literally shoot for the stars, she wishes to become an astronaut pilot or commander and astrophysicist. She works for the summer camp Astro Camp Utah, sharing her love for astronomy with children, and teaching them the wonders of space through space shuttle mission simulations. These simulations feel so similar to her many theatre performances and Eliza uses the skills and tricks she’s learned from theatre to create as real an experience for her campers as she possibly can. The memories she gained working for Astro Camp helped inspire her to write the song “Ten Seconds to Infinity” with her partner Braxton Carr. She is a high honor roll student and a Sterling Scholar Semi Finalist in Theatrical Arts. When she’s not in front of an audience, Eliza returns to her many hobbies like painting, reading, and singing in the shower. A nerd through and through, Eliza enjoys playing made up geeky games with her younger brothers, usually dissolving into a lightsaber of Jedi vs Sith.

Braxton Gerald Carr is the middle child of three kids. He has an older brother and younger sister (who is the best). He started to play music in the 6 grade with violin. After three years of violin, he started playing guitar, ukulele, and cello. Guitar is by far the instrument that he has become the most comfortable with and is the key instrument in most of the music that he plays and writes. His favorite songs to play are the ones that he writes. He has been in many musicals, in most of which he played supporting lead roles (like Michael in Elf) . The most fun musical theater experience that he has had up till now is his role as Harold, in Fly by Night. At the moment he works as a shift leader at Cold Stone. Most people will start a new job and slowly start to hate what they sell but he doesn’t think he’s loved ice cream more in my entire life. His family is almost as important to him as cake batter ice cream. His sister is one of the sweetest people on this earth, and he couldn’t consider himself luckier to have someone like her to correct his spelling. His brother is okay (I guess). His dad has been very supportive of his love for music and has by far the shiniest bald head he has seen in my life. His Mom has also been very supportive and gives the best hugs ever. He’d also like to thank his stepmom and his stepdad for putting up with his loud guitar playing. As a hobby and means of transportation he enjoys riding my bike. For a while it was how he got to work and then he started to really enjoy riding distances. He hopes to be able to complete the tour of Utah (one of the longest bike tours) someday hopefully soon. He couldn’t be more excited to participate in the NEA’s songwriting challenge and improve his habits as a songwriter in musical theater. Eliza and Braxton have been working very hard and can’t wait to see how the song they wrote together will improve during the finalists’ weekend and sound with professionals performing it.

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Aaron Richert

Aaron Richert is 17 years old, and a senior at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts in New Orleans, Louisiana. Aaron started doing theatre in an effort to be more like his older brother, Michael, but ended up falling head over heels the instant he step foot on stage. He has been performing since 5 and started playing instruments at 7. His first instrument was a violin, before he began piano, and along the way taught himself guitar, ukulele, bass, cajon, and accordion (but cannot for the life of him remember how to play violin). He has always lived for music, always playing or listening as much as he could, and finding every opportunity around New Orleans to express that side of himself, whether that be singing and playing at churches or singing with his teenage barbershop quartet (“The Ragamuffins”).Aaron has always been a performer first and everything else second, and while he loves writing music, he had never considered himself a composer. His first venture into it was as a form of catharsis before anything else, writing songs about all of his friends and how he felt about them at the time, which turned into a never released song cycle titled “Frequent Visitors: Or How to Lose Your Friends.” After the song cycle, and a few ventures into barbershop arrangements, he decided to try the next reasonable step and attempt music direction. After being the Assistant Music Director/Rehearsal Accompanist on a local production of “Xanadu,” he knew that he had found a new passion (in addition to performing, of course). He will be pursuing his new love of Music Direction over the summer before pursuing a BFA in Musical Theatre. He hopes to continue his newfound passion for composition and arranging throughout college and afterwards. He would like to thank William Finn, Stephen Sondheim, and Ben Folds for constantly inspiring him, and his brothers, mentors, and friends for supporting him in his effort to channel that inspiration. And of course, he would like to thank his mother for putting up with his endless need to make the most noise on as many instruments as possible through every hour of the night, as well as everything else she has done (and she has done so much). Thank you so much!

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David Volpini

Music has always been a massive part of David Volpini’s life. When he was little he would run around his house screaming the lyrics of his favorite songs and sing along to the radio in the car. Volpini started drum lessons when he was in fourth grade and joined the band in middle school. This year, he was in my school’s musical and joined the choir all whilst getting into my bands Wind Ensemble. He began writing songs on his fifteenth birthday party where he wrote his first song called, The Baby Song, which was written to soothe his friend’s fear of babies. Ever since then he’s been writing songs on my ukulele always with some kind of twist. About a year ago he began writing his musical because he wanted to expand his writing portfolio, and he already had a basic plot ready. The first song Volpini wrote for his musical was called Death Is Temporary, and shortly after that he wrote Day Number One. As the year went on, he wrote more songs for his musical and told his friends all about it and one day his friend Mimi sent him a link to the Musical Songwriting Challenge, and he knew he had to enter. He got to work on making a backing track for Day Number One and recording it and finally he submitted it. It’s been an amazing journey up to this point, and he is excited to see where this takes him in his writing career and where it takes his musical. Volpini wants to thank his friends for always listening to his songs in the early stages and for encouraging his song writing and performing. Rachel, Sydney, Mimi, and Maddie have all made this possible for him. He also wants to thank his mom and dad for letting him pursue his dreams and do what he wants, even if it doesn’t always seem like the most rational decision at first. You can find some of his comedy songs on his YouTube channel, David Volpini, and he’ll be releasing his first album soon, so be on the lookout for that as well.

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Jillian Guetersloh

Jillian Guetersloh is a freshman at Bedford High School in Bedford, MA, where she lives with her parents, brother, and dog. From an early age, Jillian expressed a passion for music, writing, and art. She started singing in her church’s children’s choir in preschool and began piano lessons in kindergarten, then switched to the cello in 4th grade, though she still enjoys playing the piano today. Jillian learned the mechanics of writing contemporary music at the Real School of Music in Burlington, MA where she participated in their weeklong RealJams summer program for the past two years. At RealJams, youths are assembled into “bands” based on their instrumental and vocal proficiencies. They learn the conventions of songwriting first then the youths collaborate to write, record a soundtrack, and create a music video for an original song, culminating in a live performance on their final day. In middle school, Jillian was active in musical theater during the school year as well as their summer theater program. Her roles include Rafiki (Lion King Jr), King Julien (Madagascar), and Cheshire Cat (Alice in Wonderland) and she was a cast member in Annie Jr , Pirates of Penzance, and Beauty and the Beast Jr. Jillian was a cellist in the middle school orchestra. She also performed as a vocalist in the middle school’s rock cover band during her seventh and eighth grade years. Now, as a freshman in high school, Jillian has participated in the fall musical Noises Off as part of the backstage crew and in the spring musical Seussical where she played the minor role of Judge Yertle the Turtle. Jillian is currently participating in her high school’s’ playwrights festival, in which students write, direct, design, and perform ten-minute plays. Jillian has written a ten minute play and is directing a play written by another student. She plays cello in the high school orchestra. Outside of music and theater, Jillian also loves painting, traveling, and spending time with friends. Even though she cannot vote, Jillian believes in the importance of being politically active, and she participated in 2017’s historic Women’s March and the March for Our Lives in 2018. In eighth grade, she and a group of other students formed the Student Egalitarian Association, whose goal was to make school a more comfortable place for all students. The club succeeded in changing the school’s gender-biased and ineffective dress code, which remains one of Jillian’s proudest achievements. In 2017, Jillian was awarded the Superior Writing Certificate, the highest honor in the Promising Young Writers Program of the National Council of Teachers of English. Jillian’s favorite foods are chicken pot pie, cashew turtle ice cream and anything chocolate.

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Applications due by May 24.

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