IMG_1237Unprecedented Results from the Judges’ Call

The excitement is palpable from Universal Music’s recording studio, where winners Orla O’Neill and Taylor-George Ellis are recording their winning songs from the Song Academy Young Songwriter Competition 2014. But the judges conference call that happened a week previously was just as exciting…

Every judge was fighting for their favourite entry to win the coveted title of Song Academy Young Songwriter of 2014, so much so that this year, we had to add 3 runners up to the finalists as opposed to the 2 runners up we had last year. Both categories displayed ‘a ridiculously high standard of mature and well thought out songs’ said one of the judges, and many felt that some of the entries in both the 7-12 and 13-18 category were ‘Ivor Novello standard’.

They also felt that many of the songs were so good they could be pitched to and ‘cut by current artists’. Nearly every judge was impressed with the ‘bravery’ that these young songwriters displayed in expressing their emotions, both musically and lyrically, and how the finalists in both categories ‘surprised’ the judges with their talent and understanding of songwriting.

‘You hear many artists today just chasing the money, but these young writers are unafraid of expressing themselves and going places musically and lyrically that many don’t dare to go, for fear it might not be in trend.’ That is what Song Academy is aiming to do, nurture a wave of fresh, undiscovered talented writers, and one of the star studded judging panel said that after hearing the finalists from the 2014 competition they felt like they were listening to the ‘new generation of writers’.

The judges were looking for songs which ‘moved them, gave them joy to listen to, communicated with them’; all of which the 2014 finalists did in abundance.

Come and watch Orla and Taylor-George and all runners up and finalists perform live at Westfield, Shepherds Bush on Sunday 22 June, 1-5pm. IMG_1183

Listen Closely

With the world around us becoming increasingly hectic, many people don’t have time to develop the voices of today’s youth. What with electronic gadgets being the central hub of our existence, people being constantly contactable by machines at every moment, unruly children being silenced by iPads and iPhone games, not many children are given the chance to sit down with a pen and paper and write down what they are thinking or feeling because they ‘don’t have time’. But what if they did? What if children took an hour a week to sit and reflect on their thoughts about the wider world, about what’s going on around them, about their feelings and their lives and wrote those feelings down, perhaps to inspire others, or give hope to themselves?

I have been in the privileged position of having the opportunity to listen to what young people today have expressed through the medium of songwriting and it has left me in turn astonished, inspired and humbled. Working for Song Academy, an after-school songwriting club where children who are seeking a chance to be heard above the noise and express themselves creatively are given just such a platform; a space in which they can express their thoughts, fears, excitements, disappointments, and opinions in a safe, encouraging environment. Some write for themselves, trying to cope with the effects of bullying in school, friendship crises or to make sense of death or grief, while some write to inspire others, offering them hope through song, positivity through lyrics, and as Nelson Mandela once said, by letting their ‘light shine, [they] give other people permission to do the same’.

The psychological effects of songwriting are very interesting. Music therapist Barbara Dunn says that ‘writing songs can be a very powerful tool in therapy’ as it forces one to collate thoughts and feelings into a ‘package’ that can then be analyzed and interpreted from ‘different angles.’ Some children I’ve worked with at Song Academy have found when they are in a troubled situation often they refer back to a song they wrote to provide a source of comfort, and that the power of a melody with a personal lyric can lift their mood in an instant.

Apart from the after-school club, Song Academy has an annual National Young Songwriting competition, which allows children between 7-18 years old across UK and Ireland to have their songs listened to by top industry professionals. I was fortunate to have been one of the judges last year and hearing the variety of emotions expressed, from self-harm to first love, from parental gratitude to bullying, from friendship to celebrities, the children’s songs were bursting with insightful, powerful and inspiring ideas. Children are using songwriting as a vehicle to express hopes and fears and are realizing what a powerful force music and melody can be as a medium to understand themselves and each other; and all we need to do is listen.

Dunn says ‘writing down thoughts and feelings, whether in a journal or song, can be an incredibly healing process. It is a way to give voice to the essence of who we are, to understand and express ourselves and, to some extent, our relationship to the community and world that surrounds us’. If we can get more children engaging with their feelings and thoughts, and transforming them into a song, whose message is personal or universal, then maybe they’ll grow up to believe, as John Lennon once penned, ‘there’s nothing you can do that can’t be done, nothing you can sing that can’t be sung’.

By Jessica Sharman

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