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The Echo
Taylor University, Upland, IN
Tuesday, April 16, 2024
The Echo
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Taylor hosts first song competition, encourages student opportunities

Songs to be recorded, released

Students are turning into stars with Taylor University's new songwriting competition.

Students performed original song submissions live at the LaRita Boren Campus Center on March 7, of which three winners were selected to be recorded at Studio D.  The winners included senior Olivia Ross and her song, “Be Still,” sophomore Ben Gerig and his song, “Really Know You” and freshman Madison Raley and her song, “Time.”

Vibrant posters started appearing around campus in February advertising a song competition. The posters urged students to submit a video by March 1 of them performing a piece they wrote. Taylor would cover the cost of recording the songs professionally, as well as offer assistance in musical arrangements and releasing the songs on streaming platforms.

Todd Syswerda, professor of music composition, songwriting and music technology, Cliff Davis, chapel band coordinator, and Reed Spencer, department co-chair and professor of music choral ensembles, came up with the idea and acted as directors of the competition.

Syswerda, Davis, and Spencer listened to the submission the weekend following the deadline. By March 4, they chose 14 songs that were performed live.  

The competition was open to songs of all genres with submissions ranging from worship to rap. The only requirements were that the songs needed to be original and would be performed by the student.

Syswerda said he does not like to think of this as a competition.

“I want people to thrive,” Syswerda said. “Even if people aren’t chosen, I want them to feel like, ‘I can still write.’”

Davis helped lead the competition by securing the funds. Davis said Taylor has never had a song competition where the school pays for the recording fees. This was all made possible by the Women’s Giving Circle.

According to Taylor University’s website, the Women’s Giving Circle is a group of women who combine their resources to contribute to the Taylor Fund. They aim to fund innovative opportunities that go beyond what individual department budgets can support.

Davis said that he, Syswerda and Spencer have offices across from each other and had been communicating about an opportunity they could create for students.

“We were just thinking about, what is something that we think students could do really well if they just had a little bit of help?” Davis said.

Last spring, they composed a grant proposing the idea and presented it to the Women's Giving Circle. Davis said they believed this competition would help students bring their songs to life.

“I’m really thankful for the Women’s Giving Circle,” Davis said. “We would just be using the home studio if it wasn’t for them.”

Some qualities that Davis evaluated in song submissions included: Is it catchy and memorable? Does it make sense? Are the lyrics well-written?

Syswerda said there’s one more question he will be asking.

“Can you tell a good story?” Syswerda said.

The advancing songwriters had the chance to tell their stories during their performance in front of a crowd consisting of visiting admitted students and Taylor students. A total of 14 songs were played, ranging from pop to worship and acoustic to rap. 

Freshman Kayleigh Edmundson was one of the songwriters whose worship song, “Made a Way,” was chosen to be performed live. She has led worship for 10 years and felt comfortable performing on stage. She is thankful for the experience the competition offered.

“I was like, you know, if it’s a free competition, why not just see what the Lord would have for it?” Edmundson said. “So I’m just honored to have made it this far and just to be able to play it with people.” 

During J-term, Edmundson participated in Syswerda’s songwriting class and said she enjoyed the class which encouraged her to participate in the song competition.

Syswerda said approximately 34 students participated in the songwriting class, both music majors and non-music majors. A songwriter himself, his song, “Greater Than,” was released on all streaming platforms on Feb. 24. 

“My biggest piece of advice would be to just keep doing it,” Syswerda said. “One of the things I tell my son is that the only thing you can control is your growth of the gift and craft. You can’t open the doors. God’s going to open those doors for you.”