On Aug. 18, days before Julian Watson and Makai Keur were to leave their Franklin homes and head to college, they were in a sound studio in Nashville, fine-tuning a song from their original musical with New York City-based theater professionals.
The duo are one of six winners in the 2019 Musical Theater Songwriting Challenge. This national contest is for high school students who write songs that could be part of a musical. It’s a program of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with the American Theatre Wing.
Performer, director and writer Shakina Nayfack and music director Benjamin Rauhala came to Tennessee to work with Watson and Keur. With their extensive musical theater background, Nayfack and Rauhala helped the duo hone “Charles’s Song” into a Broadway-ready composition.
“We arrived here yesterday already having a really strong piece of material to work with, and then it was just about finding ways we could enhance it, make the storytelling a little clearer, find some juicy words to up the lyric quality,” Nayfack said.
In October, the song will be performed and recorded as a cast album with songs of the other five winners.
“It’s really rich dramatically which allows the music to be rich,” Rauhala said. “There were so many colors we got to experiment with.”
The previous week, Rauhala worked with another Songwriting Challenge winner, Sophia Schwaner from Staunton, Virginia, and noted how the artistic environment of a place informs the kind of music that can emerge there.
“It was really cool for me to see the different ways people write songs even just a few states away,” Rauhala said. “I am thrilled that voices like this in Nashville are going to be amplified all across the country, and I love that about this [Musical Theater Songwriting Challenge] program.”
Keur is going to the Berklee School of Music in Boston to study music arrangement for film. Watson will be at Columbia College in Chicago studying acting and directing.