Interview with Cheri Gonzales, Swallow Hill Music Director of School Operations

 by Tania Urenda

The vision of Swallow Hill Music is to positively improve the quality of people’s lives through music. How does Swallow Hill Music fulfill this vision with the Young Songwriter’s competition? 

The vision of Swallow Hill Music is to positively improve the quality of people’s lives through music. How does Swallow Hill Music fulfill this vision with the Young Songwriter’s competition?

The vision of Swallow Hill Music is to positively improve the quality of people’s lives through music. How does Swallow Hill Music fulfill this vision with the Young Songwriter’s competition? 

I think the children and teens who we serve provide us with the most honest reaction to the programming we provide. You can tell instantly by their level of enthusiasm what music they absolutely love and also when they find the learning of certain skills completely boring. I’ve found this is most seen in the teen age range, which is the primary age group for the Young Songwriter’s Competition.

The teens who participate in the competition want to be involved. I mostly hear from the participants directly; they rarely contact me through their parents. They go through all the steps of the submission process and are completely on top of deadlines and email responses. I believe our vision is seen throughout this competition through challenging these young adults creatively and professionally through the power and process of music. Once we arrive at the live competition I’ve been able to witness the parents of the contestants listening to what their children have created. That positive reaction and pre and post-show encouragement is also completely exemplary of our vision as an organization.

How does songwriting benefit today’s youth? 

I have always found songwriting to be much like journaling – a way for anyone to express any feelings and organize them in whatever way they choose. I think the concept of just writing thoughts and feelings down is huge for today’s youth, and the concept of actually putting those words and phrases to song challenges them even more. It’s like a beautiful puzzle that fits together just as they want it to.

Besides the prizes awarded by your organization, what benefits do the competitors experience during the competition process?  

The participants go through a submission process and a waiting period to see if they have been selected to participate in the competition, which is based on a point system for various criteria. They also go through a pre-show sound check process and use a green room so they are really experiencing the competition as if it were any other live production.

What is your favorite part of working with youth and their musical passions?

Another program we offer at Swallow Hill Music is our House of Rock program. We offer six House of Rock summer camps for teens ages 13-18 and every summer I witness campers transform over the course of each week-long camp. Not only do they learn more about themselves as musicians but they learn how to work constructively within a group of kids with similar goals and passions. You might see a timid 13-year-old the first day of camp who’s very soft-spoken and nervous and by the last day that same camper is shredding an electric guitar solo at the performance.  

Do you have any advice for young songwriters who might be starting out and those wanting to succeed the in music industry?

I would advise them to never be afraid to try something new or challenging. Say “yes” as much as possible to performance opportunities, because actively participating is the best way to learn. I would also encourage young songwriters to be themselves and not try to write lyrics or melodies just because it’s what’s popular at the time – create material that is completely unique to you as an individual. If that means hitting a trash can as your drum and chanting, do it.

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