Solihull Song Challenge
Throughout April and May, we asked local budding poets and lyricists to come up with the words to a song about what their ‘Home’ meant to them. The intention was not only to create a modern anthem for Solihull, but also a lasting tribute to this year’s national celebration of words in every form.
When our Stock & Reader Development Team sat down way back in January to discuss possible projects for the year ahead, a lyric writing competition was just one of the many ideas generated. This was partly inspired by the NYR monthly themes (namely July’s ‘Rhythm and Rhyme’), as well as the group’s personal and professional interest in both poetry and music. Aware of the impact of song lyrics on young people, and of other musical initiatives such as Get it Loud in Libraries, the idea was to target local primary and secondary schools as we sought to meet one of the NYR target audiences.
We felt quite strongly that the competition should not be a music competition, as we feared being inundated with cassettes, CDs and countless other formats. We were conscious that the competition may have become very time intensive if we had to spend hours judging endless aspiring bands and soloists. So the emphasis was placed on the creative writing element with the lyrics, and we decided we would approach a songwriter to work with us to turn the winning entry into a professional sounding song.
Finding a songwriter
We could not have been more fortunate with our choice. A local commercial radio station had recently named Solihull born Aaron Yorke, Best Unplugged Act 2007. Compared to the likes of David Gray and Tom Baxter, Aaron (a full-time special needs teacher) is very experienced at facilitating workshops and running community projects, having worked throughout the West Midlands as a freelance musician and producer for some time. He was delighted to have been asked and more than willing to lend his services. So by the end of January and in what seemed like no time at all, The Solihull Song Challenge was born.
A range of materials, including posters and flyers were all produced in house and sent out via email to local schools, colleges, youth and community centres, as well as distributed across the borough’s network of libraries, with eye-catching displays being put up at a number of sites. Aaron notified all those registered on his mailing list by email and also through his MySpace page. Keen to attract young people we set up an online entry form, a link to which appeared on the council homepage for most of April.
Reaction to the Song Challenge has been very favourable. One participant, who came into the library over a number of days to write his entry, commented that he thought the project was an excellent idea. What he particularly liked was the sense of community participation. He hoped that a similar initiative would be run again in the future. More pleasing however, was the fact that one entrant joined the library as a direct result of the Song Challenge. He had never used a computer before, but after some initial help from staff was able to word-process and print out his entry. The ratio of entries from members/non-members was 65:35.
And the winner is…
The competition closed at the end of May, we drew up an initial shortlist of our favourite three entries and sent these to our songwriter to work with. He ended up producing two fantastic songs, leaving the final decision down to us. After much debate and having driven most of the staff mad playing the tracks over and over again in our workroom, we went for Dreaming of Leaving (Going Home) by 22-year old James Plant.
James felt inspired to compose the lyrics after spending a period of time away from the family home, and penned the lyrics after his Mum read about the competition in a local newspaper. You can download the winning song as well as the entry from our runner-up by visiting the song challenge page on the council website . Please feel free to get in touch and let us know what you think! In hindsight we could have asked the public to vote for their favourite song, and this was perhaps a missed opportunity in terms of hits to our website. I think our enthusiasm to get the song out there and for it to be heard by as many people as possible got the better of us.
One of the most pleasing aspects of this project was the fact that it was a ‘real’ challenge in the true sense of the word. Aaron had no idea what the lyrics would be like until they arrived in his inbox, literally having only a few days to write and record the song, before it was uploaded to our website as a free mp3 download. I think this and the fact that the project has been produced with little financial outlay makes the achievement all the more remarkable.
We kept the momentum going by asking our unofficial ‘Songwriter in Residence’ to run special workshops for families at two of our libraries during August as part of our programme of activities to celebrate the NYR. Both sessions were well attended and a great success. The workshops gave the families the opportunity to explore the process of writing and recording a song from scratch.
The impact of this activity was emphasised when one reluctant young singer commented afterwards that, “now I can hear my voice…and be able to join in with other children and sing.” You can hear more from these sessions by visiting our website.
Live performance and future plans
At the time of writing the song has had over a hundred and sixty downloads. Whilst that’s a far cry from a number one single, it has brought interest from the local press and has hopefully gone some way to raising the profile of libraries within our community. It has certainly left an impression on our winner who, when visiting our Central Library for the first time after the competition, was amazed at the range of services provided.
We are currently preparing for the songs to be performed live for the first time when Aaron appears in concert at our Central Library & Arts Complex Theatre on 10 October. All parties are really proud of what we have achieved, and we feel particularly privileged to have forged a partnership with one of Britain’s up and coming singer-songwriters.
It was great to bring both the winner and runner-up together for a small presentation in early July and see them congratulate each other and talk about their musical tastes and experiences. I wondered whether a new songwriting partnership was in the offing and was pleased to find out that after our presentation they both exchanged email addresses over a drink. So who knows, watch this space!
We would love to hear what you think of our song!
David Viner, Assistant Librarian, Solihull Central Library.
0121 704 8534