On Feb. 29, Western Michigan University graduate student Tommy Proulx held auditions for his own songwriting competition. Proulx, who is currently pursuing a master’s degree in recording and sound production, wanted to encourage writing, recording, and performing experience in his applicants, as well as give himself an opportunity to arrange, record, and produce the winning song. The winner was set to receive a prize package that included a live radio show premiere of their song (courtesy of WIDR), a fully arranged and finished recording, and an opportunity to collaborate with Proulx’s band in a live performance at the Union. But Proulx ended up being so impressed with the talent he saw that he picked one “main” winner and three “secondary” ones.
Marissa Rinehart, a graduate student pursuing a master’s degree in music therapy, took top honors for her song “Night Drives,” which Proulx described as a tune with a “John Mayer vibe.” The three secondary winners, Katie Holt (for “Surrender to Me,” a ‘pop-country, Taylor Swift type of song’), Jordan Masek (with “I Don’t Know Your Name,” a ‘piece of top-40 pop’), and Tony Mattar (for “I Mumble Sometimes,” a ‘Jason Mraz, ukulele pop tune’), will be featured on Monday’s radio show and in a pair Union gigs this Friday and Saturday, both starting at 9 p.m.
“I saw a lot of potential in each one of the secondary winners and I wanted to give them the experience because of that,” Proulx said. “I heard their stories and backgrounds at the audition, and I thought this would be a great experience for them, to get to perform with the live band and to give them some publicity for their music. It’s more experience for me as well, which is great because this is the kind of thing I want to do. It’s really all about making their vision of the song come to fruition: they indicated what they wanted to see in their song on the application, and I tried to stay true to that.”
Despite the talents of his secondary winners, Proulx ultimately seemed very pleased with his choice of Rinehart as the grand prize winner.
”Melissa was involved in the music scene in Cincinnati, where she got her vocal performance degree,” Proulx said. “Now she wants to break into this scene. She wants to meet musicians and find her way into a position where she will be able to perform, and I wanted to help her with that.”
Proulx’s band, a ten-piece outfit including piano, drums, guitar, bass, synth, and a full horn section, has been rehearsing Proulx’s arrangements of the winning songs for a week and a half, allowing for one rehearsal with each singer before the various performances. The winners’ performances at the Union will be interspersed into a full length gig by Proulx and his band, who will present a set of jazz, pop, and R&B music. Proulx, in addition to being a songwriter and arranger, is also a saxophonist and a singer with an undergraduate degree in jazz studies from WMU.
For more information, email Proulx at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call the Union at 269-384-6756.