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Following a 'Dream'

Contest-winning songsmith writes about search for direction, destiny

Contest-winning songsmith writes about search for direction, destiny

January 27, 2004|by ANDREA ROWLAND

andrear@herald-mail.com

"I feel like I'm on 'American Idol,'" Christopher Bell said as he and the other judges of The Herald-Mail's first-ever lyric contest for teens listened to contestants sing about heartbreak, summer flings, love, hate, faith and patriotism. But it was the words to a song about finding one's way in life that drew the greatest praise - and won songwriter and performer Hunter Wade of Hagerstown $50.

Hunter's "Islands of Dreams" is a completely original song set to acoustical guitar music that the teen wrote. The senior at Mercersburg (Pa.) Academy played and sang his tune, which he recorded on a compact disc.

Ten aspiring songsmiths submitted a total of 19 different songs for the contest, which was open to individuals ages 12 to 18. All musical genres were welcome, but the work had to be 100 percent original. The judges - including Elizabeth Schulze, music director for the Maryland Symphony Orchestra; Rob Hovermale, music resource specialist for Washington County Public Schools; and Bell, studio musician and guitarist for the rock band Ashley Marie & Family - had their work cut out for them.

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"There's a whole lot of talent here - musically - and some very clever lyrics," Schulze said. "I see a lot of potential."

Hovermale and Bell were both impressed with the diversity of genres represented - although none of the teens wrote rap lyrics - the original music that accompanied the lyrics, and the quality of each entrant's performance.

"Nobody copped out and sang to karaoke," Bell said.

The judges listened to recordings of each song, carefully read lyrics, discussed the music at length, and narrowed the field down to about four finalists before picking their winner. Judges were especially impressed with the blunt yet creative lyrics of Waynesboro, Pa., teen Drew Adams' "Lowlife," the witty lines in Greencastle, Pa., teen Karl Hartman's "Offwhite," the pure-country sound of Bunker Hill, W.Va., teen Kenny Johnson's "God Ain't A-Gonna Wait On You," and Hagers-town teen Kellen Riley's a cappella performance of her "The Tango is for Two."

"She sounds like Tori Amos," Hovermale said.

But it was Hunter's "Islands of Dreams" that got the most kudos. The judges liked everything about the song except its title, they said. Hunter, 18, avoided the common mistake of clich rhyming, crafted lines full of imaginative imagery and used interesting guitar chords, the judges said.

"I think it shows a very mature style of writing, good use of metaphor and nice imagery," Bell said. Hunter's sound made Hovermale think of musician John Mayer.

"This guy's definitely got some talent," Hovermale said.

Hunter has been studying guitar since eighth grade, and he also plays violin and piano. He said his first guitar teacher, Allan Mason, encouraged his songwriting efforts - a talent that Hunter has continued to hone over the years with the help of such mentors as Mason and Curt Kimbrell, both of Merlin Productions near Martinsburg, W.Va.

Hunter, who is the son of James and Margaret Wade, plans to study songwriting at the Berkeley School of Music in Boston after graduating from Mercersburg Academy. It's the path his life might take, and his struggle to find the right path, that inspired Hunter to write "Islands of Dreams," he said. His work on the song began with its main guitar riff, and he fiddled around awhile before coming up with the rest of the song's music.

"I try to stay away from the normal chords and go for an unconventional sound," said Hunter, who is starting voice lessons in hopes of improving what he considers his weakest musical attribute.

Congratulations to Hunter and all of the songwriters who submitted their work for the contest.

The winning entry


"Islands of Dreams," music and lyrics by Hunter Wade

A star lit sky brightens night on a sea of dreams
And guides me as I walk along its beaches
And I see my constellation
Waves touch down and wash my feet of uncertainty
And leave me with a path to walk towards destiny
And I feel anticipation
And I feel anticipation

I see my dreams on islands in the sea
But I can't swim and I can't let it be
I search to find a ship that sails
To islands of dreams

I walk this beach and take each day with a grain of sand
It helps to calm the storms that plague this troubled land
And I see my destination
And I see my destination

I see my dreams on islands in the sea
But I can't swim and I can't let it be
I search to find a ship that sails
To islands of dreams

I see my dreams on islands in the sea
But I can't swim and I can't let it be
I search to find a ship that sails
To islands of dreams

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