Songs for Social Change Contest Winners Announced

By 
Margot Edwards
June 30, 2020
Press release
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The annual contest, presented by Berklee's Songwriting Department and Songs for Social Change initiative, encourages students to write songs that promote positive change. 

Gayathri Karunakar Menon won first place for her song “Privilege to Dream.”
image courtesy of the artist

Berklee's Songwriting Department and Songs for Social Change initiative have announced the results of their 2020 Songs for Social Change Contest. This year's contest received 90 submissions of original songs from students around the world. The songwriters who received awards, honorable mentions, and judge's shout-outs, and those acknowledged in the contest’s showcase, hail from 16 U.S. states as well as Australia, England, Hong Kong, India, Macedonia, Norway, Qatar, Singapore, and Spain. 

The contest, which has been held annually for more than 10 years, encourages Berklee students to write songs expressing their convictions about social issues and promoting positive social change.

Alexandra RiordanGayathri Karunakar Menon, a double major in contemporary writing and production and songwriting from Doha, Qatar, won first place for her song “Privilege to Dream.” Second place was awarded to songwriting major Alexandra Riordan, from Newcastle, Australia, for her song “Listen and Love.” Third place resulted in a tie, with awards going to songwriting major Samuel Foster from Issaquah, Washington, for his song “Ghost on the Sidewalk,” and professional music major Madison Simpson of Concord, New Hampshire, for her song “Quilt Too Big to Fold.”                

"It's an honor to have my story heard and acknowledged. It is a sign that our community is open-minded and willing to listen to those with diverse stories,” said Menon. "My family immigrated to Qatar from India in the 90s. This song is about our experiences as people who aren't citizens of the country they call home. While we love our lives there, we're deprived of rights like complete ownership of property and business. Much of our status there depends on our livelihood, and we live in constant uncertainty."  

The contest, originally established by a gift from the Luongo family, has received endowed funding from Kevin Block-Schwenk, associate professor in the Liberal Arts Department. Block-Schwenk has donated more than $175,000 to the contest—the largest financial donation Berklee has received from a current faculty member. He created an endowed fund to increase the top awards to $1,500 for the first place song, $1,250 for second place, and $1,000 for third place, and to provide a $300 honorarium for artists chosen for the showcase. 

Madison Simpson

“The extremely high quality of showcase performers reflects the talent and inspirations of the students, as well as the robust judging process led by Mark Simos and assisted by many other faculty judges,” said Block-Schwenk. “Their process, by now a complex and finely tuned machine, ensures that we get to see the best of the best.” Block-Schwenk has also made an additional matching fund grant up to $15,000 for contributions to the contest through the end of 2021; $5,000 towards the match has already been donated by faculty member Pat Pattison.

Listen to some of the top songs in the Songs for Social Change 2020 playlist.

Normally, the contest and the live event showcasing the winners are held during the spring semester. When the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic forced the world to operate remotely, adhering to the original contest timeline and showcase plan became impossible. Simos and the other organizers—including faculty members Joe Bennett, Daniel Cantor, and Christiane Karam—quickly adapted by extending the submission deadline and organizing a Facebook Live event to showcase the winners. 

“In the midst of this pandemic, all in our community—students, teachers, staff, and our extended web of family and friends—are living through extraordinarily challenging times,” said Simos. “Under these conditions, simply writing and submitting songs to this contest represents work of artistic bravery and solidarity; the students can take pride in it. Their work honors fellow artists of conscience everywhere and the resilience of our Berklee community.”

Samuel Foster

Berklee's 2020 Songs for Social Change Contest winners: 

Award-Winning Songs

First Place: “Privilege to Dream," Gayathri Karunakar Menon (Doha, Qatar)

Second Place: “Listen and Love,” Alexandra Riordan (Newcastle, Australia)

Third Place (Tie): “Ghost on the Sidewalk,” Samuel Foster (Issaquah, Washington) and “Quilt Too Big to Fold, "Madison Simpson (Concord, New Hampshire)

Showcase Songs

Listed alphabetically by songwriter last name

“Something Strange," Antonio Del Valle (New York, New York)    

“Screaming Bloody Murder," Aashna Jain (Pune, India)            

“Found," Cinya Khan (Lake Worth, Florida)         

“No," Alexandra Maes (Salida, Colorado); Cowriter: Arturo Fernandez (Madrid, Spain)

“Untouchable," Gaman Mamidi (Chennai, India)

“The Light Back," Gracie Moses (Boston, Massachusetts)

“Down with Murder," Nevena Neskoska (Ohrid, Macedonia)

“Who We've Become,” Leah Rock (Los Angeles, California)

“White Noise (Portsmouth, Ohio),” Forest Romm (Canton, Georgia)         

“Who Are You,” Peri El Rutkovitz (Baltimore, Maryland); Cowriter: Hannah Rutti (Upperville, Virginia)

“Sink In,” Maya Wagner (Hillsborough, New Jersey)

“Black and White and Red,” Stella Webb (London, England)

Honorable Mention

Listed alphabetically by songwriter last name

“You Dig?,” Kelsey Blackstone (Manchester, Connecticut)       

“Welcome to America,” Ashley (Ally) Evans (Dallas, Texas)            

“Earth Full of Heart,” Samantha Jordan (Brooklyn, New York)

“Robots,” Lewis Zhi Hou Loh (Singapore)    

“I Just Don't,” Maya Manzanero-Lopez (Topsham, Maine)     

“So Will I,” Rosaileen (Rosie) Scher (Nyack, New York)    

“Best Me I Can," Gareth Tong (Hong Kong, China)   

Judge’s Shout-Outs

Rodney Alejandro, Associate Professor, Songwriting:
“Offering,” Alexandra Nicholas (Los Angeles, California)

Prince Charles Alexander, Professor, Music Production and Engineering:
“Exi$tential Cri$i$," Zach Seals (Woodstock, Maryland)

Joe Bennett, Resident Scholar, Professional Music:
“Anxiety (Doesn't Mean Anything)," Josh Witt (San Francisco, Califiornia)

Dan Cantor, Associate Professor, Songwriting:
“Ladylike,” Aida Frantzen (Oslo, Norway)

Christiane Karam, Associate Professor, Voice:
“Best Me I Can,” Gareth Tong (Hong Kong, China)

Scarlet Keys, Associate Professor, Songwriting:
“Angry at God," Saya Santaquilani (Scarsdale, New York)    

David Reiffel, Assistant Professor, Theater:
“Like an Angel,” Angela Morano (Mendon, Massachusetts)

Mark Simos, Associate Professor, Songwriting:
“Nothing Can Be Done,” Alex Song (Charlotte, North Carolina)      

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