Student Songwriting Contest

Enjoy music?
Then, join us in an experience 2nd to none.
You have nothing to lose and everything to gain!
Let us help you write a powerful song about someone of great courage.
Plus, great prizes!

WELCOME to the 7th annual STEP UP! Frederick Student Songwriting Contest.
You DON’T need to play an instrument, have a great voice or be able to read music. You DO need to write a creative and powerful song on your own or with others. And we can help with that. Come to our free songwriting workshops!
We want to know what you’re doing so be sure to keep us posted on your STEP UP! actions on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Open to middle and high school students in Frederick County, MD
Submit original songs you wrote on your own or with a friend about someone who meets the criteria below
Prizes: Cash, FCC Scholarships, Song Evaluations, YMCA memberships and more!
Free Songwriting Workshops: Turns out that the majority of past winners have taken advantage of these great classes.

Sign up now to receive information about the 2023-2024 Contest. Fill out the form at the bottom of the page.


Chords of Courage is changing the conversation from the demoralizing and cynical to the hopeful and inspirational – one song at a time. We have created the first songwriting contest of its kind in the world and are conducting it in Frederick, Maryland. The contest is open to Frederick County middle and high school age students and encourages them to use their creativity to write dynamic and powerful songs about people of particular courage.

We Use Songwriting as a Catalyst for Social Change

Winning songs will be presented at the Awards Concert, Sunday, March 16, 2025, 7:00 PM at JBK Theater, Frederick Community College. Student songwriters then take leadership roles to encourage the audience to join them in acts of STEPPING UP! inspired by the courageous people about whom they wrote their songs. It’s a great way to empower teens to be active members of their community and an incredibly profound experience for everyone.

By creating socially conscious songs today,
we help create socially conscious citizens for tomorrow.

We are honored that Frederick County Public Schools, while not a sponsor, strongly encourages student participation to complement academic growth and endeavors. We hope this covers everything you need to know but if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask on this form. We are here to help you be as successful as possible.

“The most amazing thing about the Contest is the level of talent and interest from the participants. The young people invest so much of themselves in creating these very personal songs and through their eyes we get an innocent yet often more profound view of the world. Again and again I found myself simply blown away. Its a joy to be a part of it. I can’t wait to see how it grows in the coming years!”
Derek McGinty, multi-award winning journalist and commentator
Emcee of the STEP UP! Student Songwriting Contest Awards Concert

Chords of Courage is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization making your contribution tax deductible.



APPLICATION – A 2 Step Process

STEP 1: This Contest asks you to challenge yourself by writing a song about a courageous person or group who, through great suffering, tragedy or personal risk, performed actions resulting in significant positive change, in the last 50 years.

Your song subject could be:

  • famous or not famous
  • from the local community, across the country or around the world
  • young, old or in between, deceased
  • from any racial, ethnic or religious background


This person needs to be someone who:

  • you think is amazing
  • meets the song subject criteria
  • inspires you!


You can hear songs written by both students and accomplished songwriters about courageous people who meet the song subject criteria (e.g., Rosa Parks, Cesar Chavez, Malala Yousafzai, Congressman John Lewis and others who overcame great difficulties and STEPPED UP in big ways to make a difference in the lives of others) by going to Our Music.

To be sure you’re on the right track, the Contest Committee must approve your song subject first so please submit this form. Once you receive your Contest number, you can begin writing!

  • Do not use your school email address as we cannot reach you that way.
  • This will be used if we can't reach you by email.

We Use Songwriting as a Catalyst for Social Change


All questions should be directed to:



Once your song subject has been approved, the writing begins. As you research and get to know your song subject, identify those things that you want others to know about this incredible person. Tell their story in the most interesting and compelling way possible. Remember, your goal is to write a fabulous song that will inspire listeners to want to STEP UP! and make a difference just like your song subject!

Songs can be in any music genre: rock, folk, country, blues, R&B, hip hop, classical and more. Just remember, a great song supersedes any particular genre.

In an effort to help you write the best song you can, we are offering
Saturdays, 10:00am – 1:00pm, January 4, 11, 18, 25, 2025 at the Y Arts Center, 115 E Church St, Frederick

To submit your song, you will need:


  1. Paste lyrics into the form below. Be sure to include the Song Subject Number you received from us in STEP 1 when your song subject was approved.
  2. Upload MP3 using the form below.
  3. Download this Rules & Regulations Consent Form – Note that the Rules & Regulations Consent Form must be signed by each student collaborating on your song and a parent/guardian for each student.
  4. Complete the online Application Form below for each songwriter.
  5. Scan and upload the signed Rules & Regulations Consent Form.
  6. Pay $20 per song.
  7. All submissions must be made by SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 9, 2025, 11:59 PM.

If you have any questions or difficulties with this process, please let us know. We’re here to help you!

Please provide the following information for each person who wrote this song:


All questions should be directed to:



NOVEMBER: Monday, November 4: Contest Opens, song submissions accepted

DECEMBER: Keep writing. Keep researching. Be sure to attend the Free Songwriting Workshops in January.

JANUARY: 4 free songwriting workshops
Saturdays, 10:00am – 1:00pm, January 4, 11, 18, 25, 2025 at the Y Arts Center, 115 E Church St, Frederick

Lunch and snacks included.
Space is limited so be sure to RSVP here and show up ready to write! (more information in the free Songwriting Workshops section)

FEBRUARY: DEADLINE TO SUBMIT ORIGINAL SONGS SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 9, 11:59 PM. No more songs will be accepted after that date unless deadline is extended so keep an eye out.

  • Thursday, February 20: By this date, Finalists and Emerging Songwriters will be notified.
  • Friday, February 21: Ticket sales begin.

Sunday, March 16, 2025, 7:00PM: STEP UP! Student Songwriting Awards Concert at Frederick Community College.

To purchase tickets in advance, please contact


All questions should be directed to:



Exciting STEP UP! Student Song Writing Awards Concert, Sunday, March 17, 7:00 pm Frederick Community College.
Winning songs performed by the outstanding band, ilyAIMY!

High School:

  • 1st – $400, FCC (Frederick Community College) Scholarship valued at up to $1,500 to a high school graduate, Song Evaluation, YMCA summer Membership, trophy, tee-shirt
  • 2nd – $250, FCC (Frederick Community College) Scholarship valued at up to $1,000 to a high school graduate, Song Evaluation, YMCA summer Membership, trophy, tee-shirt
  • 3rd – $100, FCC (Frederick Community College) Scholarship valued at up to $500 to a high school graduate, Song Evaluation, YMCA summer Membership, trophy, tee-shirt

Middle School:

  • 1st – $400, FCC (Frederick Community College) Scholarship covering 12, 30-minute composition or music lessons, Song Evaluation, YMCA summer Membership, trophy, tee-shirt
  • 2nd – $250, FCC (Frederick Community College) Scholarship covering 12, 30-minute composition or music lessons, Song Evaluation, YMCA summer Membership, trophy, tee-shirt
  • 3rd – $100, FCC (Frederick Community College) Scholarship covering 12, 30-minute composition or music lessons, Song Evaluation, YMCA summer Membership, trophy, tee-shirt

Emerging Songwriters:

  • $25, YMCA Summer Membership, trophy, tee-shirt

All winners:

  • Your name, song title and STEP UP! project and/or words of inspiration in the program and/or online


All questions should be directed to:



We are offering 4 free songwriting sessions lead by award winning songwriter and STEP UP! Frederick workshop leader par excellence Andrew McKnight. Attend as many as you can and be sure to secure your spot below as space is limited:

Saturdays, 10:00am – 1:00pm, January 4, 11, 18, 25, 2025 at the Y Arts Center, 115 E Church St, Frederick

Lunch and snacks included.

Space is limited so secure yours: RSVP here and show up ready to write!

Since permanently leaving his corporate environmental engineering career in 1996, award-winning folk/Americana artist Andrew McKnight’s musical journey has traced nearly a million miles of blue highways, and earned him a wealth of critical acclaim and enthusiastic fans for his captivating performances and seven recordings. Andrew’s solo performances are powerful and entertaining one-man theater, delivered with warmth and down-home comfort. He weaves his finely-crafted songs and nimble flatpicking together with humorous stories and poetic drama, while the musical soundscape traverses influences from Appalachia, spooky slide and jazzy blues, feisty anthems, and rustic folk.

2025 Approved Chords of Courage Song Subject Candidates

View as Web Page    View/Download PDF



All questions should be directed to:



Only the songwriting elements of the songs are considered when determining the winners. Every songwriting entry is reviewed and judged on the songwriting merits alone. Production quality is not taken into consideration. We are looking for great songwriters, not great producers. A simple home or live recording of a song has the same chance of winning the contest as a professional recording. Vocal ability is not taken into consideration.

We are offering 4 free songwriting sessions for teens interested in participating in the Contest. We encourage everyone considering submitting songs to attend at least one of them.

Submissions are judged on: creativity, originality, lyrics, melody, how the lyrics and melody work together meeting the song subject criteria and overall likability. Decisions made by the judging panel are final. Judges include musicians, songwriters, performers, composers, arrangers, music teachers and/or people affiliated with the music business.


All questions should be directed to:



By submitting a song, you agree that:

  1. All songs must be original and all co-writers must be credited and part of the application. Each songwriter must complete this form.
  2. All songs must meet the STEP UP! Frederick Contest song subject criteria. This Contest asks you to challenge yourself by writing a song about a courageous person or group who, through great suffering, tragedy or personal risk, performed actions resulting in significant positive change, in the last 50 years.
  3. You and/or your middle and/or high school student songwriting team wrote at least 90% of the song, that it was not stolen from another songwriter and was never sampled from another song.
  4. Production value and quality will not be considered so don’t worry if your audio is not the highest quality. Just be sure we can understand the words.
  5. Only MP3s will be accepted.
  6. Entry fee is $20 per song. You may submit as many songs as you want. Entry fees are non-refundable and submissions will not be returned.
  7. You will get your song subject approved by Chords of Courage and the Contest before submitting your song.
  8. If you are submitting more than 1 song, you must enter each one separately.
  9. You have reviewed all the Contest material and will adhere to all aspects.
  10. You reside in Frederick County, Maryland.
  11. You will allow us to use your photo and your song on the website, in press releases, promotional materials, social media and other products and communication strategies of the Contest and Chords of Courage.
  12. That you retain the rights to your song other than rights you have given to the Contest and Chords of Courage in item 11.
  13. First place winners, who will receive free studio time, must be accompanied by an adult approved by the parent and/or guardian, and present during the entire studio session(s).
  14. If you win in any category, you will work with Chords of Courage and The Contest to participate fully in the STEP UP Frederick! Community service project designated by The Contest.
  15. Whether or not you win, you will make every effort to attend the STEP UP! Frederick Awards Concert.
  16. Winning students will have their name, song title and STEPPING UP! project and/or notes of inspiration in the program and/or on the website.
  17. Chords of Courage and the Contest are not responsible for website down-time, outages, etc.
  18. The laws of Maryland apply to this agreement.



All questions should be directed to:


We welcome all donations to empower students to STEP UP! and make a difference in Frederick County:

We firmly believe that by creating socially conscious music with young people today, we help to create socially conscious citizens for tomorrow.

Chords of Courage, changing the conversation one song at a time

Tightly woven into the fabric of Frederick, their philanthropy has spanned generations and is perpetuated today as a private family foundation dedicated to enriching lives through community endeavors.
Empowers the passion for change in Frederick County and sees it as a thriving community of vibrant spaces and places, with a superior quality of life, and strong and collaborative nonprofit organizations.
In partnership with individuals, organizations, and businesses, the mission of the Frederick Community College Foundation is to remove barriers to a community college education and provide financial support so all students can succeed and positively contribute to our community.
Our YMCA works collaboratively with community partners to improve the lives of children, adults, families, and the entire community. Our purpose is to strengthen and enrich the development of individuals and families through quality programs and services that build a healthy spirit, mind, and body for all. Integral to everything that we do are our core values of caring, honesty, respect and responsibility.
The mission of the Frederick Children’s Chorus, founded in 1985, is to bring children together for the joyful exploration and celebration of singing. The chorus offers an opportunity to all children in the community to learn to sing well and become confident in their ability to read musical notation, study selections of music from classical, popular, opera, Broadway, and multi-national folk music repertoire. The chorus involves over 100 singers ages 8–18 and has performed in many venues including festivals in New Orleans, Denver, New York, and at Carnegie Hall.
Tomy Wright (Man on the Line Music) is a music composer with Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI). He is also an advisor to non-profits in greater Frederick County Maryland pursuing their Section 501(c)(3) nonprofit status, organizational effectiveness, event planning, marketing and publicity.
The Asian American Center of Frederick provides vital services to assist immigrants and minorities reach their full potential. Our services include interpreter/translation services, ESL and Citizenship classes, mentoring, housing, education, employment and business development to meet their needs and improve quality of life.
Here at Spanish Speaking Community of Maryland, Inc., we are driven by a single goal; to do our part in making the world a better place for all! We do this by empowering low-income families & immigrants from diverse backgrounds by promoting self-sufficiency, greater social change, education and legal rights.
Student Homelessness Initiative Partnership of Frederick County, a non-profit public charity founded in early 2014. Quite simply, we exist because there are school children in our community that need our help. They live in every city, town, village and hamlet in Frederick County. In school year 2016-17, homeless students were found in 61 out of the 66 schools in the Frederick County School System (FCPS). This issue cuts across all grades, all ethnicities. And the numbers continue to grow each school year.
Our mission is to connect youth with opportunities to grow through extra-curricular activities. We shatter barriers so that youth can experience life to its fullest. Our core values are: be passionate about establishing a relationship first, communicate our faith in practical ways, youth are foundational to all decisions, sustainability through family involvement, weakness creates opportunity, collaborative with our actions, empower multi-cultures, our behavior speaks, life is good, be humble.
New Spire Arts inspires creative engagement from all facets of the community by providing programming and education in, about, and through the performing arts.
The Great American Song Contest is designed to offer songwriters a positive alternative to the “big-cash-prize” corporate contests. The Great American Song Contest emphasizes networking and educational benefits, multiple awards and practical prizes for songwriters. It is designed to ensure that all participants get a fair and thorough review from knowledgeable music-industry pros.


All questions should be directed to:


Congratulations to all the winners of the
2024 STEP UP! Frederick Student Songwriting Contest

1st Place: Abhiram Tammana for Angel in Disguise, inspired by Kaitlin Roig-DeBellis who is the first-grade teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary School who saved her entire class of fifteen six- and-seven-year-olds from the tragic events that took place on December 14, 2012, by piling them into a single-occupancy bathroom within her classroom, mere feet from the brutal and indiscriminate massacre taking place outside the door. Since then, despite the unimaginably painful experiences she endured, she has chosen to share her experience with others, in the hope that they, too, can find light in dark moments. She is the Founder & Executive Director of the non-profit Classes 4 Classes, that uses social networking as a tool for every student in the US to learn: compassion, caring, kindness, empathy, consideration, through active engagement.

2nd place tie:

Mridula Vasudevan for A Champion’s Dream, inspired by Muhammad Ali. Mila wrote, “As a Martial Artist, I considered Muhammad Ali a Role-Model not only for his strength and accuracy through his boxing technique, but through his words as well. He fearlessly advocated for racial justice and equality and supported the civil rights movement. He made sure to speak out against discrimination and oppression and used his fame and influence to raise awareness for important causes. His actions inspired millions of people around the world to stand up against injustice and fight for what they believe in. He made an impact through his charitable acts and the establishment of the Muhammad Ali Foundation. Through his Foundation, Muhammad Ali worked tirelessly to provide aid to communities in need, promote education, and raise awareness about important issues.”

Gabriela Pabon for The Ladder, inspired by Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon who became a couple in the early 1950’s. They co-founded the Daughters of Bilitis (DOB) in San Francisco becoming the first social and political organization for lesbians in the US. They acted as president and until 1963 successively as editor of The Ladder magazine, which they also founded. They were married on February 12, 2004, in the first same-sex wedding to take place in San Francisco after Mayor Gavin Newsom ordered the city clerk to begin providing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. That marriage was voided by the California Supreme Court on August 12, 2004. After the California Supreme Court’s 2008 decision to legalized same-sex marriage, the couple married again on June 16, 2008 making theirs the first same-sex marriage in San Francisco.

3rd Place: Onyekachi Obodozie for The River Runs Free, inspired by Simon Deng, a Sudanese American human rights activist living in the US. A native of the Shilluk Kingdom in southern Sudan, Deng spent several years as a domestic slave in southern Sudan. Deng says in his account of his capture and subsequent abduction: “… I was a slave. … When I was nine years old, my village was raided by Arab troops in the pay of Khartoum. As we ran into the bush to escape, I watched as childhood friends were shot dead and the old and the weak who were unable to run were burned alive in their huts. I was abducted and given to an Arab family as a “gift”.” During his time as a slave, Deng was put through inhumane acts. He remembers being punished for not responding loudly enough, beaten by groups of other children, and having nothing but “patience… and my faith” as friends. He was forced to say yes to everything, including torture, and remembers times when “the only thing I could do was ask for mercy… and mercy was not always there.”

4rd Place: Ryan Franko for Keep on Walking Strong, inspired by Maria Gabriela “Gaby” Pacheco. In 2010, alongside three undocumented students, she led the Trail of Dreams, a remarkable four-month walk from Miami to Washington, DC. Two years later, she spearheaded efforts to establish the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Pacheco made history as the first undocumented Latina to testify before Congress on April 22, 2013, addressing the Senate Judiciary Committee and highlighting the urgent need for immigration reform. Being undocumented herself, she took great risks to STEP UP in this way.

1st place: Roman Jackson for Indomitable, inspired by Raymond Damadian. As a 10-year-old boy, Raymond Damadian witnessed his grandmother suffer from the ravages of breast cancer. Her tragic death left an emotional scar and fueled his quest to find a cure for cancer. After medical school, he spent 8 years building the first ever magnetic resonance image (MRI) scanner. In 1974, he named his invention “Indomitable,” reflecting the determination required to overcome the numerous roadblocks, such as difficulty funding research, critics calling human body scanning “visionary nonsense,” and billion-dollar companies stealing his patent. He was inspired by the perseverance and work ethic of this father who was driven from his home during the Armenian genocide. He traveled 40 days with a donkey and cart through the desert to Damascus. Unlike CT scans and X-rays, an MRI scanner produces no radiation and superior images. Around 60 million scans are performed a year to detect diseases like brain injuries, strokes, dementia and infections.

2nd Place: Laney Remsberg for Hate Won’t Win, inspired by Alana Simmons-Grant who says her faith helped her get through one of the darkest moments in her life and shine a light on the evils of racism and the power of forgiveness. On a summer evening in 2015, a white man walked into Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church. He sat through a weekly meeting, then opened fire on the members, killing nine including Alana’s grandfather.

At the murderer’s trial another victim’s relative inspired forgiveness in her. Alana said God put these words on her heart: “Although my grandfather and the other victims died at the hands of hate, this is proof, everyone’s plea for your soul is proof that they lived in love, and their legacies will live in love. So, hate won’t win. And, I just want to thank the courts for making sure that hate doesn’t win. She started the movement #HateWontWin.”

3rd place: Millie Johnson for Flame in the Darkest Night, inspired by Pat Kutteles who was driven by tragedy to end ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Her relentless efforts helped reverse the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy a decade after her son was beaten to death by a fellow soldier who presumed he was gay.

Emerging Songwriters: Ruby Walso, Kastle Smith, Mallory Leembruggen
Noteworthy Recipients: Breanna Brea, Adeline Rodatus and Mara Brown, Nyhla Rice

STEPPING UP to Make A Difference

Since we first asked STEP UP! Frederick finalists to STEP UP in the spirit of their courageous song subjects, students have impacted over 3,500 individuals in and beyond Frederick County. Their impact is truly incredible and a great reflection of our belief in the power of one song to make a real difference.

2022 STEP UP! Student Songwriting Contest.

So many thanks to our incredible sponsors, funders and partners: