Student Songwriting Contest

What a great evening we have in store!

Join us Sunday evening, March 17, 7 PM at the JBK auditorium on the campus of Frederick community college to hear the songs of the student finalists performed by 3 outstanding singer-songwriters.

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WELCOME to the 6th 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 17, 2024, 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 6, 13 and 20, 27, 2024 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 11, 2024, 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 6: 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 6, 13, 20, 27, 2024 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 11, 11:59 PM. No more songs will be accepted after that date unless deadline is extended so keep an eye out.

  • Thursday, February 22: By this date, Finalists and Emerging Songwriters will be notified.
  • Friday, February 23: Ticket sales begin.

Sunday, March 17, 2024, 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 6, 13 and 20, 27, 2024 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.

2023-2024 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.
Boasting one of the largest product offerings in the world, Music & Arts comprises 200+ retail stores, 120+ educational representatives, and 300+ affiliate locations. Based in Frederick, MD, the company of trained musicians offers friendly service and everything musical for students, parents, and educators. We offer educator approved band instruments and accessories like clarinets, saxophones, and the largest selection of reeds anywhere – with top brands like Rico and Vandoren. We also offer a wide variety of Violins, Electric Guitars, Acoustic Guitars, Mouthpieces and Accessories, and every method book or songbook you could ever need; including the best prices on Band Method Books! We are proud to be your neighborhood choice for music!
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.
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.
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.


All questions should be directed to:


Congratulations to all the winners of the
2023 STEP UP! Frederick Student Songwriting Contest

High School
1st Place: Deacon Withers for, “The Bayou Don’t Bow,” about the citizens of New Orleans during Katrina who, through the worst of times, came together to help each other.
School: Gov. Thomas Johnson High
STEP UP! project: He will hold a charitable variety show where various performers through music, poetry, dance, etc. will display their unique stories of success through personal hardships, as well as uplifting stories which show, as a community, we are there for one another. All funds will go to the Potomac Conservancy organization and first responders to demonstrate that this is simply about lifting the community and showing how art can connect us together.

2nd Place: Kastle Smith for, “Bring Us Justice” about Bryan Stevenson, a widely acclaimed public interest lawyer who has dedicated his career to helping the poor, incarcerated and condemned. His grandfather was murdered when he was young and was informed from that experience. He is the founder and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative based in Montgomery Alabama.
School: Frederick High
STEP UP! project:

3rd Place tie:
Aaron Henry for, “It’s Our World,” about Gretta Thunberg, a climate advocate, public speaker and most of all, a youth. At 15, in spite of adults trying to discourage her, she started a school strike for the climate outside the Swedish parliament. At 16 she spoke in from of the UN. Throughout all of this she encountered great opposition. Still, she stood her ground. She was Time Magazine’s Person of the Year in 2019.
School: Gov. Thomas Johnson High
STEP UP! project: Hopes to work with Potomac Riverkeeper Network.

Breanna Brea for, “Queen of Hope,” about Oprah Winfrey whom she feels is an inspiring woman. She came from poverty and an abusive home to not only being a huge success in business but huge philanthropist remembering where she came from.
School: Walkersville High
STEP UP! project: ECLN’s signature program, SWAG, allowed me to come out of my shell and become confident enough to participate in a contest such as this. I plan to start a fundraiser for Swag because it teaches young girls how to be leaders and allows them to break out of their own shells and become the leaders they were born to be.

Middle School
1st Place: Abhiram Tammana & Nikitha Tokala for, “Warrior” about Jane Marczewski (Nightbirde), her battle with cancer and how she lifted others up while she was dying.
School: Windsor Knolls Middle School
STEP UP! project: They created a slideshow about their fundraiser which they used as an advisory lesson at school. All proceeds go to the Nightbirde Foundation, which helps people with Breast Cancer. They are also planning on spreading the word throughout the community.

2nd Place: Ryan Franko for, “Turn Another Cheek” about Rais Bhuiyan. After the September 11 terror attacks, Bhuiyan, a Muslim, was one of the three people shot in close range by white supremacist Mark Anthony Stroman. Bhuiyan survived, but lost sight in one of his eyes. Bhuiyan revealed that he would appeal to the court to save Stroman from the death penalty. He told MSNBC, “I’m trying to do my best not to allow the loss of another human life. I’ll knock on every door possible”. He continued, “In Islam it says that saving one human life is the same as saving the entire mankind. Since I forgave him, all those principles encouraged me to go even further, and stop his execution and save another human life.” Bhuiyan started the movement, World Without Hate, to prevent hate crimes through education.
Music studies: FAME, Frederick Acoustic Music Enterprise
STEP UP! project: SHIP (Student Homelessness Initiative Partnership) – Raise awareness and collect needed items through social media, church, school, community.

3rd Place tie:
Kyleigh Mcgee for, “Harry’s Song.” Kyleigh has known Harry for 4 years. He is diagnosed with autism and is non-verbal. She watched him face challenges daily such as communicating with peers, handling the stress of academics, maturity, figuring out who he is as a person. Even with all of these challenges, she has seen him adapt to his surrounding by using technology, social cues, and guidance from staff. Harry has taught her patience, understanding, and how to advocate for others. He teaches her how to be a leader and stand up for others who may not have the ability to stand up for themselves.
School: Oakdale Middle School
STEP UP! project: Assisting Tour de Fredrick, a fundraiser for the Boys and Girls Club of Frederick county, by providing rest stops with food and beverages for the bike riders, transportation for injured participants, and clean up at the end of the event. I will encourage people to participate for a great cause while continuing to provide support the day of the event. All of profits raised will help the Boys and Girls Club of Fredrick County.

Jovie Hall & Ariana Ferraco for, “Martin’s Dream” about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who struggled mightily in his lifetime and gave his life for civil rights in this country.
School: Brunswick Middle School
STEP UP! project: Spread Kindness Project: focus their community service project on spreading the message of kindness through their own act of kindness and by raising money to support someone in need achieve their own dream of becoming a musician. They gathered their group of friends to help make bracelets and small cards with quotes about kindness, following your dream, etc inspired by Martin Luther King, Jr.

2022 STEP UP! Student Songwriting Contest.

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