Musical Theater Songwriting Challenge Winners Announced

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Washington, DC and New York City, NY—The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the National Alliance for Musical Theater (NAMT) today announced the winners of the 2023-2024 Musical Theater Songwriting Challenge, which provides high school students an opportunity to develop and present musical compositions , these pieces can be part of a musical theater production. Award-winning songwriters will come to New York this June to work with mentors to refine their songs for a special concert on Monday, June 17 at 7 p.m. ET, available at and namt Watch at .org/challenge.

“We are delighted to celebrate these award-winning songwriters in New York in June—the experience of working one-on-one with a dedicated mentor to develop their craft,” said Dr. Maria Rosario Jackson, president of the National Endowment for the Arts. And learning more about the songwriting process is something we hope these students will continue to learn about in the coming years. Thank you to our partners at the National Musical Theater Alliance for creating opportunities for students at all stages of the program to develop their songs. Create sounds.

The 2023-2024 winners are:
(Grades and schools as of the 2023-2024 school year)

  • Sydney Gray, 11th grade student at Fairhope High School, Fairhope, Alabama
    “The Little Miss You’ve Never Seen” – Meet Nava Lee. She’s bright and hopeful, but she knows all too well what it means to not fit in – at school, at home, even in the mirror. In “Little Miss Unheard,” Nava longs to be more than just a shadow in her life as she battles the doubts in her head. It’s an emotionally charged anthem that echoes the universal struggle for visibility and acceptance.
  • Isabella Nguyen and Maya Johnson, 11th grade students at Mount St. Mary’s College in Little Rock, Arkansas
    “Live Before Life’s Gone” – the opening song of the new musical Not perfect, which is the prologue introducing the two protagonists Jazz and Char. Meeting early in the morning at a coffee shop before school, “Live Before It Dies” reveals the differences in how they view the world, while also showing how and why they value each other.
  • Owen Yeh-Lee, 12th grade student at Nueva School in Palo Alto, California
    “Time and Space” – After Chang’e selfishly drank the elixir of life and floated to the moon, her husband Houyi stayed on the earth. He sang this song to express his loneliness, sadness and despair.
  • Ale Fonseca, 12th grade student at Miami Art Studio 6-12 @ Zelda Glazer, Miami, FL
    “Overthinking” – Kelly is an aspiring musician who tends to focus solely on her career at the expense of those closest to her. After forgetting to pick up her best friend Morgan from an important dinner, never contacting her brother Nick, and a lack of communication with her partner Thomas, their voices begin as she recalls the moments they began Creeping into her mind. She wasn’t entirely convinced that she had done anything wrong, and she tried to convince herself that she was just “overthinking.”
  • Gwendelyn Doerfler, 11th grade student at DeWitt High School in DeWitt, MI
    “The Cost” – This song tells the story of a girl who moved to Nashville in the 1970s to become a country songwriter, even though she had never written a song before. The girl wonders if she made the right choice and explores her real reasons for moving.
  • Tabitha Moore, 12th grade student at Valley Stream Central High School, Valley Stream, NY
    “What has love done to you?” – The song is a poppy and levitating duet that seeks to question the meaning behind the rough boundaries between two people, and how to discover that each person is meant to be unique.
  • Luisa Paraguassu, 12th grade student at Davidson Day School in Mooresville, NC
    “Talk Pretty” – This song talks about the experience of never learning a native language, the pain of feeling separated from your family, the shame some feel (but shouldn’t), and the longing for connection How to transcend language.

An excerpt from the winning song submission is available here along with more information about the winners. Each song will be expertly arranged over the next few weeks. The winning students will come to New York this June, where they will hone their arrangements with mentors and musical directors while learning process, technique and production. The final work will be performed by Broadway artists in a concert on Monday, June 17 at 7:00 pm ET, available live and on-demand at and In addition, all winning songs will be compiled into songbooks and home print editions by Concord Theatricals for future release. Each winning student will receive a $2,500 scholarship provided by the NMPA SONGS Foundation.

Please contact Liz Auclair ( and Emily Vortherms ( to request an interview with any of the award recipients or for media access to the June 15 concert or mentor meeting.

“The National Musical Theater Alliance is excited to partner with the National Endowment for the Arts on the Musical Theater Songwriting Challenge. Developing musical theater writers is core to our mission, and working with these incredible high school students is core to who we are and what we do. A natural extension. We are excited to offer educational opportunities to all outstanding applicants and can’t wait to spend the weekend immersed in musical theater with the winners,” said NAMT Executive Director Betsy King Militello.

The 2023-2024 Musical Theater Songwriting Challenge kicked off last fall. During the fall and winter, students can participate in online master classes and tutorials, as well as additional songwriting techniques. Students submitted song drafts and received personalized constructive criticism from successful musical theater songwriters. Students then have the option to revise their songs before entering their work for final judging. Overall, we received more than 100 submissions from students in 34 states. Submissions are reviewed by a panel of leaders in musical theater and scored according to published criteria.

The 2023-2024 Musical Theater Songwriting Challenge is presented in partnership with Concord Theatricals, Disney Theatrical Productions, and the NMPA SONGS Foundation.

About the Musical Theater Songwriting Challenge

The Musical Theater Songwriting Challenge launched as a pilot program in three cities (Dallas, Texas, Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Seattle, Washington) in 2016 and expanded nationally in 2017/2018. This national competition is designed to inspire high school students to write songs using a wide range of musical styles from contemporary musicals that can become part of a musical theater production. The goal of the program is to engage the musical theater field in developing the next generation of songwriters. To learn more about past winners and to hear their final songs, visit

The Musical Theater Songwriting Challenge is open to high school students from all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and U.S. territories. For more information on how to participate and access songwriting tools and resources, visit

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