Omaha Performing Arts hosts ‘Once’ songwriting competition | Event Preview

Singer-songwriter Matt Whipkey says Omaha has always been fertile ground for community support.

“I know when I was a teenager, there were several songwriters I looked up to for their experience,” he says via e-mail. “They were always so helpful.”

In part, it’s Omahans’ willingness to foster creative growth amongst each other that makes the city an ideal backdrop for an Omaha Performing Arts songwriting competition and music industry panel.

Whipkey, who released his second solo album, Underwater, earlier this year, is a panelist and judge for the OPA competition. OPA is bringing the musical Once to Orpheum Theater May 12 through 17. The songwriting competition and panel is hosted in conjunction with the musical.

Once, a Broadway musical adaptation of the 2007 film by the same name, was nominated for 11 Tony Awards and won eight. It includes the song “Falling Slowly,” which won an Academy Award for Best Original Song. Find tickets here.

Kendra Ingram, OPA vice president and Hear Nebraska board member, says the organization often hosts community engagement events with popular musicals. Last year, they hosted an anti-bullying summit with the production of Wicked. Before that, when OPA brought Memphis to Omaha, they hosted a diversity forum. Events have included panels and talkbacks with casts of the shows.

But for Once, a musical about a relationship between two budding musicians, Ingram says creative learning opportunity made sense, especially in Omaha.

“When we told the representatives from Once about [the music community], they were blown away by the breadth of the music scene here and how many people who may not be professional musicians are still involved in the community,” Ingram says. “They thought this could be one of their most successful songwriting competitions.”

Entrants will be asked to write an original song, less than four minutes long, inspired in some way by Once. The competition has two divisions: ages 13-18 and 19-29. Songs may be any genre and any combination of instruments.

The top 50 entries will receive one ticket to Once on May 12. The top 10 entries will be asked to perform their song at a showcase at The Waiting Room on May 11, following a panel discussion by local industry professionals. The top song in each division will have the opportunity to record a demo of the song with Mike Mogis, owner of Omaha’s world class studio ARC and member of Bright Eyes.

The deadline for submission is 5 p.m. April 17. Find entry details here.

Ingram says she’s interested in making it more than just a competition.

“We assembled a panel of individuals who are having success in the industry and might have some information to give to younger people who are just getting started,” she says.

That panel includes Whipkey, Mogis, Orenda Fink, CJ Olson of Saddle Creek Records and more. The panel will be moderated by Tim McMahan of Lazy-i and The Reader. As well as those involved in the panel, judges for the competition portion include Hear Nebraska executive director Andrew Norman, Omaha Girls Rock executive director Melissa Wurth and Ingram, Kate Williams and Joanie Mathis of OPA.

“One of the harder things about being young is you pass up on a lot of awesome advice people readily offer to you,” Whipkey says. “I think this panel is definitely useful to anyone who wants that advice. You can always learn a thing or two from the elders and veterans of any trade.”

The panel event is open to the public on May 11 at The Waiting Room.

Whipkey says he is generally wary of competitive art events like battles of the bands, but sees the OPA competition as fundamentally different.

“This event is refreshing in the sense that our only real goal is to help young artists out, in whatever small way we can, in the craft of songwriting.”