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Northwestern’s Mercer tribute in fine form

Ann HamptCallaway headlines tribute music Johnny Mercer June 23.

Ann Hampton Callaway headlines a tribute to the music of Johnny Mercer on June 23.

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Johnny Mercer Foundation
Songwriters Project

♦ 8 p.m. June 22
♦ Josephine Louis Theater, 20 Arts Circle Drive, Evanston
♦ Tickets, $10


♦ 8 p.m. June 23
♦ Pick-Staiger Concert Hall, 50 Arts Circle Drive, Evanston
♦ Tickets, $10-$40

♦ Visit

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Updated: July 23, 2012 6:53AM

The Johnny Mercer Foundation is presenting a double-header this weekend.

On June 22, a group of 16 young songwriters, chosen from 90 applicants from around the country, will present songs written during their weeklong workshop at Northwestern University’s Evanston campus.

On June 23, singer/songwriter and Winnetka native Ann Hampton Callaway will headline a tribute to Mercer, along with the workshop’s 2012 master teachers, Craig Carnelia, Andrew Lippa and Lari White, plus some of the fledgling songwriters.

“The applicants must be between 18 and 30,” said Heather Schmucker, producing director of the American Musical Theatre Project (AMTP), which presents the Mercer project at NU. “They send three songs they have written and then they are selected blind by a panel of professional adjudicators made up of some alums and other theater people not affiliated with Northwestern.

“It is intense because the songwriters only have one week,” she explained. “They arrive Sunday night and meet the master teachers and get to know each other a bit. The real work begins Monday morning. Classes run from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 2 to 5 p.m. each day. They break up into three groups and rotate teachers, so each songwriter will have time with each of the teachers.”

Some of the aspiring songwriters selected are still in college, others are already professionals. However, they all share the desire for time away to compose and write lyrics in a supportive environment.

“It’s a creative retreat,” Schmucker continued. “From the very first day they have an assignment or a challenge, and they get notes from the teachers on everything they write. They stay in our dorms, but I have a feeling none of them get much sleep. After five o’clock, they have dinner and start working on their songs, probably most of the night.”

The June 22 evening program will have material hot off the presses from all song genres, including pop, folk, hip-hop, country, Latin or musical theater. “It’s always a lot of fun to hear what they come up with,” said Schmucker, now in her fourth season with the project.

This is the seventh year for the songwriting project, and outgoing AMTP director Dominic Missimi was present from the beginning.

“We had a night at Northwestern in 2005 honoring Jerry Herman with our students performing,” he said, referring to the composer and lyricist of Broadway blockbusters “Hello Dolly,” “Mame” and “La Cage Aux Folles.”

Afterward Missimi talked to Michael Kerker, director of musical theater for ASCAP, who was also a member of the Johnny Mercer Foundation. “He said that Northwestern with its great facilities and talented students was the perfect setting for the Mercer foundation’s songwriters showcase. We were the first place to host it and we’ve continued every year since,” Missimi said.

Missimi is particularly pleased to see the number of applicants this year.

“The word is out that this is the place to be if you’re a young songwriter,” he said.

The Mercer Foundation members are also pleased that the workshop has become more competitive each year.

“My personal mission is to have the craft of songwriting taught to each new generation,” said Jonathan Brielle of the Mercer Foundation, himself a musical theater composer. “On Oct. 11 at Merkin Concert Hall in Manhattan, we’re going to have a night of new music to celebrate the first seven years of our project at Northwestern.”

Dorothy Andries is a local free-lance writer.

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