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Cedarville student singing with a choir

Students Receive Star-Studded Feedback in Songwriting Contest

by Nicole Hackett, Student Public Relations Writer

Cedarville University’s annual songwriting contest encourages students to write original music for congregational worship.

“The CU songwriting competition was birthed out of our desire to foster a culture of songwriting at Cedarville, specifically of that of congregational singing,” said Roger O’Neel, associate professor of worship. “We would love for many of the songs sung in chapel to be birthed out of what God is doing in the lives of our students. This competition is to encourage our students to write songs, as well as to get them professional feedback on their work.”

Any full-time undergraduate student is welcome to enter the contest. Songs for the competition should be written for congregational worship. Entrants should submit both written sheet music and an audio performance of their song.

The top three songs will receive cash prizes: first place, $300; second place, $200; and third place, $100. The winners will be announced at the annual hymn sing on April 17 at 12 p.m. in the Dixon Ministry Center.

This year's judges are Michael O’Brien, Krissy Nordhoff and Matt Merker.

O’Brien spent seven years as lead singer for the Christian music group NewSong. NewSong’s album “The Christmas Shoes” was nominated for a Grammy. O’Brien received a Dove Award for his song “Sing Me To Sleep Daddy” and “The Christmas Shoes Musical.” Cedarville alumna Donna VanLiere is the author of The Christmas Shoes” novel, which was later turned into a movie.

Nordhoff is a staff songwriter with Integrity Music, co-founder of the Brave Worship ministry and creator of the Worship Songwriter Mentorship online course. In 2012, “Your Great Name,” a song she co-wrote, won the Dove Award for Worship Song of the Year. Nordhoff’s songs have been recorded by Natalie Grant and Mandisa.

Merker serves as a pastoral assistant and elder at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., where Mark Dever, founder of 9Marks, serves as senior pastor. Merker has composed congregational hymns, including “He Will Hold Me Fast.”

“The songwriting competition affirmed and encouraged me as a songwriter and a believer. The process of composing songs was truly a worship experience in itself,” said Brittany Roberts, two-time songwriting winner, 2018 Cedarville graduate and professional harpist.

“The greatest blessing I received through the competition was hearing about how my songs touched people's lives,” she continued. “The 2017 winning song, “Teach Me to Stop,” was sung in a church in the Dayton area that same year. I had the privilege to help lead my own congregation in singing the 2018 winner, “Surrender.” The songwriting competition will always be a cherished Cedarville memory for me; I am so grateful to have been a part of it.”

Located in southwest Ohio, Cedarville University is an accredited, Christ-centered, Baptist institution with an enrollment of 4,193 undergraduate, graduate and online students in more than 150 areas of study. Founded in 1887, Cedarville is recognized nationally for its authentic Christian community, rigorous academic programs, strong graduation and retention rates, accredited professional and health science offerings and leading student satisfaction ratings. For more information about the University, visit

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