American musician, Jenna Kohut, recently received a national songwriting award for her original song, ‘Confetti’. She was a member of the Berklee Slam Poetry Team for three consecutive years, a collegiate team ranked in the top ten of the world. She was also the background vocalist in Celebrate Sri Lanka music video that went viral in February. Currently, she is working on a poetry book and a studio album, both due to release in 2017. She visited Sri Lanka in early summer to conduct a poetry workshop and to explore the country.
Music has been an integral part of her whole life. Since she was five years old she has been taking piano lessons. Her secondary education was at The Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts. There she majored in musical theater. “When I was in my junior year in high school they started a song writing class as an elective. My friend and I joined the class and we quickly became known as the song writers in school. We used to play our songs at the performances. That’s when I started to realize that I was having more fun song writing than in my musical theater classes. So when I got into college I got into Berklee, one of the only schools that offer a songwriting programme,” she says.
While she was in college, she was introduced to slam poetry. “And I found love,” she says. Slam is essentially poetry that is performed. It is not just about what you write, but also about how you recite it. In college, Jenna majored in songwriting and minored in performance poetry.
“There are so many tools and techniques that go into songs that I never realized before. Depending on how you want a song to make a person feel, there are certain things that one can do, at certain places in the song, in order to make the person listening get that feeling. We learned when to use what chords, importance of lyrics and phrasing,” she shares. At college she learnt how to write quickly and still produce a good product.
In college her ability to play the piano helped out in her compositions. “I am extremely passionate about piano. Without piano, I would not be the musician that I am today,” she confides. Piano has helped her read music, play music, and write music better. “It also helped my pitch and singing ability in extreme measures. I can hear harmonies, sing in key, and hear rhythm, all because of piano,” she declares. She considers herself a singing pianist; one without the other will not make sense.
“If I couldn’t play what I heard in my head, it would be so frustrating. Piano gives me the ability to not only compose songs, but also to communicate chords and song structure to other musicians,” she says. Piano accompanies her lyrics and completes her songs.
She is about to try out her song writing career in Los Angeles. “I interned there last summer and I really enjoyed it. I interned with Nick South, a music editor in film scoring. He was a wonderful editor. We were working on a song in Sony studios,” she says. She has experienced life at a record label as well. “My role was to help out artistes who were recording there. Getting them food, setting out and tearing down on the studios, and making sure the equipment was all clean. It was a lot of fun. I am hoping to reconnect with all those people when I move back out there,” she shares.
For the aspiring musicians and song writers out there, she has a message. She asks them to write every day and be patient. Even if you think what you’ve written on one day is awful, just keep writing anyway. “Don’t throw anything away,” she says. “You never know when something golden will grow from what you may have considered bad when you first wrote it. Be prepared for any opportunity that comes around, and know your craft well. This is a tough industry, so if you don’t absolutely have to do it, then choose something else, or do it as a hobby. If it is your dream, practise, write, and fearlessly chase it. Always believe in yourself,” she advises.