Walking confidently in her wedges to stage right in the Gusman Concert Hall, senior Tori Tullier was ready to sit down at the piano and perform her song “Little Bit of Home” for the audience at the Bruce Hornsby Songwriting Competition, part of Festival Miami, on Oct. 27.
“When she started playing, I got tears in my eyes,” said senior Meghan Gunning, a fellow Frost School of Music student. “It was just really cool to see my best friend up there doing what she loves.”
Singing second to last out of the 12 performers, Tullier waited at the side of the theater with her fellow competitors to hear the results. The contest was judged by songwriters Bruce Hornby, Lamont Dozier and music industry executive Chris Palmer, and a portion of the final score was determined by an audience text message vote.
Fortunately for her, 10 was her lucky number that night. Tullier won first place in the songwriting competition, granting her the opportunity to open for the Dozier concert the following night.
“I honestly wasn’t even nervous because I didn’t think I had a shot at winning,” Tullier said. “Once they called my name it kind of took me a second to stand up and think ‘Oh I am supposed to go on stage now.’ However once I got up there, I just couldn’t stop smiling.”
Tullier was just one of more than 60 students that entered the annual competition run by Category 5 Music Publishing. Her composition entry, “Little Bit of Home,” was written this past summer, when she was an A&R intern for Warner Music Nashville in Tennessee.
“Her song was a mix between country and pop,” audience member Jessica Weiss said. “It sounded like something that should already be on the radio.”
“It’s about going home to Maryland,” Tullier said. “And kind of missing some of those summers that I had in high school when life was more carefree. It was important for me to touch on every aspect, such as the smell of salt in the Chesapeake Bay and also bushels of blue crabs; both of those images immediately bring me back to Annapolis.”
Here at UM, Tullier is honing her songwriting skills as a media writing and productions major in the Frost School of Music. This major involves a combination of songwriting as well as writing music for more commercial genres, like advertising and film scores.
Some of her influences include Carole King, James Taylor and Simon & Garfunkel. This past summer she also became enamored with country musicians Alison Krauss & Union Station.
According to her good friend and fellow contestant Ben Goldsmith, one of Tullier’s strongest songwriting qualities is her ability to write great hooks, both melodically and lyrically, that can easily get stuck in a listener’s head.
“Her lyrics are very visual,” Goldsmith said. “I often feel like I am seeing a music video in my head while Tori is playing. Her lyrics have an incredible amount of detail pertaining to the senses, so the listener truly feels like they actually experiencing what the song is about.”
Tullier has been busy this year composing songs for “Lanza” a musical in collaboration by the Frost Music School and veteran music producer Phil Ramone that chronicles Mario Lanza’s life. She has also been performing at showcases, including one earlier this semester at the Wesley Coffee House, an event on campus.
“There is nothing I love more than the feeling of writing a song that you know is the best one yet,” Tullier said. “Something that is important to remember about being a songwriter is that you are the communicator; you have to write and be the voice for the people who can’t…in my opinion there is no greater satisfaction.”
Nancy Oben may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.