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Poland grad tells singers to dream big

April 19, 2012
By J.T. Whitehouse , Town Crier

Kirsti Manna of Nashville, cowriter of the No. 1 Blake Shelton country hit "Austin," presented a seminar about careers in the music business to Poland Seminary High School choir members last month.

"The first song I wrote was when I was a student at PSHS. It was a patriotic song for a Realtor for a song contest," Manna said. "I didn't get serious about songwriting until I got through college."

After graduating from Poland in 1976, Manna went on to earn her bachelor's degree in music education at Youngstown State University. She studied as a voice major then switched to piano. While at YSU, she took gigs singing jazz in the area.

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A key piece of advice Manna offered the Poland choir students is to focus on what part of the business they are interested in since it is so vast. Coupling focus with education, she said, gives a student the best shot.

"The music business is very hard to break into and I think it's important to be clear about goals and how they will be achieved," Manna said. " If someone tells me they want to write songs and want to move to Nashville, I always suggest they come visit first , try to network and meet people and see if it's a fit."

The fit did work for Manna. She co-wrote "Austin" with David Kent, which became the debut single for country superstar Blake Shelton's 2001 debut CD.

"We didn't write it specifically for Blake," she said. "David and I were just trying to write a great song. David's publisher at the time pitched it to Giant Records and A&R put it on hold for Clay Walker. He decided not to record it, but Blake's label loved the song and wanted him to record it. Shortly after the song was released, Blake moved to Warner Brothers Records."

Manna said there's so much to the music business, it depends what aspect of the business someone is interested in as to what route they should take. She did say it's important to get an education and there several colleges in Nashville that cater to music business degrees.

"To be great at anything, you have to ask yourself, how bad do I want it and then act accordingly," she told Poland choir members.

Manna's visit was a special one for Poland choir Director Charles Szabo. He said he was a Chaney class of '75 graduate and Manna was a Poland class of '76. The two first met in college as music majors. They stayed in touch and Szabo was pleased when she agreed to come and speak to the choir about music careers.

"I will remember this as one of the highlights from my 32-year career in Poland, especially having the students sing 'Austin' to her while she filmed us to take back to Nashville and show her cowriter and colleagues," Szabo said. "The students were in awe and a little starstruck. They enjoyed the experience too. We would love have her back, hopefully as a commencement speaker someday."

Manna said she enjoyed the session with the choir and told Szabo she would love to return and do it again someday. For the immediate future, Manna's goal is to continue writing songs and eventually work on a musical.



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