December 2, 2009
DeKalb, Ill. — Northern Illinois University student Deanna Bach had not heard of the Chicago Tribune’s search for a “new holiday classic” song.
Yet news of the contest, which came from a colleague in the NIU Honors Program office, was music to her ears.
“One of the ladies I work with heard it on the radio and said, ‘Hey.’ She knew I was musical and that I like writing songs, and told me I should enter. That was on a Tuesday, and entries were due that Friday,” says Bach, a senior majoring in Spanish language and literature. “The first thought in my head was, ‘I’m doing this!’ The next day, I wrote my song.”
Bach’s submission, “What Christmas Means,” has landed in the top 12 from more than 110 entries. Online voting ends Sunday; the Tribune will announce the winner Wednesday, Dec. 9.
Her ballad tells of how Christmas represents more than ornaments and gift wrap.
“I didn’t want to write just any old song about presents and all of the material things of Christmas, because I feel that’s what our commercial world tells us we’re supposed to do,” says Bach, who was among the first five recipients of Forward, Together Forward scholarships last February.
“I just got back from a trip to Mexico – I’m taking a microfinance course, and we were helping the poor and lifting them out of poverty – and that helped me with the message,” she adds. “I wanted it to be about more than ribbons and bows, like being with your family and helping other people. If I have a topic in mind – something that really matters and something I’m passionate about – I can write a song very quickly.”
Comments are positive so far, she says.
“People I talk to are really excited that I entered the contest,” she says. “This is my first Christmas song. I kind of messed around with one a couple years ago, but nothing came of it. But when I have a purpose for writing a song, it makes it more meaningful to me, and this contest sparked that.”
Nonetheless, she considers her spot in the finals an honor and surprise.
“I didn’t think that many people would submit entries, but I’m just thrilled that the WGN people liked my song enough to post it in the top 12,” Bach says. “All the songs are really creative. There’s a lot of talent out there, and I’ll be happy no matter who wins.”
Bach’s mother, Barb, and her sister, Megan, worked behind the scenes as “my wonderful support system” to create her YouTube video, holding brother Doug’s video camera and “zooming in and out” during the 2 a.m. session. Both mother and sister were “absolutely willing to drop everything” to shoot the video, Bach says.
Dressed in a red sweater, Bach plays a digital piano and sings with her mother’s creation behind her: a wall decoration that looks like a smartly wrapped Christmas gift.
The video will look familiar to all who watched Bach’s moving song about Feb. 14, 2008, which also is available on YouTube and was widely viewed during the first anniversary. Inspired by the Tribune contest, she also filmed and posted some more videos of original and cover songs during the Thanksgiving break.
Altogether, Bach has penned about 30 songs despite having no formal training in the piano or in composition.
“I sat down at the piano when I was about 10 and, from there, I started playing by ear and teaching myself. I’ve never taken lessons,” says Bach, who has performed a few times locally at the Potbelly Sandwich Works on W. Lincoln Highway. “I make music because I love it.”
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Mark McGowan, NIU Office of Public Affairs