Something to sing about

Kasilof composers win top honors in statewide contest

Posted: Thursday, December 30, 2004


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  Shannon Darling of Kasilof recieves her award Nov. 13 at the 2004 Song of the Year event in Anchorage. Photo by Michael Dinneen, APRN

Shannon Darling of Kasilof recieves her award Nov. 13 at the 2004 Song of the Year event in Anchorage.

Photo by Michael Dinneen, APRN

Guess the hometown of two of the newest award-winning songwriters. It's not New York, London or L.A. Nor is it Austin, Branson or Nashville. Would you believe it's Kasilof? The Kenai Peninsula settlement known as the home of set netters and slime liners, homesteaders and dog mushers, now can claim to be the home of two of Alaska's newest celebrated composers

Shannon Darling, a 22-year resident of Kasilof, won the 2004 Alaska Public Radio Network Song of the Year contest for her original song "All His Dreams." Kelsey Shields, a 15 year-old junior at Skyview High School and Darling's neighbor, won top honors in the contest's youth category for her song, "Until Then."

Both performed their songs at the Sydney Laurence Theater in Anchorage on Nov. 13 at the Song of the Year Concert, where Darling was named the Song of the Year winner.

Darling has been writing songs for 15 years. She led the music at her Kasilof church for 17 years. She categorizes her works as "inspirational music, about life, God and relationships."

"Though my songs are inspired by God, they are not necessarily about praise and worship, but more about life's struggles and pain," she said.

"All His Dreams" describes a mother's dilemma between a bittersweet sadness and optimistic hope when her son leaves home to seek his future.

"I wrote it about two weeks after my son, Neil, left home to try to make it with his band Both Feet. I was grieving for him at sunset, missing him. But I am also his biggest fan and encourager. The song just flowed out of being torn between the two feelings."

In her day job as a financial counselor at Central Peninsula General Hospital, Darling works with Bonnie Nichols, who won the first Song of the Year contest nine years ago. Nichols encouraged Darling to make a recording of her songs to enter in the contest.

Darling sought the help of Harlin Gamble at Gamble Studios in Soldotna. She recorded three original songs on a CD, which took about a month to produce in the studio.


Katie Darling and Kelsey Shields of Kasilof sing back-up vocals for "All His Dreams" during APRN's Song of the Year concert Nov. 13 at the Sydney Laurence Theater in Anchorage. The song was written by Darling's mother, Shannon, and won first place. "Until Then," written by Shields, won first place in the youth category.

Photo by Michael Dinneen, APRN

First Darling played and sang the base tracks. At different times, her backup singers, Vicki Tinker and Bonnie Nichols, recorded their additions to the tracks. Tinker and Nichols sang backup on a cut titled "Even Now" that Darling wrote about the events of Sept. 11, 2001. On "Faithless Heart," local musician Sue Biggs played violin and Kelsey Shields sang backup. Shields and Darling's daughter, Katie, did the backup singing on the winning "All His Dreams," while Tinker played the mandolin.

Since her success in the contest, Darling is now working with Gamble to produce a full CD that will include 11 songs. The recording should be available in April or May.

Darling encouraged Shields to enter the contest in the youth category.

"I've known Kelsey since she was born. She has an amazing talent for someone only 15 years old. I knew if she entered she'd have a good chance of winning."

"I've been writing poems and music for years," Shields said. "I always loved to write poetry and then one day the song just came into my head. Most of my songs are expressions of my feelings. I find I can express them best through music."


Kelsey Shields of Kasilof performs her song "Until Then" at the APRN's Song of the Year contest concert Nov. 13 at the Sydney Laurence Theater in Anchorage.

Photo by Michael Dinneen, APRN

Her prize-winning song, "Until Then," which she categorizes as contemporary music, was written about her boyfriend, Jason Smith.

"I hadn't seen him for a few days. I was at home missing him, so I wrote the song," she said.

When she thought about entering the song in the contest, she knew she didn't have the money to record it in a studio, so she recorded it on her computer. She enlisted boy-friend Smith to play the congas and her friend Katie Darling, "the big sister I never had," to sing harmony.

Shields said she was very surprised to win the youth category.

"It was really an amazing experience to perform at the Laurence Theater. I thought I would be scared, but when I got onstage with Katie and Jason, it felt great. There's something very special about getting to perform your own work in front of an audience like that."

Shields makes the most of any opportunity she has to perform. She has been singing in the swing choir at Skyview for the last two years and participated in the annual talent show. She won the a capella competition the last two years singing with a friend and sings open mic nights at the Cyber Cafe.

Looking toward her future, Shields said, "I'll always be singing, and music will always be part of my life. I've never been in a recording studio, but now I'm saving up money to do it. Both of my parents are behind me 100 percent. They're probably even more excited than I am."

However, Shields is not star struck by her recent success.

"I love to write, and I really want to pursue a degree in journalism or creative writing in college," she said

The Song of the Year Contest is held annually by the Alaska Public Radio Network. The contest invites songwriters to submit original songs not to exceed four minutes in length. Published or unpublished songs are eligible. Fifteen categories are available for entry. Contestants may submit multiple songs or the same song in multiple categories. The contest is open to amateur and professional songwriters who have been residents of Alaska for at least on year. Top finalists and winners are chosen by a select panel of volunteer judges that includes noted songwriters, media and broadcast industry representatives and music industry professionals. Songs are judged on originality, lyrics, melody and composition.

The Song of the Year Concert is a fund-raiser to benefit APRN and the Turnagain Community Arts Alliance. According to Peggy Monahan, contest coordinator, this year's contest raised nearly $50,000. The contest is APRN's biggest fund-raiser.

Complete details are available online at

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