OGDEN — When the chorus of the original song “Ten Seconds to Infinity” came to DaVinci Academy high school students Eliza Corrington and Braxton Carr, they knew they had a winner.
Whether the judges of the national Musical Theater Songwriting Challenge would think so was another matter — but for now, the teenagers were just having fun.
“Braxton was playing on piano, and this chorus just erupted from my mouth about five minutes before the bell rang,” said Corrington, who began working on the song with Carr in November 2017. “And there was the biggest grin that I have ever seen on his face, and there was a smile on mine.”
Corrington and Carr received second place in the Musical Theater Songwriting Challenge, a competition run by the National Endowment for the Arts and partnered with the American Theatre Wing, which awards students for original musical theater compositions. Disney Theatrical Productions, Samuel French, Inc. and Playbill, Inc. are also collaborators for the songwriting challenge, which was founded in 2016.
For their entry of "Ten Seconds to Infinity," Corrington and Carr split a $10,000 prize that will go toward their college educations. It also garnered them a trip to New York City to work with music director Patrick Sulken, who has worked on Broadway, and composer Tidtaya Sinutoke and lyricist Ty DeFoe.
Selected as the finalists from nearly 200 applicants from 36 states, Corrington and Carr also watched their song performed by Broadway singers Jacob Keith Watson and Emily Ferranti, and a score of their composition will be published by Samuel French, Inc.
Inspired by the 1960s space race, Corrington and Carr focused their song on the love story of American astronaut John Glenn and his wife, Annie Glenn, a speech impediment activist who had a severe stutter for most of her life. During their research, Corrington and Carr were particularly struck by the Glenns’ traditional farewell before John’s space missions. Pretending he was only going to the corner store to get a pack of gum, the Glenns would give each other a short yet sweet goodbye instead of a long, tearful one.
It didn’t take long for Corrington and Carr to know they wanted to write about those final pre-launch moments.
“I was a huge fan of the movie ‘Hidden Figures’ … and I want to become an astronaut when I grow up,” Corrington said. “So, I know about John Glenn, but I had never heard of his wife, Annie. … I never knew that (John Glenn) was an American hero not just to the nation, but to her. And she was an American hero because she became a speech impediment activist and supports the American Speech Hearing Language Association continuously.”
Although Corrington primarily wrote the song's lyrics and Carr composed the melodies, the co-writers had a hand in each, only making changes if the other agreed. Considering it was the first song Carr had written on the piano — he’s yet to learn how to read sheet music for the instrument — he said he’s pretty pleased with the result.
“I was just noodling around on the piano and (Corrington) would improvise a few things … that sounded good and we started to structure up our song from chaos,” said Carr, who also plays the guitar, ukulele and harmonica.
“I think it made it a little bit easier for me … because when you learn an instrument, you think about the rules of it. But when you’re not thinking about the rules of it, you’re not really thinking of restrictions, and it adds a little bit more room for creativity.”
In the end, working together made Corrington and Carr stand out. According to novelist and screenwriter Tim Federle, who helped judged the competition, it was one factor among many that influenced the Utah contestants’ success.
“They were the only songwriting team, and when they had a chance to speak about their process, I was struck by how thoughtful they were,” he said. “These were high schoolers writing about the space program in the ’60s, which is pretty out there. They specifically wrote the song for a character who stutters when she speaks but sings without any trouble, which was moving and I think struck a number of the judges as clever.”
According to DaVinci Academy teacher Adam Slee, Corrington and Carr’s success was also an accomplishment for the school's other students who submitted to the competition. By workshopping each other’s pieces, Slee said the students helped the duo be better prepared to collaborate with professionals in New York City.
“When Eliza and Braxton were selected as finalists, we were all thrilled for them,” Slee said. “Everyone felt a sense of ownership … It wasn’t just an award for them, it was an award for the school. It was an award for the process that we went through as partners.”
Corrington said the song was also inspired by “Hamilton,” one of her favorite musicals due to its history. With “Ten Seconds to Infinity,” Corrington and Carr took it a step further by bringing science and space into the storyline. And although it was a bit nerve wracking for the two friends before their songs were presented, they said the experience was so rewarding that they want to finish the musical.
“It’s nice to have that connection to New York,” Carr said. “I think we’re going to take advantage of that and improve the show and hopefully get it published and onstage.”
For now, Corrington and Carr have other things on their minds. A senior, Corrington is fast approaching graduation and will attend Southern Utah University in the fall. With dreams of pursuing a career as an astronaut and a songwriter, she’s currently thinking of double majoring. And Carr, a junior, is also set on songwriting for his future.
“I’ve done the performance thing, and as much fun as that its, I just found a bit more satisfaction in seeing others perform what I write,” he said.
Corrington said the memory of their time in New York City, their love of space and the story of two American heroes is enough to keep her and Carr motivated to finish the play.
“I don’t have a plan to stop songwriting,” she said, “and if I’m lucky enough then it’ll be with (Braxton).”