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VOCAL 2019 – 2020 Awards

Congratulations to the Contest Winners, Nominees and VOCAL supporters who receive awards for their achievements and involvement.

Song of the Year

Three-way tie

Matt Manion
Don’t Stand By Me

Jim Puckett
Learning How To Say Goodbye

Jeff Wagner

Songwriter of the Year

Keely Burn

Glen King

Jim Puckett

Dedicated Service Awards

  • David Atkins
  • Keely Burn
  • Larry Cody
  • Matthew Costello
  • John Ellis
  • Glen King
  • Justin Laughter
  • Matt Manion
  • Steve Nuckolls
  • Norman Roscher
  • Gary Shaver
  • Dick Upton
  • O’Toole’s
  • Mel Eichenberger

Nominees Songwriter of the Year


DUE TO COVID restrictions, VOCAL once again put on a virtual showcase on Facebook.

The show opened with president Matthew Costello performing “Driving” a song co-written with VOCAL member Roy Kauffman from few years back, but sounding contemporary as well.

He was followed by member Steve Nuckolls, who is a regular performer on showcases, both live when they were done and now, virtually. His set list included some of his classics such as “Sitting In With Emmy Lou” which described how he would listen to Emmy Lou Harris on a saturday mornings listening to her songs and playing along. “Gibson Guitar” details the singer’s admiration for guitar hanging on a wall in a local furniture store and wishing it was his. “Something About Your Love” is a great love song dedicated to his wife Janice and always delights the audience, “Where The Morning Glories Grow by the Road” tells the sad tale of a young love tragically cut short, this was followed by “Home and Back Road” a descriptive tale of growing up in rural Virginia. Lastly: “Six Feet Away” is a song for today’s pandemic which has the line “I’d rather be six feet away than six feet underground” for sure.

He was followed by Keely Burn one of the younger members of VOCAL, who performs and sings at the piano, in this case, though she had been known to play the ukulele on occasion.. Her song “Masterpiece” details her relationship with someone, who unfortunately is not her masterpiece. Though her “silver lining was gray” in this song, “Guiding Light” she ultimately heard a voice and felt a presence beside her, that lifted her out of despair. This was followed by “Dream Out Loud” and sadly, her final song “Broken Heart” which was drowned out by technical problems and eventually her set had to be curtailed. We hope to hear a full set of songs from Keely in the near future. Thus, are the vagaries of the internet and virtual streaming.

June VOCAL Meeting

After our formal yearly elections, the June 9 VOCAL meeting was an animated discussion about writing, creating the discipline and time for writing, and considering songwriting and creativity exercises.

I brought in a songwriting exercises handout from Joel Mabus”s website.

This was intended to spur discussion, and it succeeded. I also shared with the members  some thoughts I had considered since our recent workshop with Gretchen Peters. It has been my feeling for a long time that people who “make it” in the business of songwriting have a strong commitment to becoming  great at it.  But one of the things that has become very clear for me is there is a daily discipline of writing. And it’s not abut writing a whole song everyday, but it is about writing something!  I have a poet friend who made a commitment for a year in his life to write 100 words everyday. The material he came up with was engaging, insightful and moving.

So the group’s discussion was spirited and inspirational. It was one of those meetings I watch once it’s over. The members continue to interact and taking time to leave. I trust this means the meeting was engaging. It certainly was for me.

Remembering Cham Laughlin

On January 5, 2009, Robert “Cham” Laughlin passed away. Cham is an important part of VOCAL history and I would like to take this opportunity to honor his memory with reflections on the place Cham held in my life and in the history of VOCAL.

In 1972 I graduated Colonial Heights High School. During those years I was aware of Cham as being a respected musician though I cannot recall the bands he played in.

I played in several bands in those years. One of my early band mates was Chuck Page, a wonderful, hard working drummer with whom I developed many an original piece of music.

Later, during my college years I got to meet Cham and his brother Tommy when Chuck introduced me at a rehearsal for their band Aaron.

The band’s lineup was Cham: guitar/vocals, Tommy: bass/vocals, Chuck on drums, and another CHHS alum, Mark Pond, filled out the lineup on Hammond organ. Aaron was actually a bit of a Supergroup from that area having merged together from several different styles and backgrounds. And they were great! The sound and music I heard that night was as good as many professional concerts I had seen.

During the next years I became a friend of Cham’s sister Susan. Actually I did not know he was her brother until after a few months of knowing her. She remains a good friend and I am sorry for her loss.

I don’t recall seeing Cham again until I attended a VOCAL meeting at Manchester High School. I believe this was 1991. Robbin Thompson was set to be a guest speaker and I was aware of VOCAL, but had never attended.

Somehow I ended up going to that meeting with Robbin. We road together and I received my first impression of VOCAL. It was a collection of excited people working with their talents and looking for a means to have their music heard and improved. Gary Shaver was the president. It was evident though; Cham was making sure a lot of the work of VOCAL got done.

I always said Cham was the “battery” of the group. It was his enthusiasm and organization that kept things going. His commitment and belief in VOCAL was astounding. He would host VOCAL events at his Studio. He gave freely of his knowledge about the music industry. He published the Newsletter every month and would distribute copies to not only the Music Stores in the Petersburg and Chester areas, but always to the stores in Richmond as well.

Like many songwriters I had been writing in a vacuum with a few people but no real understanding of what it took to get my songs “out there.” Sure, once a year or two I would buy “Songwriter’s Market” but never really understood what I was supposed to do with it.

Cham’s knowledge and desire to de-mystify the craft and business of songwriting helped me to understand so much more about the business and to respect my own vision f the craft. The value of good demos, the proper way of labeling & packaging and the way to target who you were to send to were all tasks that Cham shared his insight on. Anyone who ever had time with him would tell you he was a talented man and would bring some knowledge or inspiration to the relationship.

As I became more and more involved, Cham and Gary and I would manage a lot of things together. Cham was always there with the PA for Showcases and the TV show. The three of us would meet after events and share meals and always discuss the changes we were seeing and the next steps for VOCAL. It was an exciting time.

Cham’s contributions to VOCAL were immense. VOCAL is a proud part of his legacy. A legacy I hope many will recall when they remember Cham.

I’m sure there are many valuable contributions by Cham I have not acknowledged. It is not intentional so, please, accept my apologies.

Please, add to this post with your comments and memories. If you would like to make a main post. let us know.

Matthew Costello

The VOCAL Blog

In the interest of catching up with meeting activities and having an opportunity for members to add resources and experiences, we are launching the VOCAL Blog.

The goal is to open up on avenue for our members to share their knowledge and professional opinions. We hope you’ll offer some insight into the craft and business of songwriting.

To register as a contributor, click on “Register” under Meta in the column on the right.

We reserve the right to monitor and remove inappropriate postings.

Be well.


Costello Music