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MAS History



"Pound for pound, note for note, the best songwriting support and inspiration I know is Minnesota Association of Songwriters. I have been a MAS member just a few years, although a performing songwriter for decades. I always know when I present a new song or a rewrite at a meeting that I will come away with new ideas for my song. Never fails! For a fun, supportive, and creative help session for your songwriting, I heartily recommend MAS!"
- Larry Suess, Member, Minnesota Music Hall of Fame

MAS gratefully acknowledges the assistance of Joe Schreifels and John Bennett, the founding presidents of the Minnesota Association of Songwriters (MAS) and the Minnesota Association of Christian Songwriters (MACS), respectively, who have confirmed its accuracy. Research continues and new facts will be incorporated as they are unearthed.

John Bennett, Wayne Cox, Larry Havluck, Myke Golben and Tom Lieberman were among the first members of an organization called the Minnesota Songwriters Association (MSA). Bennett was the principal founder and was elected as the first president; in the 1990s he founded and was president of the Minnesota Association of Christian Songwriters. Another MSA member in the early 80s was Minnesota native Jon Vezner, who later wrote the Grammy-winning “Where’ve You Been?” and several other cuts recorded by Nashville stars. Bennett was succeeded as MSA president by Wayne Cox in 1984.

Below:  Promotional ad developed in 1980. Courtesy of John Bennett.

In its earliest incarnation, songwriters in Minnesota wanted to perform their songs in public, just as we do today. Below is a poster from 1980 that promoted a show at the Cafe Extempore, then the premiere acoustic music spot in the Twin Cities, where Bob Dylan is said to have "hung out" while he was a student at the U of M. The 11 by 17 inch poster below is provided courtesy of Jill Holly.

Tom Lieberman infused a new source of strength into MSA by affiliating it with a national songwriter’s organization called the National Academy of Songwriters (NAS), which formed a chapter here. David Leaneagh became a key leader of the local MSA/NAS group. Both groups declined and eventually disbanded in the early 1990s.

Joe Schreifels and about half a dozen other interested people started the Minnesota Association of Songwriters (MAS). Several members of the new organization had also been members of MSA and/or NAS. MAS published its first newsletter on December 18 of that year. The group offered song reviews, education sessions and endorsements (certificates of recognition resulting from song reviews) for members’ songs.

On June 17, MAS members organized and performed their first showcase at the “On The Way Café.” That same month, MAS began work on a compilation CD titled “Future Hits,” which would eventually be sent to music publishers around America. Members whose songs had been “endorsed” (a majority vote of members) qualified for inclusion on the recording. In December, the CD release party was held at The Fine Line Music Café in Minneapolis.

Below:  The cover of MAS's first CD release, which included songs by Bradlee Jones, Brad Frederickson & Rick Gilmore, James Alex Faber, Rebekka Fisher, Rob Meany, Terry Schubring, Thomas Hipps, David Marden, J.D. Dohnal, Perry Bolin, Tom Buckman, Bruce Arneson, Michael Daugherty, Heather E. Brown, Joe Schreifels & Larry Strom, Donna M. Murray, Brad Kissell, Don Strand and Gil Leduc & Scott Thomas.

This CD is available for $5. To order, email info@mnsongwriters.org
All proceeds benefit the Minnesota Association of

On June 11, a “re-release” party for the first CD was held at The Fine Line. In July, Berklee School of Music songwriting professor Pat Pattison taught his first lyric-writing seminar for MAS. By August, the songs for “Future Hits, Volume 2” had been selected. In November, Pat Pattison returned to offer a second seminar, and “Volume 2” had its CD release party at the Fine Line. By December, a team was in place that began working on the first MAS web site.

Below:  The CD cover for "Future Hits, volume 2," which included 19 songs by Bradlee Jones, Jeff Perry, Gigi Byrd, Joe Frederick & Gil LeDuc & Gigi Byrd, James Alex Faber, David Marden & Heather E. Brown, Rebekka Fisher, Don & Cyndy Strand, Michael Dinneen, Steven G. Tazelaar, Joe Schreifels & Larry Strom, Brad Kissell, Kit McGary, Robert Andrew Huff, Nicco, Tim Feeney, Jeff Cosman & Todd Syring, Eric Clark and Rob Meany.

This CD is available for $5. To order, email info@mnsongwriters.org
All proceeds benefit the Minnesota Association of

In May, plans for “Future Hits, Volume 3” began. Pat Pattison returned in June for his third seminar with the group. The first MAS web site appeared on the Internet.

Another showcase was organized and presented in July. “Future Hits, Volume 3” was completed in October; O’Gara’s Garage in St. Paul hosted the CD release party. In December, Joe Schreifels stepped down as MAS President.

Below:  The CD cover for "Future Hits, volume 3," which included 17 songs by Larry Johnson, Tom Haddox, Gigi Byrd, Ray Barnard & Doug Miller, Jeff W. Schmidt & James R. Baldrica, JD Dohnal, Kit McGary & Todd Syring, Rebekka Fisher, Larry Strom & Joe Schreifels, Ron Long, Leslie Mallery, Gil LeDuc, Emily Youngdahl Wright & Robert Berg, Craig Dahl, Mary Elias, Mike Dinneen, Joe Schreifels & Doug Thompson.

This CD is available for $5. To order, email info@mnsongwriters.org
All proceeds benefit the Minnesota Association of

After Schreifels' resignation as President, Gigi Byrd Swanson volunteered to serve as interim President, a post she held until the fall of 2000. For several years, MAS held annual holiday parties, which enabled members to network in large numbers. Gigi also initiated Minnesota non-profit status for MAS.

Leonard John is elected President.

Vicki Logan is elected President. Vicki reinstated songwriting workshops at each monthly meeting.

Char Engen is elected President. Char focused on finding venues for MAS showcases.

Claire Van de Crommert is elected president. She not only built songwriting skills among members, but also enhanced member knowledge about the business of songwriting.

The MAS web site is rebuilt under Claire’s leadership, with the assistance of Wayne Hamilton, and meetings included both workshops and song reviews.

Wayne Hamilton, who first joined MAS in 1998, is elected President. In 1999, Hamilton had founded and for five years led the Twin Cities Chapter of Just Plain Folks (justplainfolks.org), winning an award from JPF for his leadership. Monthly MAS meetings continue to feature workshops, guest speakers and song reviews.

Hamilton expanded the Board of Directors and worked with BMI to acquire a "grassroots" grant for MAS, part of which was used to sponsor a two-day workshop with Pat Pattison from the Berklee College of Music. Showcases occurred frequently, with the help of board member/Showcase Director Nigel Eccleston. Board member/Tech Director Brad Dunse put technology in place to allow member songs to be streamed from the MAS web site. Hamilton continues to focus on workshops, song reviews and the continued growth of new memberships.

MAS returned to twice-monthly meetings for the first time since 2001. Each month, a meeting is scheduled in both Minneapolis and St. Paul. MAS showcase director Nigel Eccleston scheduled an unprecedented 17 showcase performances for members at several venues in the Twin Cities metro area.

MAS Secretary Trish Painter applied for and received the first grant ever awarded to MAS by the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council (MRAC). Grant money was used to sponsor workshops with four songwriting professionals (Cosy Sheridan, Craig Bickhardt, Steve Gillette & Pat Pattison) in 2011.


Trish Painter and MAS Vice President Jill Holly arranged for a workshop with Nashville songwriter Buddy Mondlock in October. Nigel Eccleston passed the baton as showcase director to Jim Anderson, who continued to schedule numerous showcase events throughout the year, including the first MAS showcase at the Minnesota State Fair. In December, the Board voted to make online membership application forms and payments via PayPal available to members. MAS technical director Brad Dunse was instrumental in assuring the smooth implementation of new technology and email delivery.

At different points during the year, three elected officers stepped down due to personal or family concerns:  Secretary Trish Painter was replaced by Chris Gimm; VP Jill Holly was replaced by Chad Shank; Mark Grim became Treasurer. In February, MAS first offered song reviews via email, enabling members who live anywhere in the world to submit MP3 files and lyric sheets for evaluation by participating member-reviewers. In March, the MAS board of directors added a new position:  Social Media director, which enables MAS to take advantage of advanced communication methods, such as posting music files and performance videos offered by Facebook, YouTube and other social media. Rod Kinny was the first to fill this position. In August, Carl Unbehaun took over his responsibilities. In April, the MAS board established a scholarship, to be awarded annually to an upcoming Senior in songwriting and composition at McNally Smith College of Music.

In May, the first of the MRAC workshops featured Cosy Sheridan, who offered ways for performing songwriters to improve their acts. In June, MAS produced the first of a series of video showcase programs, called "Minnesingers" (an old German word meaning "troubadors"), to be aired on public-access cable networks in the region; member Rita Fox directs performers and trained volunteers at the studios of NWCT. In July, songwriter Craig Bickhardt presented an eclectic workshop on writing story songs and some of the business concerns of the songwriting industry. In its second year of State Fair showcases, MAS members performed three, four-hour showcases that featured a total of 24 sets by MAS performing songwriters. In September, folk icon Steve Gillette presented a 5-hour workshop on the basics of songwriting, while sharing great stories about the folk revival era. In October, Mary Kealy-Falk joined the board of directors in another new position, Education and Outreach director, wherein she schedules speakers for the "last Wednesday" monthly meetings; she also contacts CATV stations about the Minnesingers show and distributes DVDs to interested stations. In the organization's first experience with electronic voting, Wayne Hamilton was elected to another term as President, and Chris Gimm was elected Secretary after serving as an appointed officer for several months; Chris assembled the final report on our workshop grant to MRAC. In November, master lyric-writing teacher Pat Pattison returned to conduct our final MRAC-funded workshop.

The MAS Board of Directors continues to be busy. In January, Jim Anderson turned over his responsibilities as Showcase Director to Linda Lee, who resigned in April for personal reasons; in July, Nigel Egg re-assumed his former duties as Showcase Director. Chad Shank, who served as appointed VP for a year, turned over his position to Mary Kealy-Falk, who volunteered to step into his shoes while continuing her already active duties. By June, Mary succeeded in distributing six episodes of the Minnesingers TV show to more than 70 cities and towns in MN, WI and ND. Over one million people in those three states have access to the show. Not surprisingly, it took three people to replace Mary, who turned over her Minnesingers position to focus on VP duties, workshop scheduling and her family; Richard Schletty was appointed to the Board as Post-production Team Leader for the Minnesingers production team, which included Steve Wolff and Wayne Hamilton. Also in June, Secretary Chris Gimm submitted a report on six months of research about the pursuit of 501(c)3 status. He recommended that MAS use a fiscal agent to apply for future grants (thus foregoing 501(c)3 status), and his recommendation was adopted by the Board.

Two professional workshops were scheduled during 2012:  one in August with Craig Bickhardt, and one in September with Red House Records artist Cliff Eberhardt. By the end of the year, MAS members had performed 8 live showcases (including one at the State Fair), and Minnesingers episodes were distributed each month to CATV stations in our region.

At the beginning of the year, the MAS elected officers consisted of Wayne Hamilton (President), Mary Kealy-Falk (Vice President), Chris Gimm (Secretary) and Mark Grim (Treasurer). During the year, Chris and Mark resigned, and were replaced by Cat McNerlin as Secretary and Joe Bauer as Treasurer. The term of service was changed from two years for elected officers to one year, but the bylaws retained the requirement that only two officers would be elected each year. Board appointees remained stable, with Carl Unbehaun (Social Media), Brad Dunse (Technology), Richard Schletty (Minnesingers Distribution) and Nigel Egg (Showcases).

Each month, activities included two meetings (except in November and December, when holidays preclude one of the monthly meeting times), a song circle and a Minnesingers taping session. In addition, Nigel Egg arranged showcases in January, February, March, August (at the state fair), September, October and December (at the Mall of America’s “Holiday Music Festival” in the Rotunda)! We also welcomed Cliff Eberhardt back for another professional workshop, this time on melody.

At the beginning of the year, the MAS Minnesingers television show was being aired at public-access stations throughout Minnesota and at a few stations in North Dakota and Wisconsin. The program began to expand when Wayne Hamilton called for volunteers to contact stations farther away. Several members responded, including Roland Trenary (WA), Trish Painter (UT), Al Ynigues (WI), Cat McNerlin (MO), Mike Rudquist (CA), Mark Adams-Westin (CO), Barbara English (ME, NC) and Wayne Hamilton (VA, MD, MA). By the end of the year, Minnesingers was being aired on nearly 40 stations serving more than 300 cities in seven states (our volunteer callers added stations in Maryland, Massachusetts, California and Missouri to our list of “airing partners”). At that point in time, nearly five million people could view Minnesingers on their local public-access stations. As of December 31, twenty-three episodes had been created, including the first Minnesingers Christmas episode.

This year, MAS celebrated its 20th anniversary, and it has been a very busy year indeed. In January, MAS had a trial run with technology that allows us to continue our outreach to songwriters outside the Twin Cities metro area and anywhere else in the USA:  virtual attendance via computer. The trial went so well that we now invite members to attend up to 22 meetings per year from the comfort of their living rooms. In February, the Board introduced several new levels of membership for MAS participation, including commitments of 2, 3, 4, and 5-year memberships, as well as a Lifetime Membership. In February, we also offered, at the suggestions of members, lower-rate Memberships (for students between the ages of 12 and 19) and an "Affiliate" Membership, which is a one-year trial membership in MAS for songwriters who are already members of another songwriting organization. Due to low member participation, the Minneapolis review-only meeting and the song circle activity were suspended. In March, MAS was awarded a Minnesota "Legacy" grant from the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council to enable a series of songwriting workshops with four industry professionals. Johnsmith conducted the first workshop in June, followed by Minnesota native Andrea Stolpe in August and Mark "Brink" Brinkman in October. Two other workshops were funded from the MAS treasury, one with Minnesota native Sally Barris in June and one with Peter and Mary Danzig in November. MAS also made history in June, when membership topped 100 for the first time in the organization's history. However, the virtual attendance program that offered so much promise was discontinued by the end of the year due to low member participation.

Grammy winner and Minnesota native Jon Vezner completed the Legacy-funded workshop series with a workshop in June of 2015. In July, MAS moved production of its television showcase show to cable access station CTV in Roseville, Minnesota and applied to the US Trademark and Patent Office for a trademark of "Minnesingers." This is the new "brand name" of the program by which MAS provides free promotion to MAS member music via our video showcase program, which now boasts 43 episodes that are aired around the country. The show was renamed SongCasters. This popular MAS video showcase has been a key factor in the membership growth of MAS, and also serves to educate members about the differences between audio and video recording methodologies. MAS offered members five live showcase opportunities in 2015 (including State Fair and MOA Christmas showcases); we also invited guest speakers to join us for the end-of-month meetings, including Jeff Dayton and Tim Fast (songwriters) and IP lawyer Walt Lehmann. MAS member Mark Grim began offering and leading craft-oriented workshop meetings at Patrick's Cabaret in Minneapolis, where members participated in exercises and discussed the many facets of the songwriting craft during two-hour meetings early in the month. This workshop meeting restored a second monthly meeting opportunity to members. In addition, MAS member Tom Englehardt began offering a monthly open song circle at his home. In October, elections were held that elected a new MAS president. Mary Kealy-Falk, who had served for four years as MAS VP, won election to succeed Wayne Hamilton, who retired after serving for nine years as president of MAS. In addition,  Mike Rudquist was elected to replace resigning secretary Cat McNerlin. Treasurer Kevin Bowen was also elected to serve in 2016. Other board members in place for 2016 include Social Media Director Carl Unbehaun, Technical Director & SongCasters distribution manager Rich Schletty, Showcase Director Al Ynigues and Outreach Director Brett Stauning.