Meet Sophia Shao, Composer & Special Music School 7th Grader


January 5, 2021

You'll definitely be hearing more about this young songwriter in years to come! Watch composer and Special Music School 7th grader Sophia Shao perform her new song, "Friend," and learn about her inspiring artistic journey so far.

Hi! I’m Sophia, and I’m in seventh grade at Special Music School. I’ve been studying piano at SMS since kindergarten with my teacher Natela Mchedlishvili. Besides school and singing and dancing, songwriting has become a hobby of mine.

When I first entered SMS, I was very shy, but I opened up after being surrounded with music. The teachers always gave us opportunities to observe professionals and our peers, and that became part of our lives. They had us write music, sing, dance, and play our instruments, and now, I naturally love to perform. SMS didn’t just change me musically, it made me confident as a person and helped me figure out what I love.

I actually wrote my first song in fourth grade. Every year, Sean Hartley, the chorus teacher, worked with the fourth grade so each student could perform songs they wrote. Sometime later, I heard a Taylor Swift song, and was immediately attracted to her storytelling and creativity. When I found out that she wrote all her songs, I thought, “How cool, I want to do that too.” As I sang and listened to her fourteen years of music, I saw her grow and change through her musical style. That was so inspiring for me, and I started songwriting.

The song I play for you in the above video is called “Friend.” Due to the pandemic, I haven’t been contacting as many people, but recently, I received a text from one of my classmates. I was surprised because we hadn’t been talking for some time, but the few words that were sent meant a lot to me. I realized that this was what I wanted in a friend, someone who was able to make me feel better, and that’s what inspired the piece. The story in the lyrics isn’t completely factual, but the image in my mind came from experiencing it in real life.

My songs, like “Friend,” are usually inspired by events in my life or the world that I feel strongly about. I write about feelings I want to capture and remember and share, and that’s what makes them personal.

I don’t have an exact creative process yet, because I feel that I need to write more in order to find out what’s best for me. I try to push myself out of my comfort zone by setting rules and constraints to work with, such as writing with a blues form or writing a melody over a backing track of another pop song. So far, I’ve been writing lyrics first and then adding a melody, but recently, I participated in a songwriting class in KMC taught by Sean Hartley and Jihwan Kim. They taught me many things, including writing lyrics over a melody.

I have worries about my music not getting my point across, being too generic, and repeating what I’ve done before. I have doubts about my lack of tools and not having enough experience. However, the feeling I get after releasing all my thoughts onto the page and then singing them brings me a satisfaction that nothing else does. In the end, I’ve discovered that songwriting is what I love to do and will continue to do even after my time at Kaufman Music Center.

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