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Making a difference through music

Local finds success as independent singer, songwriter

Mike Heine/The Week

(Published May 16, 2007, 9:19 a.m.)

She used to sing the national anthem on the hardwood courts of Elkhorn Area High School.

On May 18, alumnus Cheri Magill will return to sing songs from three of her "pop rock" albums that are gaining popularity around the country.

The 27-year-old Elkhorn native who now resides outside Salt Lake City, Utah, has hit the big time without the backing of a major record label.

"I'm not surprised that she's doing the things she is today," said Steve Simonson, her Elkhorn Middle School chorus director. "She has always been an unbelievably talented kid.

"She may have been the most talented I've ever had," the 25-year veteran teacher added.

Magill has two albums-2003's Ready and this year's Chasing Yesterday-available for purchase at record stores around the country and on various Web sites.

She has gotten positive reviews from those who downloaded her works from Apple's iTunes Store.

"Well-written songs and a killer voice," one user said of the Ready album. "I heard her perform in Portland (Ore.) and she sounded just as good live. I'm waiting for her next album."

"She is the next Alanis (Morissette)... Fresh, original, edgy and sassy," another user wrote.

Magill, who became serious about a career in music after taking a songwriting class at Brigham Young University, said Sarah McLachlan, Jewel, KT Tunstall and Rachel Yamagata are the major influences in her musical styling.

"I just like to pick elements of different singers that I like," Magill said. "(There are) little things from each that I've adapted. KT has a bluesy sound. Rachel does a cool thing with her voice I try to do, too. Kind of a ripple thing she does with her voice."

Magill doesn't want to live in the same mold as the record-label-made female pop singers whose albums line the shelves of the Wal-Marts of the world.

In other words, she's no Britney Spears.

She intends to keep her independent status, producing records at small studios that can still get her music to the masses. Magill also does much of her own marketing, promotion and tour scheduling.

"When I see the big record labels, it's frustrating to know the compromises going on," she said. "They have very little loyalty to the artists. It's all about how many records you can sell. And if they don't sell, you're out the door. It's all about the money.

"I'd rather say the things I want to say in the way I want."

Magill writes or co-writes most of her songs. Her Chasing Yesterday has one cover song, "Time After Time," originally recorded by 1980s superstar Cyndi Lauper.

"I've tried really hard to do something different," she said. "I try to make my songs have a little more inspirational value. I try to write about things I hope will excite people and motivate them, rather than just the average things you hear on the radio.

"It's young, hip music, but with good messages."

Magill's favorite is a song called "Typical Girl," off the Ready album. It's about not changing yourself into the clichés society sometimes expects.

Lyrics include her saying she will not wear a skirt shorter to catch one's eye, order what pleases a boy while on a date, not demand diamonds, jewelry or any other wealth.

The chorus sums it up.

"I refuse to be your typical girl. There's plenty of her in this world. Why should I change myself into what you think I should be when all you've got to do is love me."

"It's 'I'm me, and that's enough,'" Magill said of the song that has found a niche on hundreds of girls' Myspace Web pages.

"I play music in class for the kids coming in every day," Simonson said. "They enjoy her music. Middle school-age kids, if they buy into it, it has got to be good. They know what they like."

Besides using her music, Magill is connecting with youngsters through speeches and presentations at schools in the cities she visits in and around Utah.

She will give presentations at Fontana Elementary School and Elkhorn Area Middle School.

"I talk about being who you want to be and pursuing those dreams and the keys to make those things happen and to not give up on those dreams," Magill said.

Some school visits might also include giving some singing or songwriting lessons.

Knowing she is connecting with her listeners through music is the most rewarding thing, Magill said.

"I get e-mails from young girls about how the songs helped them or what it meant to them. Getting e-mails like that and knowing I can somehow make a difference with what I'm doing, in the long run, it will make me a lot happier than having a video on MTV," she said.

More about Cheri Magill

Magill was raised in Elkhorn through high school when she left for Brigham Young University to pursue a degree in music with an emphasis in media music (song writing and making music for businesses and film/TV).

She started recording immediately after college in 2001, putting together an experimental album called Crossing Avenues.

"It has a little bit more folksy sound," she said. "The production value was not as much ... It wasn't everything I wanted it to be, but it was a good stepping-stone."

A little more than two years ago, Magill married a friend she met in Utah, Jeff Heaton. Cheri and Jeff are expecting their first child, a boy, July 2.

IF YOU GO

What: Cheri Magill in a live acoustic performance

Where: Elkhorn Area High School

When: 7 p.m., Friday, May 18.

How much: The show is free, but donations will be accepted. All proceeds will go to Hope Now, an Elkhorn charity that helps families with short-term emergency housing assistance, emergency utility assistance, emergency transportation and medication issues. It also provides food baskets to needy families at Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter and gifts to children at Christmas.

Info: Listen to a sampling of Cheri Magill's music on her Web site, www.cherimagill.com.

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