By MARY POLETTI
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
HANNIBAL, Mo. -- A Hannibal teen's songwriting talent has won her several contests, and now she has a chance to sing the national anthem at a national fundraising event in Washington.
Kori Caswell, 18, will sing the national anthem at the Congressional Baseball Game for Charity June 28 in Washington.
The game at Major League Baseball's Nationals Park pits Democratic congressmen and senators against Republicans in a friendly competition dating to 1909. Proceeds go to the Washington Literacy Council and the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Washington.
Caswell got the call from Constituting America last month, the week she was set to graduate from Hannibal High School.
She had won the Best High School Song category in the conservative think tank's We the People 9.17 song, speech and film contest last year, netting a $1,000 prize and a trip to Philadelphia, where a documentary film crew filmed a music video for her song "We the People."
But this latest honor caught Caswell by surprise.
"I definitely didn't expect it," she said.
Caswell has won several other songwriting contests in the last few years.
Last year, her tune "On the Road, You Can Make or Break Your Dreams" took second place in Ford Driving Skills for Life's Belt It Out song contest, which sought musical takes on safe teen driving.
Also last year, Caswell's "Let It Fall" took top honors in the folk category of the Creating Original Music Project contest. For her efforts in that contest, she and Hannibal High School's music department each won $1,000.
Although Caswell has been writing songs ever since she first picked up the guitar in fifth grade, she admitted that writing songs for specific contest-related prompts -- on topics such as teen driving, the Constitution, even rice -- can be a challenge.
"My goal with those kinds of things is to take a spin on it where it's not completely corny," she said.
"On the Road, You Can Make or Break Your Dreams," for example, was a country-flavored yarn of father-daughter driving lessons. "We the People" waxes poetic about freedom and oppression.
As for her more typical songwriting, Caswell isn't sure how to describe her inspiration.
"I get asked that a lot," she said. "I don't have it down to a science yet."
Most of the time, her songs are inspired by a few words she hears, a random thought or a daily event.
In that sense, her songs echo many contemporary country songs, offering takes on everyday life and values in the Heartland.
That makes it fitting, perhaps, that Caswell will be taking her music to the next step in none other than Nashville, Tenn., when she begins college on scholarship in the honors program at Belmont University.
She'll be majoring in upright bass performance, specializing in the instrument she's played for two years in the Quincy (Ill.) Symphony Orchestra and for three years in the Quincy Area Youth Symphony.
Caswell is excited about her future -- and about the many opportunities she hopes she'll have to nurture her talent while studying music for a grade and writing songs for fun in the heart of Music City.
"If you're going to go anywhere for music, this is the place to go," she said.