Through a series highlighting young singer songwriters, Rising Rock Media decided to showcase the musical talents that hide in Chattanooga. With genres ranging from folk, americana, and rock, each musician creates a wide variety of talent that ought to be brought to light. This series focuses on each musician involving a music video of Spencer Denning’s song “Pen Pals,” Rachel Smith’s recording of “Wedding Blues,” and Jamesen Rees’s recent Spotify released song “The Weight of Change.” Through sharing each of these artists musical talent, Rising Rock attempts to bring about focus on the talent right on UTC’s campus.
Spencer Denning poses for a photo in Cadek Hall on Wednesday, February 20, 2019. Denning was there participating in a music video with Rising Rock. (Photo by Elian Richter)
— Written by Katie Raabe
When you combine the poetic talent of Ed Sheeran with the wits of Betty White, you get Spencer Denning.
As a Knoxville native, Denning is an aspiring singer, songwriter, and pianist, as well as a full time student at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. As a junior Communication major and English minor, Denning is able to transfer those skills into his songwriting.
His praiseworthy musical talent, however, has not always been a focus for Denning. He rather stumbled upon his singing ability after auditioning for musical theatre on a whim in high school.
Shortly after realizing that he was actually good, he began taking singing lessons that helped him physically train the vocal muscles needed to improve. While he only took singing lessons for a short period of time, they were instrumental to his current growing success.
Denning’s most recent song, “Pen Pal” is about the letters he wrote to himself when he began to lose sight of his goal. Nearly dropping out of school after his first year of college, his purpose was unclear to him causing him to become unmotivated in school.
After some soul searching, Denning realized he needed to find something he was passionate about or all of this would not be worth it.
Denning began to write as a form of therapy, which ultimately ended this doubtful phase of his life. Those letters and journal entries became the story of “Pen Pal.”
The song shows Denning’s raw talent through its harmonious and melodic tone. By pairing his soulful voice with a mezzo piano, he creates a transparent song that repeatedly captures the attention of his audience.
Denning’s inspiration is primarily derived from Ed Sheeran, which in turn, created a merge of indie folk and americana music. His musical style seamlessly mirrors his personal aesthetic as a “granola frat boy,” as he describes.
Denning now has a clear goal of obtaining success in the music and entertainment industry. He auditioned for The Voice in 2018, advancing to the last round before the live show and plans to further excel in this year’s auditions.
Through the unavoidable trials of a college student, combined with the pressures of a star on the rise, Denning maintains a patient and composed presence. He hybridizes his relatable experiences and captivating voice to produce music that is timelessly sublime.
Rachel Smith poses for a photo in Patten Chapel on Friday, March 1, 2019. Smith explained that she sings, writes music, and plays piano and guitar. (Photo by Elian Richter)
Listen to the audio of “Wedding Blues” here:
Rachel Mcintyre Smith
— Written by Justin Metcalf
Rachel Mcintyre Smith is a senior Communication and Spanish major at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga whose commitment to music began at an early age. A singer-songwriter who can play up to four instruments, Smith’s music ranges from sincere and emotional to sarcastic and upbeat.
“I’ve always been an uber competitive person in school and the girl who was competitive with me in class would always go back and forth with me to see who made the highest grade,” Smith said. “She started taking piano lessons, so I called my dad and I was like ‘sign me up.’”
This competitive spirit developed into Smith’s love for piano. She continued these lessons for 10 years, performing in various concerts and recitals. She also participated in piano competitions every year and won the state competition twice.
Smith’s passion for music did not stop at piano. She picked up clarinet for her school band in the 6th grade and continued this throughout high school. At the age of 15, she taught herself to play ukulele. A year later, she taught herself to play guitar.
“I started writing songs when I was in the 7th grade,” Smith said, “but they were very angsty and Paramore-esque songs because I was also that kid who wore colored skinny jeans and skater shoes, and I tried really hard to be misunderstood. So I started writing songs then but I didn’t start writing what I consider mediocre or good songs until I was near the end of my freshman year of college.”
She began singing and playing piano at her church when she was a junior in high school. She then traveled to Nicaragua where she performed in local concerts and taught music lessons at a church for two consecutive summers. Now, she leads music at a college ministry and performs in their worship services.
“I’ve written Christian songs before, and that’s definitely played a big role,” Smith said. “I love southern gospel groups and their harmonies, and in Christian music, the lyrics are really important, and that also taught me a lesson about song-writing because, in my opinion, if the lyrics don’t mean anything, then the song doesn’t mean anything.”
Some of her other musical inspirations include Carole King, Feist, Kacey Musgraves and Taylor Swift.
“I really like good songwriter lyrics, like clever lyrics,” Smith said. “Kacey Musgraves has a lot of those, so she’s probably one of my main influences especially for my snarky southern songs that are more upbeat.”
In her piano-based song “Wedding Blues,” she wrote about seeing her peers newly engaged or married on social media and how the same thing was not happening to her.
“When I wrote that song I was acknowledging that my self-pity was kind of crazy,” Smith said. “I’m just 21 years old, but it actually helped me get through that time where I just kept getting on social media and kept seeing all these people who were getting married.”
Songwriting allows her to compartmentalize and process her feelings, she said.
“Take an event that gave me a lot of pain or that I’ve struggled through,” Smith said. “If I’m able to write a song from it and tie it up in a neat little package, it’s just really nice to think of it as I have a song from this and not this really horrible thing happened to me. It really does help me get through a lot of stuff and helps me process it in a healthy way.”
Jamesen Reese sings at a Young Life gathering at the Signal Mountain Athletic Club.(Photo by Kaitlyn Evans-Witzel)
Listen to the audio of “Weight of Change” here:
— Written by Cassie Whittaker
It’s not every day a student can be discovered who writes folk music on the weekends and has the vocals of a young John Mayer, but Jamesen Rees has these qualities and more.
As a marketing student at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Rees’ love for music has continuously grown since the age of eleven. He started his musical career by playing guitar and shortly after he began to sing. During his middle school years, Rees played the saxophone, which he states, “Taught him a lot about music theory.” Once he gained a basic understanding of the fundamentals of music, he began to write his own music in high school, which he claims, “Were all pretty bad.” Listening to his music and lyrics now, this statement may be hard to believe. Along with writing music he performed at open mic nights in school in front of friends and family. He has come a long way since middle school guitar lessons and open mic nights.
Rees now records his own music in the basement of his parents’ house and releases these songs on Spotify and iTunes. This past Friday, Rees released a new song called “The Weight of Change” that has hints at his gospel journey while painting a picture of the changing season that is coming. He has two other songs called “Wait” and “Pure Imagination” which he says are about life and all that comes with it. These songs have a folksy vibe that would go along perfect with a morning cup of joe.
Writing, singing, playing, and producing music is a large task for anyone, let alone a full-time student who is also involved in the youth ministry Young Life every week. During Young Life Rees strums the guitar and sings while the high schoolers sit circled around him. It is apparent these kids love watching him perform every week. One of his fans at Young Life asked
“Is Jamesen a Rockstar?” and the answer to that question is yes.
Mentioned Music Venues: This graphic shows a map view of the three music venues mentioned in the article below. Graphic By Marielle Echavez
Chattanooga to be Classic Tennessee Music Town
— Written by Lauren Justice
Nashville and Memphis are known as music capitals of the south. Chattanooga is catching up to the Tennessee music scene and is rising to the expectation of a true musical city.
With locations such as The Signal, Songbirds, and the Tivoli, Chattanooga has expanded its accessibility for artists to play in various hot spots in town. Local artists and famous bands have opportunities to play in small and large venues downtown.
Colleges in and around Chattanooga like UT Chattanooga, Lee University, and Southern Adventist University, have excellent music programs that have inspired young artists to pursue careers in performing. They have the ability to do so in this city as opposed to traveling all the way to Nashville for opportunity. Music students have plenty of opportunity to perform in local restaurants and venues.
Spencer Denning, UT Chattanooga student, independent artist, and contestant on The Voice, said the best part about the music scene here is the sense of community. “Everyone here is really supportive.”
Chattanooga is not known for one type of music, like Nashville is associated with the country genre. All performers and bands are welcome to show off and entertain crowds.
Riverbend Music Festival is a very popular event that music lovers go to indulge in music of all backgrounds and genres. Bringing this festival to Chattanooga has increased the musical tradition in Tennessee as a whole, while connecting Chattanooga to the music tradition.
Chattanooga is evolving into a true music city, furthering the tradition of music in Tennessee.
Meet the Storytellers
Elian Richter works as a photojournalist and action photographer. He has experience covering events such as USA Boxing qualifiers and Presidential arrivals on Air Force One. Elian has had works published on Rising Rock Media and the UTC Echo. In his free time, Elian enjoys rock climbing and being outdoors. Contact Elian Richter at email@example.com.
Katie Raabe is a Communication major and International Studies minor at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga planning to graduate in May 2019. With a focus in Creative Writing, Katie is passionate about people and telling their stories in expressive and visual forms. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kaitlyn Evans-Witzel is an artistic photographer who focuses on weddings, elopements, and portraits. She loves the 1970s and country music and incorporates those styles into her photographs. Johnny Cash is among her favorites. Her work is displayed on vintagekaitlynphoto.com and she can be contacted at email@example.com.
Justin Metcalf is a junior at UTC who studies communication and psychology. Justin enjoys writing for the university newspaper, and their favorite pastime involves curling up with a warm tea and watching horror movies. They hope to continue their education in psychology and become a counselor for LGBTQ youth.
Cassie Whittaker is a graduating senior at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with a degree in Communication and a minor in Spanish. She plans on pursuing a social marketing career in the private sector and is experienced in writing and presenting marketing plans. Her interests include volunteering and hiking around the city of Chattanooga which drives her toward a career that helps other people. Contact me for opportunity in these fields at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lauren Justice is a senior at UTC, majoring in Communication. She is experienced in marketing, journalistic writing, public relations, and design. After graduation she wants to continue working for her current company, Red Bull, by transferring to the record label. Contact her at email@example.com for details.
Marielle Echavez is a junior pursuing a degree in Communication and a minor in Psychology. She manages her own branch of custom apparel on campus. She has a passion for videography and being creative. She plans to pursue video production post-graduation. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Blake Davis is a Senior Communication Major at University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. He is passionate about creating and telling stories through a video camera. For over 6 years, he has been improving his craft in videography. He also loves playing Spikeball and is a collegiate National Champion. He can be reached at email@example.com.