On Friday, Oct. 20, 2023, eight Muhlenberg singer-songwriters took to the Red Door stage to compete in this year’s annual WMUH Radio Riff-Off competition. The event is an original song competition that lands the first place winner a recording session at Shards Recording Studio in Bethlehem and a headlining concert on campus.
All eight contestants brought their A-game, some of them debuting original songs in front of an audience for the first time. There were several prizes up for grabs, with the honorees of the night being the first, second and third place winners, picked by the judge’s panel, and the audience-voted fan favorite.
Taking third place was Ingrid Melin-Shearer ‘25, who went home with WMUH merchandise as well as a certificate.
“I went to Radio Riff-Off last year and was blown away. I thought to myself ‘wow, this is so cool, I wish I could do this.’ I loved the creative vibe that atmosphere fostered, and everyone was so talented,” stated Alena Ruckh ‘24, second place winner, who will perform as the opener for the Radio Riff-Off concert WMUH will host in January.
“When this song came to me over the course of this year, I found myself singing it a lot in my free time because it was often in my head. Sometime in September, I was in a CA classroom with my partner who was doing homework and he overheard me singing the song and playing piano, asked if it was mine, and I said yes. I said it would be cool to do Riff-Off, but I worried I was too inexperienced. He encouraged me to submit an audition for the competition anyway, so I did, apprehensively. In hindsight, I am so grateful for that support, as Riff-Off was an incredible experience,” reflected Ruckh.
Ruckh will be opening for the first-place winner, Hannah Winter ‘27, who competed first and blew it out of the water. Winter will headline the concert, showing off all her original music.
“I started writing music when I was 12 years old. I was really inspired by the individuality of musicians like Kacey Musgraves and other young women I saw writing and creating such beautiful things. I had spent most of my life expressing myself through theater, but around middle school, I started to feel really lost in that world. Songwriting, and creative writing in general, really pulled me back into myself creatively,” said Winter, who came into Muhlenberg as a songwriter.
Winter and Ruckh will spend the next few months planning their sets and writing more songs.
“The best concerts I’ve been to are always a labor of love and a projection of who that artist is, and I’d love for people watching to feel like they’re in on the joke. I also have some incredibly talented friends who I’d love to sing with. That would mean the world to me,” explained Winter.
Marilyn Rajesh ‘26 also came out on top, stealing the audience’s hearts and taking the Fan Favorite win. Walking into the event, everyone received a ticket they could use to vote for their favorite performer or song. As the winner, Rajesh was immediately invited back onstage for an encore performance.
“As cliche as it sounds, I am my own [worst] critic, but I was mostly participating with the intention of having fun and just using this as a motivational factor to keep writing songs and make more of my own music. The audience was super supportive and when I saw them wave their phones with the flashlights on during my second song, I kid you not, I almost teared up on stage. It was a wholesome moment and a memory I will always cherish,” she commented.
Radio Riff-Off was not just a fun opportunity for the performers to showcase their music, but a fun atmosphere for the audience.
“I loved Radio Riff-Off! I think writing original music requires so much skill and talent and it’s so amazing that we have an outlet for students to share that here at Muhlenberg! It was also just such a fun show and the crowd was so excited about everyone’s music. The emcees did an awesome job keeping everyone’s energy up and the attitude positive,” remarked Dina Maltser ‘26.
“It was really inspiring to see all the amazing talent of our campus community. Everyone did an incredible job! They should all be really proud of themselves and their songwriting,” reflected Jo Pitera ‘25.
See Winter and Ruckh live at the Radio Riff-Off concert WMUH will host in January.
“Riff-off ended up being such a lovely, accommodating space for myself and the other contestants, which was so helpful in this process. [The emcee] Harper Hogan ‘25 made me feel so comfortable when I was feeling nervous, and I am so thankful to her for that! My friends who helped me throughout the process are also the best, and the whole experience really made me feel so loved by the new people I’ve met. It’s been such an awesome time,” said Winter.