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Where aspiring songwriters find harmony

Suzanne Ernst of Huntington performs a song during

Suzanne Ernst of Huntington performs a song during an Island Songwriters Showcase workshop held at Five Towns College in Dix Hills. (Jan. 3, 2011) Photo Credit: Newsday/Jessica Rotkiewicz

After getting a major tuneup, "American Idol" returns for its 10th season Wednesday night at 8, again hoping to find the next Kelly Clarkson or Carrie Underwood. With a new "Idol" comes the need for someone to write those songs to help make the winning singer a star. If you're looking to channel your inner Taylor Swift or Bob Dylan, here are a few places where you can fine-tune your original songs.

Island Songwriters Showcase

Island Songwriters Showcase's monthly workshops are music central for aspiring songwriters, who get to perform their works before a group of their peers. Each performance is followed by 10 minutes of feedback.

"From a songwriter's point of view, it's a chance to step outside of the circle of friends and family who are only going to tell you how wonderful you are," says Walt Sargent, director of ISS. "You're getting a special audience with fellow songwriters."

The experience can be intimidating, especially for new songwriters. "The first time I went to the workshop 10 years ago, I didn't bring a song and didn't allow people to criticize me because I was so afraid," says Cathy Kreger, a Huntington pet-sitter, who has released four CDs and performs regularly in the tristate area. "I've since gotten over that. The criticism is not coming at you in a mean way. It's just an honest reaction, which is what you want. When other ears and other minds hear what you have to say, they will point out things that were difficult to understand."

While Kreger comes to the workshop from a professional standpoint, for others, it's therapeutic. "This is my therapy, my way of expressing myself. In the same way someone would play a baseball game or golf or bowl," says Suzanne Ernst of Huntington. "This gives me a chance to communicate with other people."

In addition to critiques, ISS hosts performer showcases at Borders in Syosset.

WHEN | WHERE: Workshops the first Monday of every month at 7:30 p.m., Five Towns College, room 217, 305 N. Service Rd., Dix Hills

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HOW MUCH: Free

INFO: islandsongwriters.org 

Nashville Songwriters Assn. International

You don't need to be writing about D-I-V-O-R-C-E or an achy-breaky heart to be a part of the group's monthly songwriting workshops.

"It's all genres. We even have kids who write hip-hop and rap in the classes," says Jerry Silverstein, whose songwriting credits include Broadway's "Urban Cowboy." "That feedback is invaluable. It's just like screenwriting. You know the story you're putting on paper, but if people don't know the backstory, they might not know what you're communicating."

Professional songwriters are invited to attend and critique, and the group has a "try-it-first" policy. "Anyone can attend for free to come down and see if they like it, then determine if it's worth it to attend further engagements," Silverstein says.

NSAI can be a great place for networking. "If you come to a meeting and want to take a trip down to Nashville, we can help you meet people once you're down there, whether it's one of our friends, or visiting NSAI headquarters," says Stella Betty Davie, co-coordinator with Silverstein. "We're not all going to be able to write for Reba McEntire, but we can keep networking open. But if you start pitching songs, it's extremely competitive, so your songs have to be great."

WHEN | WHERE: The last Tuesday of every month, 7 p.m., Five Towns College, room 215, 305 N. Service Rd., Dix Hills

HOW MUCH: $150 annual fee

INFO: nashvillesongwriters.com 

Folk Music Society of Huntington

It's not just plain folks doing folk music at this nonprofit group. The first-Saturday concerts feature pairings of regional and local folk singers, while the Hard Luck Cafe third-Saturday concert features two local artists along with coffee, tea, cider and baked goods. Each concert is preceded by an open mic for local singer-songwriters, followed by a chance to get feedback from the group's members. "We're not just an organization and not just a concert presenter," says group president Mike Kornfeld, "but fostering support among the songwriting community."

WHEN: Concerts the first and third Saturdays of each month at 8:30 p.m., preceded by open mic at 7:30 p.m.

WHERE: Congregation Church of Huntington, 30 Washington Dr., Centerport

ADMISSION: Prices vary, usually $15-$25

INFO: fmshny.org

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