Morgan Schutte's senior project began long before she was in grade school.
As a child, the 18-year-old Hellgate senior was always breaking out in song, be it in the bathtub, in the supermarket or walking the streets of New Orleans' French Quarter.
"I've just always kind of been singing ever since I was little, making up songs and annoying my brother," said Schutte, who recently completed a recording of original songs for her CD, "Written in Sand."
All seniors are required to complete a senior project to graduate. Schutte was originally planning a "big community service thing," but then was ushered into her music project by Missoula jazz singer Eden Atwood, who saw in her student not just a gifted singer, but a songwriter who "just gets it."
"She just hears it," said Atwood, who served as a producer on Schutte's CD, which was professionally recorded in the studio of Missoula musician Jim Rogers. "There are people who have tons of theory and don't hear it. And there are people with no theory who do hear it. And they have that sense of how things come together."
Early in her senior year, Schutte decided to put a collection of her songs on a disc. But this would be no kid project; with Atwood, Schutte enlisted the help of professional musicians, including Rogers on piano, Sam McKenzie on drums (he plays with Reverend Slanky) and Mike Freemole on bass.
That's a pretty hefty lineup for a high school girl's first recording project, but Schutte rose to the challenge.
"It was awesome having the headphones on," she said. "I felt like Mariah Carey or something. … It was a surreal day for me. When Eden came in and cracked the whip and got everything going, it was great to see everyone working together, and the music coming to life."
None of the musicians on the five-track CD expected compensation for their efforts, but Schutte paid them anyway.
Schutte, said Atwood, has an uncanny lyrical ability with her melodies. She would develop a musical idea in her head and figure it out on the piano, while Atwood would help her fill in some of the chord structures.
But she never needed help with her lyrics, Atwood said.
"What I discovered about her is, wow, she's a writer," she said. "She's got such an incredible grasp of metaphor without being obtuse."
The CD's title song is an ode to Schutte's high school days and saying goodbye to this four-year stage of her life. And metaphorically, it's a song about a washed-away past.
With a strong country-tinged pop voice, she sings:
"And the words you used to say, have now by all washed away forever, never last on land/
"And the wind has changed direction, and taken with it your affection/
Seems like nothing ever stands, when it's written in the sand."
Schutte wrote that song and another, "Last Day," as the Class of 2008's unofficial "class anthems," inspired to send a positive and uplifting message to her class, which suffered its share of loss this year.
"Some of my classmates were really pessimistic about life," she said. "Something inside of me felt like I needed to say something, to address what was happening in our class."
The only song not written by Schutte is Paul McCartney's "My Love," the CD's fifth song.
Schutte, daughter of Mike and M.J. Schutte, grew up performing in the Missoula Children's Theatre. She has taken piano lessons from Dorothy Peterson, and was a finalist in last year's First Night Idol.
She's a big fan of jazz and the blues, and recalls as a young girl walking up to street musicians in New Orleans, where her family came from, just to belt out some vocals.
"I was a little freak child," she said, laughing. "I just thought it would be really cool."
Schutte will attend Wake Forest University in the fall on a theater scholarship, though she has yet to determine her major.
Reporter Jamie Kelly can be reached at 523-5254 or at email@example.com
"Written in Sand," a CD by Morgan Schutte, is currently available at the Women's Club. Look for it soon in local music stores as well.