Missing the melodies of your favorite local musicians? Here’s a unique way to hear more than 30 of them performing original tunes focusing on their love for the river that created and winds through our valley.
The Middle Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association announces its first Songs of the Susquehanna project, which has resulted in the creation of 46 songs from 36 different musicians. The association is asking people to evaluate the songs to find the ones that have the greatest impact. The deadline for evaluations is Sunday, Feb. 28.
“Music, like the river, offers both therapeutic and recreational value, and musicians have been impacted quite a bit over the past year with canceled gigs and opportunities,” said John Zaktansky, Middle Susquehanna Riverkeeper and executive director of the Middle Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association. “We wanted to provide them with a creative platform to share their skills while giving us a new way — and a new audience — to connect to our river-based resources. It felt like a win-win project, and the response we’ve received has validated that.”
The Middle Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association serves an 11,000-square-mile watershed of the middle section of the river, including all the land that eventually drains into it through streams, creeks and other tributaries, Zaktansky said. This includes places like Williamsport, Wilkes-Barre, State College, Sunbury/Lewisburg and other regions that have a strong, diverse music scene.
“It was exciting to not only receive entries – but also ones that were so good and so varied in genres,” Zaktansky said. “It is obvious how much time and effort went into each song, and I am very grateful the music community took this project so seriously.”
From the start, Zaktansky thought 20 songs would be a benchmark for success. Forty-six shows that many people appreciate the beauty and ecosystems of the river’s clear, cold water.
“How can we not have songs about the Susquehanna?” asked Van Wagner, Lewisburg Area High School teacher and historian and musician from Danville. “This river may be the single greatest natural resource of our region. It is why we live here. It is also how we live here.”
“Much like our sacred waterways, music is a reminder that we are all connected,” said Runaway Stroller vocalist and songwriter Johanna Brooke Kodlick, of Lewisburg. “The Susquehanna Song Project has harmoniously sewn together the magic of nature and music in a lovely way.”
As she wrote her song, which she said is about both heartache and hope, she experienced a catharsis at a difficult time in her life.
“The inspiration of the Susquehanna River and its tributaries allowed the song to flow so naturally, and I am so grateful for the gift of this experience,” Kodlick said. “It is a joy to be a part of the camaraderie of musicians who have contributed amazing songs to this project. The response from listeners has been so generous and thoughtful as they have expressed how the music has touched them on a personal level.”
“As I received each one, I’d listen to it and many of them quickly get stuck in your head,” Zaktansky said. “That’s the sign of a good song, and one that will hopefully resonate our message of a clean, healthy river to a wide base of new people for quite some time.”
With feedback from the public, the Riverkeeper Association will narrow the 46 submissions to a final “paddling playlist.” A donation platform on the Riverkeeper website will use the funds to create CDs and an online playlist. Remaining donated dollars will be given back to the musicians who contributed to the project.
“It is a way to help them come off a tough year while helping us spread our message and passion for the river to a new audience,” Zaktansky said.
Once CDs of the final playlist are available, the proceeds of those sales will go back to the Middle Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association toward various programs and other efforts to protect and promote river-based resources.
“I would encourage everyone to take the time to listen to these songs,” Zaktansky said. “They are very inspirational and paint such a vivid image of our river, its importance and what threats it faces.”
The song project uses the power of music to bring awareness to how important it is to take care of our waterways, Kodlick said, adding that, at a time we are feeling disconnected, it reminds us we’re all part of the same big picture.
“I believe that the intention behind the song project is authentically altruistic,” she said, “and I think that is evident in such a beautiful way as people are listening to the music and reflecting on what a treasure the natural beauty is that surrounds us, and how important it is for us to protect that.”
“I can never guess what people will connect with regarding my songs,” Wagner said. “All I can say is, I wrote a song based on my life experiences. Experiences seeing local people hold baptisms in the river but also (experiences) going to the river to drink and party. I saw fancy boats in the river and also people who could only afford inner-tubes.”
Along with the opportunity to hear such a broad variety of favorite local entertainers, the Middle Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association will draw names randomly to award prizes to those who take the time to evaluate the songs.
“You may not be able to go see musicians in person right now, but we bring them to you in the comfort of your home with this project,” Zaktansky said. “In the process, we hope to inspire a better appreciation of our river and partnership with new people to protect and promote its resources.”
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