Feedback encouraged on nearly 60 original river-inspired submissions for Songs of the Susquehanna 2022
When 13-year-old Lewisburg middle-schooler Emily Berge received encouragement from her music teacher, Sarah Tiede, to participate in the Middle Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association’s Songs of the Susquehanna project, she threw herself into the opportunity.
“It means so much to me that she saw I had the potential to share the gift that God has given me with others,” said Berge, who wrote all the lyrics and melodies for her song submission, and then recorded her own melody and harmonies with the help of her family.
“Since this is the first of my original songs I have publicly recorded and shared, I am looking forward to hearing feedback from those who take the time to listen,” she said. “Knowing what others feel when they listen to my music will be encouraging to me as well as help me grow as a songwriter and artist.”
“The initial response was incredible, and it has only grown exponentially since that time, triggering so many important conversations that never would have happened otherwise,” said Middle Susquehanna Riverkeeper John Zaktansky.
For Selinsgrove High School sophomore McKenna Ulery, the project provided a much-needed push to get serious about her music.
"I actually started writing the song I submitted over the summer. I created an introduction and the beginning verses but I was not sure where to go with the song," she said. "This opportunity gave me inspiration to finish a song I had left incomplete."
Bill Dann, of Bellefonte, was involved in the first round of the program, as his wintery poem set to music, “Susquehanna Silent Night,” is one of 20 submissions on the first album. He was excited to develop a new song for 2022 consideration.
“This project has brought more personal awareness for me as to the importance of our valuable natural resources, which are becoming more and more valuable by the day. We all need to do our part to promote awareness,” he said.
Brady Wassom, a musician from State College, agreed.
“I think that figuratively and literally, the Susquehanna is the lifeblood of our collective community not to mention our Commonwealth and the Chesapeake Bay,” he said. “Whether we are conscious of it or not, the river and the watershed at large shape and form our existence as it has with our ancestors and the ecosystem around us.”
The river means different things to different people, which is represented in the submissions, according to Berge.
“For some, the river is a place of peace. For others, it is a place to play and have fun, while others enjoy its natural beauty,” she said. “Each musician shared their perspective of what the river means to them. We often take advantage of how fortunate we are to have the river so close and part of our everyday lives.”
For those who take the time to listen to the songs and provide feedback, Wassom suggests embracing the diversity of music while experiencing each piece.
“I would recommend that those listening to these submissions recognize that each of them has been created by our fellow community members that have been shaped by the river and the watershed,” he said. “We each have talents, skills, ideas, and experiences that are as diverse as the flora and fauna in the watershed.”
Berge suggested that listeners should also be open-minded to all the genres represented in this year’s submissions.
“Music causes emotions and allows you to feel what the songwriter has experienced. Each song is a story. Challenge yourself to find the song that resonates with your experiences of the Susquehanna River,” she said.
"The music itself gives the listener a feeling that is not found in other means of awareness," Ulery agreed. "Music stimulates the brain and gives an emotional impact to those who listen. The music brings out the story, enhancing it by giving depth and emotion to its words."
Hibbard gravitates toward American folk music when writing and performing, “but I enjoy many genres of music, so it was great listening to all the submissions for this project. I love story songs as well as any song that will cause the listener to pause and think about what he or she knows, and what is yet to be learned.”
For Gerri Grisafi, of New Milford, the project provided a sense of giving back to nature and hopefully inspires others to get involved in future volumes.
"I like to see people enjoying the river like I did when I was young and passing the torch onto the next generation. There are a lot of great bands, artists and musicians just here in Pennsylvania. I think it would mean a lot to them because we are conveying an important message on what the river means to us," she said. "Those who are listening may also have some great stories and be inspired to make a song like I did."
Dann suggests listening intently to both the lyrics and the music, “as each one is very unique. There are many talented artists and musicians participating in this important project, and we welcome input from others.”
A common theme among all the musicians involved in the project is an appreciation to be involved in something creative in the midst of extended uncertainties caused by the pandemic.
“I think my overall response while listening the other submissions is one of gratitude and humility. I'm grateful to have had the opportunity to generate something that others can listen to regardless of whether they like or dislike it,” said Wassom. “I am also humbled by the efforts of the other music-makers in their talents, skills and creativity to make something that connects the listener back to the river.”
Once songs are selected for the final album, fully mastered CDs will be available to purchase at www.MiddleSusquehannaRiverkeeper.org by late March.
John Zaktansky is an award-winning journalist and avid promoter of the outdoors who loves camping, kayaking, fishing and hunting with the family.