Montpelier hosts Vermont Peace Song Writers Contest

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(Host) Songs like Imagine, Kumbaya and We Shall Overcome have long been staples at peace rallies. But some people think the anti-war repertoire needs a little freshening.

Last night in Montpelier, they set out to find something new to sing at future rallies.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports.

(Zind) Peace and protest songs belong to a strange subset of music. It’s not a necessarily bad thing if a peace song becomes outdated.

(Country Joe) And its one, two three, what are we fighting for. Don’t ask me I don’t give a damn next stop is Vietnam

(Zind) On the other hand, some peace songs remain forever serviceable, no matter what the times and events.

(Bob Dylan) The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind, the answer is blowin’ in the wind.

(Zind) As Kenrik Kite sees it, there’s one problem with these peace songs: They’re old!

Not long ago at a rally, Kite had an epiphany.

(Kite) We’re singing another chorus of Imagine’ and I thought, Boy we really need some new peace songs, because times have changed.’

(Zind) That’s how the 1st Annual Vermont Peace Song Writers Contest was born.

Thursday night at a Montpelier coffeehouse a crowd of spectators sat through three hours of new and original peace songs in hopes that history would be made and a new anthem unveiled.

(Farnsworth) If you want to sing along, great. The chorus goes: Won’t you come back, come back my darlin’, won’t you come back.’

(Zind) Singalongabilty, if that’s a word, is key to a successful peace song. It was one of the criteria used to judge Thursday night’s entries. The four judges included people from the local arts and activist communities. Joseph Gainza of the American Friends Service Committee was one of them.

(Gainza) For me, one of the criteria is that it can be sung in a group. I think peace songs that are sung in groups and know the words and each other’s voice. It’s a way of solidifying people, but it also strengthens the feeling that we can do this, we can achieve peace if we work together.

(Singing) We all want peace, peace, peace on earth

(Zind) The competition drew 19 contestants each with a song showcasing a different take on war and peace. Rebecca Pedula took in a whole world of strife in her song.

(Pedula) What’s going on down in Rwanda, what’s going on down in Darfur, what’s going on in Sadr City, tell me what’s going on

(Zind) A number of songs, including one by Susannah Blachly, focused on the impact of war on a single life. In this case, the wife of a soldier.

(Blachley) Come on home. I feel winter coming on and I need you here to help us see it through. Come on home, supper’s cooking on the stove. Did you know we always set a place for you?

(Zind) Some songs were passionate anthems, others were angry tirades.

One contestant wrote about domestic peace between a warring couple.

Some performers played electric, others used nothing more than a tambourine.

(Ames) Anybody got a little peace? Cause war we’ve got a whole darn lot of out in the Middle East

(Zind) G. Richard Ames wrote a humorous and self-deprecating peace song called Pax Wax.

(Ames) In a mere five lines this song will finally cease, then you’ll all enjoy a little doggone peace.

(Zind) In the midst of all the lyrical references to the Middle East, Guantanemo, George Bush and Habeas Corpus, there was a little Clinton-era nostalgia from a group called Count Bracie and the Lapsed Catholics.

(Count Bracie) Monica we need you back. If Rummy was your honey we wouldn’t be in Iraq

(Zind) In the end the tune that prevailed, the winner of the first Vermont Peace Song Writers Competition, was the one that hewed most closely to the tried and true formula for a successfully rally-friendly ditty: singalongability.

(Koenig) No more war. We’ve been there before. No more, no more, no more war, no more war because we’ve been there before

(Zind) The winner is Ben Koenig, a veteran of earlier anti-war movements.

(Koenig) Although this contest, they said they wanted new songs, I’m an old guy. This is a throwback to the kind of songs I was singing back in the 70s and 60s. That’s where it comes from. (Sung) Listen folks here is my thesis: peace in the world or the world in pieces.

(Zind) Koenig’s prize for winning the contest was a $100 gift certificate, and the thought that his song could someday take its place alongside the songs that are the warhorses of the peace movement.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind in Montpelier.

(Koenig) I said no more, no more war because we’ve been there before

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