A Chesapeake riverkeeper came up with a creative way to support local musicians during the COVID-19 pandemic and instill pride in the waterway—and now he has a full album of river-inspired songs to show for it.
John Zaktansky took over as Middle Susquehanna Riverkeeper in February 2020, just before the pandemic hit. Almost immediately there was no way for him to engage with the community in person. Zaktansky knew plenty of musicians in the Susquehanna River region who also had no way to connect with their community. So he launched the Songs of the Susquehanna Project, calling for original song submissions about the river.
“We received 46 songs, all original, inspired by the river’s environmental, recreational, therapeutic and even historical aspects,” Zaktansky tells Bay Bulletin. “One musician created a song on how she took to our waterways to grieve the loss of her father to COVID. Another gave a moving historical account of a mine disaster on the upper north branch—a situation now connected with the issues of abandoned mine drainage.”
The 11,000-square-mile Susquehanna watershed inspired titles like “A Happy River is a Clean River” and “Susquehanna Suzy,” a little ditty from former CBM editor and songstress Janie Meneely which involves a kazoo.
More than 1,100 votes were cast to choose the top 20 songs of the 2021 final playlist, which is available as a CD for $15. The riverkeeper is also working on an online download option for songs via music-streaming platforms.
Throughout the project, Zaktansky sought donations, which will be split among the musicians on the final playlist. Sales of the CD and online downloads of the album will all benefit the Middle Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association’s efforts to protect and promote river-based resources.
Zaktansky is already planning a 2022 Songs of the Susquehanna project, collecting submissions beginning Nov. 1, 2021. He’s looking for “songs that really speak to the Susquehanna’s environmental, recreational and/or therapeutic qualities. ” And, he says, he is working on the possibility of a concert showcasing some of the musicians at the core of this project and their cool river-based songs.
-Meg Walburn Viviano