A whole year of Peace Songs: Finale to “Peace Song of the Day” project

Susanna, The Duchess of Peace writes:

On July 9th of last year, I began a project to find, and blog about, a peace song for every day of the year. The Peace Song of the Day archive is: here.

The idea of the project was to create interesting content, to create a daily ritual of peace culture, to bring people to the blog, and to nurture some self-discipline in myself as a writer.

I believe I succeeded a little bit on the first three counts. Though, since there are many days with no peace song announced, I guess I failed on the self-discipline score. And, I failed even though I had some nurturing help from the Duke, who sometimes provided inspiration, and sometimes just wrote the post for me. My missed days have taught me that I cannot count on myself to be both creative and ambitious each day. So, my next daily project will involve less of a need for inspiration. Though, I hope it will still be fruitful to the peace community.

Other lessons learned:

Even though we created this website to create a stark focus for “peace, as in antiwar”, and even though I envisioned this daily song project as collecting antiwar songs, when I focused on peace, and responded to concerns in the world, I felt compelled to also choose songs about justice, the environment, cultural sharing, and tolerance. They are ideas and issues totally entangled with a vision of peace.

When you are seeking songs about peace and justice, you come up with a lot of folk songs. Though, you can find a few in other genres such as rock, jazz, funk, and even opera.

Many songs about “peace” also have very religious or sectarian messages. Over the course of this year, I found I don’t like these songs as much, because I see religion as something that often gets in the way of clear thinking in politics and diplomacy. But…

Some peace songs from a spiritual or religious tradition are just irresistible. For example, “This Little Light of Mine” (Wait! I don’t think I did use that yet) and “Simple Gifts”.

It is difficult to find songs that match the criteria of “antiwar”, “not glorifying or suggesting any violence”, and “not using ‘violent communication'”. Many of my best sources for peace songs – including “Rise Up Singing“, which was my greatest storehouse for this project – include some historical stories about war or violence being the solution to oppression. This conundrum makes me even more committed to someday making a master list or textbook of peace songs which stay entirely true to nonviolent principles.

Some songs that seem to be about the problems of war, either are songs that glorify war, or get oddly used by military families to honor war. I found several songs like this on lists described as antiwar song lists. (One example is “Billy Don’t Be A Hero“. It boggles my mind that someone can sing that song to support war, or honor the work of a soldier.)

From this project, I realized that I usually try to create space that is easy to share with children and adults. I think some of it is personal preference, and some from patterns learned as a teacher. I like to celebrate things that don’t include controversy or curses. I also like to find “children’s songs” that are so fun, grown-ups will like them, too.

That said, I learned that, when an artist thinks about the horrors of war, he or she often feels the need for strong language. And, it does make sense. So, I also feel like I want to someday make a “grown-ups only appendix” of anti-war songs that curse.

When I started this project, it was tied into the playful idea of our “royalty”. So, the project was called “The Royal Song of The Day”. I learned that for interest purposes and Search Engine Optimization, it is better to be clear than cute. So, we changed the name to “Peace Song of the Day”.

It is very fun to go into various libraries and pull out their collections of songbooks. I could sit for hours looking through old folk celebrity anthologies, SNCC publications, children’s music collections, and cultural history books.

I had expected more excitement from Occupy Wall Street folks about this project. Though, I know they have many of their own ideas and projects. I will say that the occupiers gave me many ideas about good songs to choose, and many examples of peace, justice, and culture to write about.

Youtube has a lot of content. And, you can find nearly any song you like on video on-line these days. Except…

There are some songs — especially peace and justice songs — that you are surprised are not taped anywhere. It seems like a good project for someone to do: Keep ferreting out old peace, justice, and protest songs to record. Several people have cultural projects in this vein, such as recording every song in “Rise Up Singing“, or digging up old folks songs to cover.

One lesson I am still mulling over, is…Is it right or wrong, wise or foolish, logical or selfish, to guard your ownership and copyright on music so much, that the song cannot be easily shared? There are a few artists and groups who have written wonderful, inspiring, peace songs, and buried them under copyright restrictions. This meant that I could not show an example on video, or in some cases, feel comfortable publishing the lyrics. Is it wrong for the cause to hide one’s gift from the muse? Shouldn’t you want your solutions about peace and justice to go viral, and become folk-fodder? Or, does measuring out the resource of your talent, and making it a successful business, allow you, your message, and your music to ultimately thrive?

I learned that I love to take songs and change the lyrics. (See Worried Occupation Blues.) And, I have always been good at that. I think that is a project I will work on occasionally.

With all these lessons learned, I do consider the Peace Song of the Day project a success. And, we have received a lot of hits on some of the songs. People come back over and over again to posts about Harriet Tubman, the Titanic, or very old, traditional songs. One of the top posts on our blog is when we tied in the Peace Song of the Day with a  news story: People in Norway gathering around a courthouse to sing a Pete Seeger song about diversity.

So, what is my next project?

Every day, I will post a number that reflects a kind of “peace index” for that day. There are other groups with similar projects. (Vision of Humanity: Global Peace Index) (Vanhanen’s Index of Democracy) Though, many happen only yearly or occasionally. Since Duke Augustus and I are working out the formula, our new index project won’t start for a few days. We do hope you will be on the lookout for it.

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