“Vermont, My Own True Friend”

It didn’t win and didn’t even place, but, 16 years later, here’s the song I submitted for Vermont’s State Song Competition. It’s called “Vermont, My Own True Friend”.

My goals for the song (aside from, y’know, winning the contest) were:

  • It had to refer to our natural beauty
  • It had to refer to our values
  • It had to refer to our history
  • It had to refer to what makes us actually different
  • It had to be anthemic

The last criterion was the “music-y” part, and I imagined that any state song would end up being sung by crowds of people in classrooms, ballgames, and the Statehouse. Never mind the song’s language or symbolic content; above all, the song had to be designed to be performed by multiple people, with average ears and voices, yet still sound stirring and anthemic. That meant it needed a more structured meter and some larger-interval (but not TOO large!) leaps at the right point to catch attenton.

A big inspiration was Maine’s state song, which my fiancé (now my wife) used to launch into spontaneously. That was another hope for my song’s musicality: It should inspire the singer to swing their bent arms back and forth in front of them, as if they were so inspired that they wanted to march in a parade.

In case you’re wondering, here’s the song that was selected as Vermont’s official State Song, “These Green Mountains”, words and music by Diane Martin and arranged by Rita Buglass Gluck; this rendition is from Victoria Tomkinson with Bob Ray on guitar.

Here’s a more gussied-up version performed by the Vermont Youth Orchestra Choir at the Statehouse.

As far as the words go, I’d like to think they met my criteria. I’m grateful to be able to say I live in this wonderful state, and I hope I can continue to do so for a long time to come.

Vermont, My Own True Friend

From the sleeping chin of Mansfield,
Where the granite touches sky,
To the shores of Lake Champlain,
Where the sails and salmon fly

Through the blazing autumn treetops
And the snowy slopes so wide,
The thought of so much majesty
Fills my heart with pride

Vermont,
Across your mountains green
Vermont,
Where independence sings
Vermont,
Where rivers, glittering
Over valleys, bend
Vermont,
This land will always be
My own true friend

The state where dreadful slavery
First met its legal end,
Where the farmer and the artist
On fertility depend

Where unity and freedom
Reach out with welcome hands,
And precious common sense,
Like the mighty maple, stands

Vermont,
Across your mountains green
Vermont,
Where independence sings
Vermont,
Where rivers, glittering
Over valleys, bend
Vermont,
This land will always be
My own true friend

© Copyright 2014 Nate Orshan

“granite” – I may be going out on a geological limb here.

“salmon” – Yup, we got ’em!

“unity and freedom” – OK, so our state motto is actually “Freedom and Unity“, but sometimes ya gotta mix things up a bit to get a line to fit.

“precious common sense” – AKA “Yankee horse sense”, a virtue of longstanding repute, e.g., “[US President and Vermonter Calvin] Coolidge was New England – or, as his Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover put it, ‘the incarnation of Yankee horse sense.’

“Harjit (You Get it Back)”

Here’s a song both for and about a force of nature known as Harjit Dhaliwal. How do you pronounce “Harjit*“? Well…listen to the song…

Until this week, I’d only known Harjit through social media (primarily Twitter, where he goes by Hoorge, and Facebook, where he goes by, uh, Harjit), but I finally got to meet him just a few days ago at a reunion of @THISISVT guest-tweeters. I think I had casually told him in the past (online, of course) that I’d write a song for him, but I’d forgotten about it. Fortunately, he HADN’T, and he piped up with the song request**.

I was more than willing to pipe up in response. In our state of fewer than a 700,000 people, Harjit has been growing a reputation as an enthusiastic booster of all things Vermont, concentrating on Chittenden County, Burlington, and his current home of Milton (a historically maligned town to the north of the Queen City, and the image of which Harjit does much to improve).

He’s also a great photographer when he’s not doing his day gig as an IT guy, all of which seems to pale in comparison to his social media activity, which spans over a dozen separate channels.

But, y’know, any Yankee Doodle Dandy can stick a dozen accounts in his hat and call it good content. What I really admire about Harjit’s online output is the degree of genuine, unironic appreciation, an irrepressible exuberance for people and place that comes pouring out. If an individual post is prosaic, the emergent property I get from the entirety is a tremendous outpouring of positivity and love.

As I seemed to learn this week, his online persona is a real extension of his presence offline. If any behavior is worth replicating, this most definitely is, and I’m happy to play a role in helping spread his spirit a little further through the world.

Harjit (You Get it Back)

Lemme tell you ’bout a guy named Harjit
Sees a challenge and he’ll never dodge it
He gets it done
For everyone

9-to-5, and he’s in high-tech heaven
Social media, he’s 24/7
He gets around
Because he’s found…

   If you give it out, you get it back
   You’re on the track
   For life

   Every little thing you say and do
   Comes back to you
   Like children skipping from a schoolyard

Lemme tell you ’bout a guy named Harjit
Not a fan of self-sabotage, it
Is not his line
To undermine

With an eye for a bright impression,
From the phone to the photo session
He gets his shot
See what he’s got

   If you give it out, you get it back
   You’re on the track
   For life

   Every little thing you say and do
   Comes back to you
   Like children skipping from a schoolyard

Lemme tell you ’bout a guy named Harjit
You show up with a stone and he’ll dislodge it
It isn’t right
To have to fight

In his head is an eagle flying
In his heart, he is only trying
To be set free
So spread your wings and you will see it

   If you give it out, you get it back
   You’re on the track
   For life

   Every little thing you say and do
   Comes back to you
   Like children skipping from a schoolyard

© Copyright 2014 Nate Orshan

* Harjit’s name is actually a part of the motivation for writing the song. Here in the anglophonic north, names that didn’t get their start in Europe are currently harder to find, which lack of familiarity makes them harder to get right on the first go-round. In fact, I take it the nickname “Hoorge” came from a college friend who, to his own embarrassment, resorted to it when he found himself unable to pronounce “Harjit” correctly (HAH-jiht). If this song has any lasting impact, I hope at least it helps some folks get “Harjit” right.

** Nope, I’m not getting paid, nor is there any quid pro quo. Hey, that would just undermine my goal!

“The Lonely Lobbyist”

Note: This was my submission for the first-ever StoryhackVT contest, the “24 hour cross media hackathon” (i.e., digital storytelling contest) held on October 19, 2013. I didn’t win, but I was extremely pleased by what I was able to accomplish:

  • Created a story and two songs within 24 hours.
  • Did it with no prep, i.e., I had no idea what I was going to be writing about when the 24-hour-period kicked off.
  • Incorporated the required catchphrase “And none of this would have happened if you hadn’t arrived five minutes earlier” into the story in an intrinsic way.
  • Wrote my first-ever story. Really. Other than school assignments years ago, I’d never written a story before October 19.
  • Did it all by myself, only one of two teams to do so.

The story itself is supposed to be a satiric fable. I hope it resonates with you.

The Lonely Lobbyist
It’s not every day a lobbyist gets to save the country, maybe even the world. That’s how the CEO of the power company convinced The Lobbyist to help him.

The power company had a revolutionary new technology that could generate electric energy out of something made by everything everywhere: sound. When it was up and running, a sound power generator would suck up all the sound for miles around and use that energy to create power. It was remarkably efficient, and it only had one problem: it removed all the sound from the environment, effectively making the surrounding communities deaf.

The Lobbyist could see how that might make it a really tough sell, and for a minute she thought about saying “No”. On the other hand, she still had hundreds of thousands of dollars she owed for her undergraduate education, and, as they say, money talks. Without even making a sound.

So The Lobbyist started out by running focus groups in small communities, explaining sound power and seeing whether there was any interest. People had to decide, Would it be worth it to give up on talking, on hearing noises, on listening to music, so that they could power everything from lightbulbs to cars just from all the noise in the environment?

Everybody said no. That’s when The Lobbyist realized how hard her fight was and how unpopular she was going to be if she kept working for sound power. But she knew how much sound power would help the country if people gave it a chance, and also how much her grateful client would pay her in bonus pay. She decided to stick with the program, even if it meant she would be the only one fighting for sound power.

The Lobbyist convinced her client that it was going to take a lot of money and some time to change things so that Americans were in favor of sound power. The CEO agreed, and he convinced the big banks to join the power company, investing in the most ambitious marketing campaign the country had ever seen. Over the next few election cycles, the power company started giving money to candidates who they knew would be pro-sound-power, and all that extra money gave these candidates such an advantage that they all were elected to Congress. Then the power company gave a ton of money to a Presidential candidate who they knew was on the side of sound power, and she won, too.

However, the new, pro-sound-power Congress couldn’t just create a new bill for the President to sign, legalizing sound power for the first time. The truth was, most people were still against sound power, and they were likely to vote the pro-sound-power politicians out of office if sound power became the law of the land. The Lobbyist still had work to do.

Funded by the power company and the big banks, The Lobbyist was able to blanket all the media with the pro-sound-power message. The message was the same one the CEO had given to The Lobbyist on the first day they met…

“Look at all the wars America gets into because regions with oil are so important to it. Look at all the petrodollars that go to countries that are hostile to us. Like Canada. Look at the terrible global warming that’s caused by all of our carbon emissions. We could end all that overnight, for the price of hearing. Isn’t it worth giving up your hearing in order to save humanity, get us out of wars in oil-rich areas, and, not-coincidentally, give our economy the biggest boost ever with the cheapest energy in the world?”

The campaign included a special jingle called, “Let This Be the Last Song You Hear”.

Meanwhile, things kept getting worse in the world: There were more wars in oil-rich regions, global warming intensified, and oil prices kept climbing, hurting the American economy. These events, aided by the fact that all the media kept repeating The Lobbyist’s message that sound power is the only solution, eventually changed the mind of most Americans. They finally allowed sound power legislation, and the power company was able to roll out sound power.

One by one, sound power plants came online all across the country. They worked exactly as predicted: They were extremely efficient at converting sound energy into electricity, and everything in America was converted into using electricity for power instead of hydrocarbons. All the coal plants were converted to sound power plants, and all drilling for hydrocarbons in America stopped. Air pollution became a thing of the past, and people across the world saw that, if they converted to sound power, the world would eventually be able to stop global warming.

Of course, Americans had to adjust to a life without hearing anything at all. Everybody learned sign language and learned to enjoy watching dance as much as they used to enjoy hearing music. And The Lobbyist was happy that she was able to do such a good job, make so much money, and save America.

On the day the last sound power plant went online, The Lobbyist had a last meeting with the CEO of the power company to review all the work she had done for them. During the meeting, she told the CEO a story about their first time they had met, that time when the CEO said it’s not every day a lobbyist gets to save the country, maybe even the world.

The Lobbyist said that, five minutes into that very first meeting, she had received an email from National Public Radio asking if she would be able to work for them to lobby for increased public funding, or at least not to have any more funding cut off. At that time, The Lobbyist loved NPR, and it was the kind of thing that she normally would have said “Yes” to, but, as it turned out, NPR was just a little too late; she was already hooked on the idea of sound power. She told the CEO about this, then added, “And none of this would have happened if you hadn’t arrived five minutes earlier!” This was all in sign language, of course.

— The End —