Sweet Little City (by the Cool Blue Lake)

It’s taken me a couple of years to finish, but I’m back with the song I promised when I won the Burlington Social Media Day award, “2014 Social Media Royalty > King”. Here it is, my love song, the anthem I wrote for and about my beloved hometown, Burlington, Vermont. It’s called, “Sweet Little City (by the Cool Blue Lake)”.

To rewind the story: as part of my shameless shilling for the 2014 Social Media Day votes, I promised people I’d write a song about whatever they wanted…which would be decided via an open form on this site as well as a round of voting on all the nominations.

People came up with 41 separate song ideas, from the whimsical (“I saw a bird, I wonder what it is“) to the cutesy (“Signs you may have a social media addiction“) to the so-good-I-may-have-to-write-it-just-because (“Mr Ding-a-ling’s ding dong singalong“). And the one that got the most votes? “A Day in the Life of #BTV a la Beatles – woke up, got out of bed, went to August First to buy my bread … farmer’s market, food trucks, waterfront, intervale, etc.

But…”A Day in the Life”? REALLY? That would (a) take some serious production chops, (b) seem like an act of superfluous redundancy (the world already has the real “Day in the Life” alongside the rest of the band’s multiple, quintessential singularities), and (c) oh, did I mention the production chops? And need for time? And…talent?

However…what if I tried to cough up a genuine anthem for the Queen City? That’s a real challenge of its own, not the least of which is it means I’d have to set aside the obligatory Portlandia jokes and try to really be, y’know…sincere. And anthemic.

So I took a page from Ludwig van Beethoven…almost literally. I basically stole many of my song’s melodies from the first movement of Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony, the “Pastoral”. Oh, you know…the one from Fantasia. Those melodies. Those MELODIES! They’re energetic. They’re inspiring. And above all, they’re free for the taking (“Famous Last Words”). Hey, why reinvent the wheel when Ludwig has a whole…van?

Come to find out, trying to make Nineteenth Century classical music melodies work in a semi-modern context ain’t a walk in the Pastoral. Want to really rock out? Or go in a less harmonically predictable direction? Good luck with that, especially if you’re not trying to do a parody or otherwise attempting some kind of aesthetic sabotage to the tune. The melodies are confident and capable, but they work best with the kinds of chords and harmonic motion that Beethoven would understand.

And now…more bullet points.

  • As far as I know (and I’ve worked Google pretty thoroughly), I haven’t found any evidence of anyone ever having attempted to adapt any part of the first movement of Beethoven’s 6th Symphony into a folk/pop song. So…a first? You tell me.
  • The song tries to describe some of the things that make Burlington so special, starting with the fact that it occupies land dug out by a monster glacier tens-to-hundreds of thousands of years ago; that it has a chill vibe; that the University and other colleges influence almost every aspect of the city; that we take winter as a matter of course (and seemingly thrive); that artists play an influential role in the culture and, indeed, politics; that social justice is taken seriously; and, of course, that this place is endowed with just jaw-droppingly amazing natural beauty. Just the facts, van.
  • “Sweet Little City” is apparently one of many songs extolling the Queen City’s awesomeness. In 2015, the City paid Vermont legendary folk musician Peter Sutherland to write a song for Burlington’s sesquicentennial. I can’t find it online, but I’m sure it’s wonderful. Hey, Burlington is big enough to command multiple anthems of praise. (OK, so, the fact that Beethoven gets to work with me might seem to be an unfair advantage in the anthem business, but I hear he has at least eight other symphonies ripe for the picking.)
  • The pictures in the video all came from the Burlington Hazecam, an amazing site that for over ten years has been providing fresh pics every 15 minutes of the way the western skyline over Burlington looks. I went through a period of my life where I had the site bookmarked, and I’d check it regularly, and if the pic looked good, I’d save it. The pics have been languishing for all these years, waiting for an opportunity to be put to good use. I hope I just did.
  • The song is dedicated to the memory of Nelson Brice, Jr., a dear man and neighbor of 16 years who passed away this month. He was a true son of Burlington.

Thank you for taking the time to listen to my love song for the city I call home. May she always get to stay by a crescent bay on the left coast of Vermont.

Addendum: Interview & Live Performance

Thanks to Mike Curkov and WPTZ for asking me on for an interview and live performance! It was an honor and a lot of fun. And may I say that, for a short interview, they really get to a lot of good stuff, including

  • Why my Twitter handle is misleadingly @Winooski.
  • My song for then-candidate, now-Mayor Miro Weinberger.
  • My influences.
  • How the songs get to be so catchy.

(The interface for the video isn’t quite as intuitive as I’d expect. There are two separate clips, one for the performance and one for the interview, so you need to click on either of the two, little thumbnail images to get to either one.)

Sweet Little City (by the Cool Blue Lake)

The careless weight of a glacier
Ran its course to the frozen north
And it left a mighty groove

Ages later
Skateboard stunts by the waterfront
And you feel a righteous mood

Welcome to the
Sweet little city by the cool blue lake

Where higher education
Seeps into every yard and room
And it leaves a lasting mark

From the way that
People think to the sleeves of ink
On your neighbors in the park

Living in a
Sweet little city by the cool blue lake

Winter arrives with icy knives and cuts the days
But look around the snowy town, and you’re amazed
Everyone plays
And you may
Find your love in Burlington…

The yearning heart of the artist
Always gets to the toil and sweat
So the light of truth can shine

You can see it
Play a part in the living art
Of the Queen City’s design

Shine upon a
Sweet little city by the cool blue lake

A place where social justice
Stays alive in the work and minds
Of the many who believe…

…An idea:
Being fair and taking care
Of each other’s not naïve

When you’re in a
Sweet little city by the cool blue lake

The sunset sings a melody to make you cry
The gentle peaks, the coral sheets across the sky
And if you try
You just might
Find your love in Burlington…

These gifts of hillside and valley,
River, streams, and the Mountains Green
Are more than any want

May you always
Get to stay by a crescent bay
On the left coast of Vermont

Welcome to the
Sweet little city by the cool blue lake
(Find your love in Burlington…)

© Copyright Nate Orshan

Some “thank you”s:

  • Thank you Lara Dickson for organizing Social Media Day in the first place. It was fun and inspiring.
  • Thank you to all the people who chimed in with tunes I should write. I hope this one works for now.
  • Thank you to the love of my life, Kit O’Connor, for always inspiring me and for putting up with me throughout a fairly arduous process.
  • …And thanks to Ludwig van Beethoven for the killer tunes. Here’s a pic supposedly from around the time he was actually working on the Sixth Symphony…either that or, by the looks of him, playing with The Kinks.


(Pic borrowed and resized from the Wikipedia article.)

2 thoughts on “Sweet Little City (by the Cool Blue Lake)

  1. This is so catchy, Nate.

    I was expecting to see a deliberate reflection of Kit in the window you’re looking out of when you say “find your love in Burlington.”

    Gonna have my kids listen to it this evening.

    1. Thanks so much, Joe! I just used the pics “as is”, but it reminds me of people hearing all sorts of secret messages in Beatles songs. Therefore, this song must be as good as any Beatles song. 😉

      I hope your kids get a kick out of “Sweet Little City”.

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