Songs of War

by Alison Young, Minnesota Public Radio
July 30, 2009

St. Paul, Minn. — Gen. William T. Sherman famously said "war is hell," years after he successfully led the Union soldiers to victory in the Civil War.

Sherman was not one to be taken with the stories of glory or the nobility of ideals that war was sold on. He was a realist and knew war's toll.

Fast-forward to our era and the war in Iraq. Baritone Stephen Swanson found the attitudes in those planning the war -- as well as the media -- didn't take into account war's effects or plans for the aftermath of "Shock and Awe."

While Swanson says he's not a pacifist, he wrote letters to Congress and to his newspaper, to try and affect a slower, more measured approach.

He was personally touched when his son decided to enlist in the Air Force. So he decided he would express himself the best way he could, as a singer.

Swanson and his wife Marilyn -- along with pianist David Gompper, who arranged many of the pieces -- created a program of songs that tell the larger human story of war from patriotic fervor to dark gallows humor and protest.

The songs are a kaleidoscope of images -- sometimes harsh, other times ironic and funny, at others poignant and disturbing.

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