Pre-Fringe Profile: Was My Brother in the Battle? Songs of War

SHOW TITLE: Was My Brother in the Battle? Songs of War
PRODUCERS: Stephen Swanson & David Gompper
HAILING FROM: Iowa
SHOW DESCRIPTION: A recital of songs about the individuals involved in America’s historic military conflicts, their friends, and their families.
WHAT CAUGHT MY INTEREST: As I’m currently developing my own military-themed Fringe show, I’ve been immersing myself in Gulf War memoirs — a bit of research that’s rapidly evolved into an obsession in its own right. So when I found out that there was a show coming to town actually exploring this stuff, I sat right up.

Just who do you think you are, anyway?
For twenty years I was an opera singer in Germany, Switzerland, and Austria. Now I’m a professor at The University of Iowa. David Gompper is a composer and pianist. He is also a professor at The University of Iowa and is Director of the Center for New Music there.

So what’s the big idea?
We live in a time when war is brought to our nation in made-for-cable-news sound bites, when our government censored photographs of flag-draped coffins, insisting that the death of our soldiers was a personal loss, not a national loss. I use songs to bring my audience face to face with war in its many facets. These songs present the grim determination of those fighting to maintain the Union in the Civil War; the fervent nationalistic patriotism of World War I; reflections of World War II by veterans on the 50th anniversary of D-Day; the dark humor generated by the fear of nuclear annihilation; the Vietnam generation’s disillusionment with indiscriminate use of military power. It is not my purpose to be judgmental, but rather to present the human side of a nation at war. As I wrote in my program notes: “If in some small way this recital can bring the personal reality of warfare closer to you, it will have served its purpose.”

How did you come up with a screwy idea like that?
I found the media build up to Operation Iraqi Freedom to be jingoistic and trite. We seemed so caught up in the idea of “shock and awe” that we didn’t consider what a primal force war is and how it changes everyone and everything that it touches. Letters to the editor and my Congressmen only added to my frustration. My wife finally suggested that I sing about it, and that’s what I’ve been doing for the last four and a half years.

Why should I care?
The concert is full of beautiful, funny, poignant, thoughtful songs that will make you laugh and cry and sometimes cringe. You should care because these songs may open a small window into the reality of what “being in harm’s way” really means. You should care because one of the reviewers of the CD of this recital wrote: “I checked out Mr. Swanson’s website and saw that he and Mr. Gompper are continuing to take this program on the road in 2009. Too bad NYC is not on the list, as I would love to hear it in concert.” (Complete review at this link.)

Justify your show’s existence in haiku form.
war changes nations
all suffer some aren’t aware
winners also lose

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