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Drexel Students Write Songs About Biodiversity for ‘Anthems for the Anthropocene’ Contest

April 14, 2023

James McKinney leads a songwriting workshop
James McKinney leads a songwriting workshop to kick off the 2023 "Anthems for the Anthropocene" contest.

When the theme of “biodiversity” was announced for the 2023 Anthems for the Anthropocene contest, gears started turning immediately for Assistant Professor of Music Industry James McKinney in the Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design, who is serving as a judge and songwriting workshop host for the event. He quizzed the student-songwriters on what first came to their minds.

Whales… The imbalance of male and female trees that creates an excess of pollen… How humans connect to or disconnect from animals….

Within the broad theme, each participant began connecting lyrics and a melody to an original song that will compete in the second annual Anthems for the Anthropocene songwriting contest held by Drexel’s office of Climate & Sustainability.

“I started writing before the initial meeting, and I just based it on climate change so when I heard biodiversity, I changed a few lyrics to fit the theme more,” entertainment and arts management major Stephen Chase Greene said. “I involved more animals and went in-depth about the concept of the blanket of greenhouse gases and how the situation is deteriorating. I thought about how other plants and animals may be fine after humans, because we aren’t the center of the universe.”

By April 12, six Drexel University students, who range in majors from public health to business to music industry, had submitted songs to a panel of judges, which includes professors; a University librarian; several high-profile music industry professionals; and last year’s second-place winner, recent alumni Max Gallagher (BA mathematics ’22), who is now embarking on a music career of their own.

The first contest (with a simple theme of “climate change”) was held last year as part of the Climate & Sustainability team’s Climate Case Competitions, but the event is now a standalone contest. Executive Director of Sustainable Development Strategy Jen Britton had wanted to do a song contest since the Climate & Sustainability team first started meeting in 2020 and was inspired by her own favorite climate anthem, “Oh Larsen B” by British Sea Power.

“If knowing the data on climate change were enough, we would have fixed the problem 50 years ago,” Britton said. “We work at a university, and I have so many colleagues who are committed to climate problem solving and who are just really frustrated that people aren’t listening to the data and their impulse is to talk about the data harder. We think that artistic expression has a lot of potential for reaching people’s hearts.”

Winners will be announced at a concert at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University on April 21 during the Academy’s Earth Day festivities. Voting for the People’s Choice winner is open to anyone with a Drexel email address from April 17–20.

Greene is new to the contest, but he’s been a songwriter for years and he also grew up with a family that emphasized taking care of the environment. He wanted to get involved in the community at Drexel and showcase his talents one more time before he graduates this year.

“It was a cool opportunity to show that it’s important to talk about saving the world, but at the same time, show people my passion,” Greene said.