A funny song about a serious thing
Lost Lou and Peter Barryman tune about conservation gets new life.
Photo: Lou and Peter Barryman record the video for their song, "A Little Water"
Eleven years ago, Madison songwriting duo Lou and Peter Berryman wrote a little jingle, a short but important tune about water conservation called “A Little Water.” The new song had been commissioned by Madison Water Utility.
“We were excited about it, and we gave it a shot,” recalls Peter. “Lou writes the melodies and I write the lyrics to all of our stuff. I was so thrilled when she came up with a melody that sounded like water running.”
“Plus I think we all like jingles,” adds Lou. “There’s something about them—really little songs.”
But when the little song arrived at Madison Water Utility, it was shelved.
“We decided not to push the Lou and Peter Berryman song at that time,” says MWU Chief Administrative Officer Robin Piper.
Back in 2007, the utility was facing growing public concern about naturally-occurring manganese in the city’s drinking water. Utility officials were focused on implementing a comprehensive water main flushing program and planning for the construction of filtration systems to deal with the problem. A catchy song about conservation didn’t fit.
“It seemed like we needed to put on a more serious face as a utility, that we were serious about water quality,” Piper says. “For that time, we just felt it was best to put the song on the shelf.”
And that’s where the song would sit for nearly a decade.
“We were disappointed because we were proud of it, and we wanted people to hear it,” says Lou.
Over the years, utility staff members involved in the decision to record a jingle either retired or moved on. Few who remained had any idea a song ever existed.
“We have been here the same as ever writing songs and being Lou and Peter Berryman for the last ten years. And in that time, Madison Water Utility completely forgot about us,” laughs Lou.
But in late 2016, Madison Water Utility reached out to the Berrymans once again. The old CD had been discovered on an office shelf, and this time, the utility wanted to use it.
“It’s like a miracle that it was found,” says Lou.
“We were very surprised,” says Peter. “We were sure glad that it was resurrected.”
But the utility did request a couple of changes to the original song’s lyrics.
“One of them was that the aquifer, which we mentioned in the first song as being down, was now up,” says Peter. “And that was good news!”
The utility also wanted its name to be part of the song.
“Well ‘Madison Water Utility’ is just a natural waltz, and that’s why we worked it into an introduction that was a waltz, and the rest of the song is in 4/4.”
The new song—and an accompanying video made its debut on YouTube in June.
“We were absolutely thrilled. To do something like this with something we believe in,” says Peter.
It’s a song with an important message that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
“It’s an interesting challenge, that issue of humor. With a song like this, you have to be real careful that you make it funny but not flippant,” Peter says. "We’ve also performed it live a few times and have had good reactions.”
Lou’s not surprised their fans are embracing “A Little Water.”
“It was like, ‘Oh here are Lou & Peter doing what they do best – writing a funny song about a serious thing.’ So that’s great.”
“I think Lou and Peter are icons of the city music scene,” says Piper. “And they’re able to get across a message in a way that has a Madison flavor to it. I’m glad we found that song.”