Gwyneth Walker

The Great Lakes

for SATB Chorus and Piano (2018)
for SATB Chorus and Orchestra (2019)

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Download a PDF file of the poetry used in this work.


Commissioned by the Toledo Choral Society, Rick Napierala - Music Director, for premiere in February 2020, Toledo, Ohio

The Great Lakes is a musical journey across the magnificent five lakes bordering the Eastern US and Canada. Texts by American and Canadian poets have been selected as lyrics for this cantata. The journey moves from East (Lake Ontario) to West (Lake Superior), stopping to explore the unique character of each lake en route.The songs range from elegiac (such as the Prologue and Epilogue based on poetry of William Wilfred Campbell) to introspective (Walt Whitman's "By Blue Ontario's Shore") to humorous (delighting in the names of the islands in Lake Huron). Several short poems by Carl Sandburg (Lake Michigan) are interpreted as soli or duets, in a more expressive and intimate manner. Lake Superior, of course, is grand!

Since The Great Lakes was commissioned by the Toledo Choral Society, special attention has been given to the Lake Erie song. On request from members of the Chorus, storm references have been included in the music. Yet the voyagers survive!

O! wind so sweet and swift. O! danger-freighted gift
Bestowed on Erie with her waves that foam and fall and lift,
We laugh in your wild face, and break into a race
With flying clouds and tossing gulls that weave and interlace.

Although the preliminary form of the cantata has been scored for chorus with piano accompaniment, the final version will be orchestrated. Therefore, the composer has enjoyed allowing her imagination to roam into orchestral possibilities.

Notes by the composer