Gwyneth Walker

Songs in Motion

for Mezzo-Soprano and Piano (2015)

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These songs share a common element of motion. Each of the poems focuses on a central image which suggests movement, either subtle or overt. And therefore, the singer and pianist are instructed (and permitted) to bring the poetry to life through gestures and specialized performance techniques.

The opening song, Key Ring, speaks of a child's wonderment at her grandfather's key ring, which was swung to and fro. Perhaps, in a child's imagination, the keys unlocked "mysteries!" The song closes with the jingling of the key chain, as simulated in the piano accompaniment.

Summary by the Pawns is a game of chess, with the pianist exploring the black and white keys, as the opposing players with their dichotomy of colors. Meanwhile, the singer moves in "pawnlike" steps during piano interludes. With a final gesture, the pianist knocks the pawn (singer) off of the chess board!

As in Spring, buds open for The April Lovers. The piano introduction spreads notes apart on the keyboard, as flowers in bloom. Appropriately, the lyrics are "Green is happening." Flowing/flowering arpeggiated accompaniment surrounds the climactic phrase of "Early lovers never question much." At the end of the song, "green-green-green-green" buds pop open around the stage, to the singer's delight!

The fourth song, An Hour to Dance, truly is dance music. "We whirl over the meadows of music" in a light, quick waltz. We whirl past our sadness, beyond time. And, on the topic of time, Alice (in Wonderland) and the Rabbit make a brief appearance, causing us to slow down our waltz. But then the dance resumes. The singer whirls through this song, and leaps for love!

A most unusual and powerful poem forms the basis for the final song, Take My Hand. The motion in this song is that of a passing train, which might be considered a symbol of life moving by. The poet remembers her childhood, when she felt alone and alienated (the train passes by), she accepts that her only home is in her poems, and now she is going blind (the train passes by), the fullness of her life ends beneath the "wheels of Time" (the train passes again, crying in the night).

Train-in-motion activity is present throughout this song. The opening measures involve the pianist tapping across the piano edge as a train passing. Later, as the singer sings "coming to a crossing..." the sideways movement of the train is followed. A train whistle ("oo") is heard. The final vocal sound is the steam coming from the engine. "Here end my tracks of passion, reason, rhyme."

Notes by the composer