Classical 91.5

Music expresses love, concern for Great Lakes

Jul 8, 2019

Composer Margaret Brouwer
Credit Photo Credit: Christian Steiner

Composer Margaret Brouwer lives in Ohio, near Lake Erie. She loves the natural beauty of the Great Lakes and she’s worried about them.

She has composed her love for Lake Erie -- and her concerns for its future --  into a musical work called "Voice of the Lake."


"The Great Lakes are actually the largest body of fresh water in the world," and yet, she says, "We take it so for granted. People don’t realize what a wonderful natural treasure we have." 

She’s concerned about farm runoff that feeds toxic algae blooms, people dumping trash, and the dirt being dredged from the Cuyahoga River being dumped in the lake.

In her music, she started with sounds of people interacting with the lake.

"I think a lot about sounds before every piece that I write, and the sounds that I want to create," she explains, "so I was thinking a lot about the sounds of the lake, the sounds of the children splashing in the water." 

In addition to depicting the ways that people interact with the water, she includes scenes showing innovative ways people have tried to control and stop the algae, and a portrayal of a public hearing about lake dumping.

"I really believe that music should be two equal parts: One would appeal to the intelligence, to your brain -- and one would appeal to your soul and your heart and your emotions.  All the music is pretty emotional, actually."

"A lot of it is beautiful, wonderful, happy music (in) the first part, and there’s angry music, there’s very sad music, too," she says. "The soprano plays the role of the person who loves the lake and sings about it in the first part, and then she is very upset and angry in the second part about the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  In the other parts, her arias are very, very sad.  She doesn’t understand; she doesn’t know what to do about it. She’s trying to figure it out." 

In the end, Brouwer says, "I don’t really give an answer in this piece, other than showing the people who are doing something.  The children ask people to help; they say, 'we need help', and they’re asking everyone to work together to help the lake."

Brouwer says she struggled with how exactly to end the piece.

"I could have made it fictional, and had it be something where people were all leaving the area because there was no good drinking water and people were dying, because that could happen," she says. "Right now, I just decided to leave it up in the air with what’s going to happen, who’s going to get involved." 

"Voice of the Lake" has been performed at an International Symposium for the North American Lake Management Society in Cincinnati and at the Conservancy for Cuyahoga Valley National Park, as well as in more traditional concert settings. Brouwer also plans to someday turn it into an opera, with a story set in and around the lake. A recording is now available on DVD and to watch on YouTube