Gwyneth Walker

Lessons from the Sea

for SSAA Chorus, Narrator, and Piano (2006)

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Read a letter to Gwyneth Walker by Kevin Salzman, regarding the interpretation of this work.
Read New Gwyneth Walker Work Combines Nature, Music, and Literature by Jim Lowe, The Times Argus. (2008)
Read a review of Lessons from the Sea (2006) for SSAA chorus, narrator, and piano by Jim Lowe, The Times-Argus.

View a video presentation of this work performed by the Bella Voce Women's Chorus of Vermont, Dawn O. Willis, conductor with Reeve Lindbergh, narrator.


Commissioned by Bella Voce Women’s Chorus - Burlington, Vermont, Dawn O. Willis, music director.

Lessons from the Sea brings to the concert stage the words of Anne Morrow Lindbergh (1906-2001) in her well-known and much beloved book, Gift from the Sea (1955). The author writes of her experiences during a sojourn by the beach, on Captiva Island, FL. This is a time of reflection upon the demands of her lifestyle -- balancing the roles of mother, wife, homemaker and writer. Although these conflicts (inner and outer) are extreme, they are not unique to Anne Morrow Lindbergh. These are universal concerns for women. And thus, the book has spoken directly to many readers over many generations.

As the author examines shells found on the beach, she finds instruction for hew own life: Simplicity (Hermit Crab), Solitude (Moon Shell) and Ebb-and-Flow (Argonauts). These shell explorations form the core of this cantata, and are framed by a Prologue (“The Beach”) and Epilogue (“The Beach at my Back”), Three shells. Three lessons from the sea.

In this cantata presentation, the Narrator portrays Anne Morrow Lindbergh, while the chorus provides commentary, in the role of ALL WOMEN. It is envisioned that adding the musicaland staged elements to the reading might bring dramatic life to the words, as a dialogue between author and readers. The musical patterns themselves, especially heard in the piano accompaniment, often portray the waves on the sea, the solitude of the moon shell or even a hermit crab scurrying across the sand! The choral singing floats above the waves, echoing the words of the Narrator, and expanding upon them. There is time for movement (dance) and even the sounds of the commuter train symbolizing the fast-paced suburban lifestyle.

At the conclusion, the chorus summarizes the entire set of sea lessons in song. And the Narrator wanders off, saying “There are more shells to find. This is only a beginning.”

Notes by the composer