November 19, 2002
Dear Dr. Walker,
Hello; my name is Rose Babington. I am a junior at Laurel School in Shaker Heights, Ohio, and a member of the Glee Club and Choir there. We performed your "Songs for Women's Voices" set in the Glee Club just this past year, as well as "How Can I Keep from Singing?" in our recent Choir repertoire. Our director, Dr. Charles Carr, has told us much about you, and I have enjoyed performing your pieces.
In our Advanced Placement English class, we were assigned to write a personal paper on success and its meaning in our lives. Part of the assignment includes writing letters to others for their views on success. For my paper, I am interested in finding out how people in various professions and levels of fame view success. I would be very grateful if you could share with me your thoughts as a successful and famous composer of music. Was it your life's ambition to become a composer? Have you ever wished to do something else, and if so, what? Are you happy with your life thus far? How do you define success? And do you consider yourself successful?
I understand that these are random and odd questions coming from a strange high school girl, but I would very much enjoy hearing your opinions if you have the time. Thank you very much.
Class of 2004, Laurel School
November 19, 2002
I am delighted to hear from you, and to know that my music has continued to find its way into the repertoire of the Laurel School Glee Club. Please give my greetings to Charles Carr.
I have a photo of your chorus on my web site in the Performers Gallery. If this photo needs updating, perhaps you will email me a 2002 version.
Your letter poses thoughtful questions. I shall do my best to answer.
Yes, I have always wanted to be a composer. And, I have been creating music since the age of two. So, perhaps my answer should be: Yes, I always have been a composer.
I have done other things in addition to composing music. As a child, I participated in many sports, especially tennis. Also, I have an interest in the sciences. My father was a Physicist. And, I studied Physics at Brown University along with Music.
But, during the times of tennis and science activities, there was always the voice from within expressing itself through musical composition.
Your word 'success' is not a comfortable word for me. I realize when I read your letter that I cringe each time the word appears. Perhaps I can explain.
To me, music is a gift from God. To be able to sing or play an instrument well is indeed a gift from God. To create music is a gift from God.
Therefore, if one pursues this craft, develops one's skills and is able to put them to use, this is a form of worship.
If one writes music which touches the soul of just one other person, this is indeed a form of worship. If the music reaches many people, it is even more an experience of faith.
If one trains oneself to develop musical skills, and then is able to write many works which get into print and then into the hands of many musicians, this may be viewed as 'success'. Or, it may be viewed as a manifestation of the course of life intended by God for any one of us.
For the music to 'succeed,' it must sell. And in order for it to sell, other people must come forward to respond to the music.
In other words, 'success' in my line of work depends equally upon my skills (innate and acquired through training) and upon the good support of people like you and Dr. Charles Carr. This is not simply a matter of my drive to succeed. It is something which is beyond my planning. And thus, I view it as a matter of faith.
I should say "thank you!"
I believe that if a composer achieves the sort of 'success' whereby her music is reaching many people, then it is time for the composer to focus even more on the craft and the message of the music. If indeed this music is widely performed, then it is more important than ever to write with skill, and to present those messages that are of lasting beauty.
To write well, and to be able to reach other people with my music, is indeed a source of happiness. It feels like responsibility, reverence, technical challenge and joy all mixed together! This is a career of faith. And the word 'success' seems hollow by comparison.
I hope that my comments have been helpful to you and your paper.
January 27, 2003
I am writing a little article about you for the Staten Island Arts Council Newsletter, and wanted to ask a couple of questions. I've been reading your very interesting bio in the Grove/Norton Encyclopedia of Women Composers, and am wondering....
How long did you live in New York City? (Folks here will probably enjoy the fact that you are from NYC.)
You began composing at age two? There has to be a story behind that! Were your parents musical?
When did you begin your formal musical training? Do you play any instruments?
You were a nationally-ranked junior tennis player? Did you ever think about being a professional? Did your sports life "compete" with your musical life?
Most everything else I think I have found on your website, unless there's anything specifically you'd like to say about coming to Staten Island.
We are so looking forward to your visit!!
Thanks very much,
January 27, 2003
Greetings, Carolyn --
I am not familiar with the Grove article. But, I have tried to put all data on the web site. Did you read the article by Ruth Horowitz, and the interview with Gene Brooks? Both of these have considerable bio data.
I did not live in NYC more than a month. Then, out to New Canaan, CT. But, I do have family ties to NY. On my mother's side, I am descended from seven generations of Quakers living on Long Island. These include the founders of the Locust Valley Friends School. Also on the my mother's side, I am descended from the Van Anden family who founded and published the Brooklyn Daily Eagle newspaper. The Van Anden name is inscribed on the Brooklyn Bridge. And I know that my mother was always very proud of her Brooklyn heritage.
On my father's side, I am descended from the Hoffman family who built the General Theological Seminary on W. 20th St. (Manhattan). Eugene Hoffman was the Dean of the Seminary, and my grandmother grew up on those lovely grounds. I have visited often, and even composed music for the Seminary.
My grandfather was Dr. John Walker, a Surgeon, and the President of the NY Medical Society. Thus, the NY connections. And of course, with this medical background, I would have been born in a NY hospital!
My father, John Walker, Jr., was a Physicist and Inventor. Thus, interest in the sciences was in my blood. And inventiveness. In the Charles Ives manner of doing things, I taught myself to write music and to play musical instruments. Although formal training was offered to me, in the form of piano lessons, at an early age, I chose to do my own writing, rather than to be forced to learn to practice scales, and play other people's music.
By the time I was in High School, I was writing all of the choral arrangements for my singing group, as well as original works. At this time, I took advantage of Music Theory Training offered at my school. When I went to college (Brown University), I studied both Physics and Music. Because of my years of composing/arranging already, and my one Theory Class at High School, I was exempted from some of the Basic Theory courses in College, and went right to composing for the orchestra!
And then, of course, I received both a Masters and a Doctorate from the Hartt School of Music.
At Brown, the Tennis Team practice conflicted with my singing group. We tried rescheduling the Tennis Team. But ultimately, there were not enough hours in the afternoon to do both. So, I chose the singing group.
To this day, I continue to love sports. And, I play indoor tennis a few afternoons a week. Since composing is a sedentary job, it is very healthy to have some sports to keep the body moving!
My parents both had excellent musical ears. I believe that I owe most of my musical talents to my mother, Adele Van Anden Frank Walker.
March 12, 2003
Hello! My name is Angela Crosby, and I am currently student teaching at a high school in Raleigh, NC. I am working with my ninth-grade women's ensemble on "I Will Be Earth," and I have been trying to research the poet to try to give some insight to the students on what this poem means. They obviously know that it is a very passionate text, but we are having difficulty deciphering the section that begins with "How be steady earth that now a flood." I would appreciate any insights into the text that you could give me. We absolutely love this piece...you have such a gift for painting the text with lovely melodies and harmonies! Thank you. Have a great day!
Angela Renee Crosby
January 27, 2003
Dear Angela --
Thank you for your letter about I WILL BE EARTH. I am delighted that your students are enjoying singing this work. Often I do receive questions regarding the poetry, and the musical interpretation. Here are my thoughts.
I would encourage your singers to gain the confidence to interpret the poetry in the manner in which it forms meaning for each one of them. In other words, there is no single interpretations of a poem. Each person will find their own meaning.
And, when the poetry is set to music, then the musical motives ought to shed light on the composer's interpretation.
You speak of the section beginning: "How be steady, earth that's now a flood, the root is the oar afloat where has grown our bud..." [I hope that I am quoting this correctly. I am on the road with concerts, and do not have the music or poetry book with me.] As you look at the music, you see the change in rhythm. The chorus and the piano have different rhythms, if I remember correctly. The singers sing duplets over the piano's three eighth-notes per dotted-half beat. This is all to express the unsteadiness, the ungroundedness of falling in love. One feels "at sea" when one is in love. One feels "afloat!" Thus, the music and the lyrics work together to express this "loss of balance."
I hope that I have offered some explanation which will help. You may ask further questions. Of course, one needs to remember that Scorpio is the astrological sign of Passion. This will help with the understanding of that part of the poem.
Perhaps you and/or your singers have purchased May Swenson's collection of "Love Poems" which contains this as well as many of her other poems. I have set many of these poems to music within the set SONGS FOR WOMEN'S VOICES.
Best wishes --
April 23, 2003
Correspondence with Darcy Crum, student at Hamilton College researching the choral music of Gwyneth Walker
By background of composition, I really mean, "What inspired Dr. Walker to write each piece?" Since my theme is loosely based on the efforts of women composers, through their compositions, to heighten awareness of women's contributions to society, I would be interested to know how Dr. Walker chose her texts and if these compositions are at all inspired by women of the past, present day, or perhaps her own experiences as a woman in the arts. Historical significance is along those same lines. In other words, "Are there any historical figures or events that provided a spring board for the creative expression and composition of these pieces?"
Again, thank you so much for your attention to this matter. I will be in touch very soon!
April 23, 2003
Dear Darcy --
As you may have read on the web site, I have been writing music since the age of two. This is simply something which I do. It is my form of expression. And, I have always felt drawn to the musical language for its beauty and strength.
My career focuses on creating new music on commission for performers across the country. This spans orchestral, chamber, vocal and choral works, for groups in every part of the US.
Therefore, the impetus for each work comes from the commission. I only accept commissions that I feel will allow me to create something new and special. So, I do not write every work which comes my way. But, once I accept a commission, I endeavor to create something which will be well-suited to the performers and their audience.
Thus, "inspiration" comes somewhat from other people. I am writing for them.
Because of my Quaker egalitarian background, I write works for all levels of performers with equal diligence. It does not matter to me if the commissioning ensemble is professional or amateur, urban or rural, young or old. They all get my best efforts.
Also in keeping with my egalitarian views, I choose texts that are written by men and women poets in equal amounts. This seems fair to me. And although I have written number of works for women's chorus, I have written even more for mixed chorus. And, I have some works for men's chorus on my agenda.
In general, I try to have a balance in my catalog. The instrumental works balance the choral works in number, roughly. And, I keep adding more each year, hopefully within a balance.
In terms of history, I started composing music way before I was old enough to even know of composers from the past. And, I just kept going! So, I would have to say that I am not influenced by artists from the past. Rather, I am probably a typical "New Englander" in terms of being an individual. I taught myself how to compose when I was a child. And, I have simply followed this path. I am not easily influenced by external factors.
By looking at my catalog, you can see the general topics of all of my music, and my choral music in particular. Anything with personality, humor, energy, imagination and spiritual depth is for me. Anger and destruction are not for me.
I do not believe that many of my works refer to people from the past. The one exception to this would be the third song from the set, THE SPIRIT OF WOMEN. This song, "Never Sit Down!" is an updated version of "Sit Down, Sister." And in my version, I make reference to Women's Rights Activists from the past. The reason that I do this is that the song was commissioned by the CA High School All State Women's Chorus. I thought that those young women, and their teachers, would enjoy learning about some of these remarkable women from the Past: Sojourner Truth, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, etc.
In general, of course, the women in my music are portrayed as strong characters. Why not!_______________
I hope that I have provided answers to your questions.
July 19, 2003
Correspondence with Stacey Decosmo, composer/songwriter
I am an aspiring songwriter and actually just started pursuing this avenue since my children are getting older. I have written some songs (3 of them are copyrighted) so far and have more in the works. They range from a Christmas song to Country to Pop. I was wondering if you can help direct me on how to get my music out there and published without it coming back unsolicited? Can I have permission to send a demo? I would really appreciate any insight you could give me or referrals. Thanks for taking the time to read this and I do hope to speak to you soon.
July 19, 2003
Getting one's music published is indeed a difficult task, but not impossible!
I would suggest that you create more than the three songs which you mention. A larger body of works will show your sincere interest in composition. Once you have a good healthy selection (perhaps 6 to 10), gather them together with scores and CD. This will be your portfolio.
I believe that one way to proceed would be to discuss your work with your supporters, especially performers. Do you have some special Choral Directors, Singers or Music Teachers who might lend their assistance? If so, it would be effective if one of them contacted publishers on your behalf. If your colleague could communicate to a publisher that your music indeed is something which is enjoyable to perform and to hear performed, this would likely interest a publisher. [In other words, do not initiate contact with the publisher yourself.]
Once this "door is opened," you will be invited to submit your works. And, they will be given serious attention.
It might also be helpful for you to keep a list of who has performed which works, and how often. Showing multiple performances of your compositions indicates quality work. And, providing data on the types of performing ensembles will help the publisher to understand your style and focus.
Good luck to you in your quest for publication.
January 29, 2004
Questions from the students of teacher Corin Maple at Hudson Park Elementary School, Rainier, Oregon
1. Are you married?
2. Do you have any kids or grand kids?
3. What made you think of music?
4. What is your favorite color?
5. Do you have any pets?
6. What is your mom's and dad's name?
7. What is your favorite cows name?
And that's it!! Thanks again for spending your time doing this. You should have seen the look on their faces when they knew they could "talk" to you. The students who were studying Beethoven were definitely jealous.
January 29, 2004
Dear Corin and Students:
Greetings from Gwyneth Walker.
I am pleased to be the composer whom you are studying in Music Class.
Here are answers to your questions.
I will start out by saying that if these are the sorts of questions you would be asking Beethoven if he came to your Music Class (!), you will receive many of the same answers from me as well.
Just like Beethoven, I am not married, and I do not have any children. Composing music is a full, complete life. And, my musical compositions are my "children." I created them, and I love them, just I would create and love children.
I do not have a favorite color, since I live my life by sound, not sight. My favorite sound is silence, so that I can think about music! Other sounds that I like are hearing the wind come over the fields on the farm where I live, and the sounds of the cows mooing in the barn.
I do not have pets, because I travel often to attend performances of my music. It would not be fair to my pets to leave them for long periods of time. So, I do not have pets.
I like the cows who live on the farm. My favorite cow name is Clematis. You can see a photo of her on my web site under the FANFARE FOR THE FAMILY FARM.
Both of my dear parents have now passed away, but I think of them often. Their names are John and Adele Walker. They both loved music. My father was a Physicist who loved music and tennis. My mother was mostly a housewife, who loved traveling (with my father), and going to the Opera.
I have composed music since I was two years old. So, I did not "think" about writing music. I simply have always written music. This is what I love to do. It is how I express myself.
These are all of my answers. Once again, I think that Beethoven would give similar answers to most of the questions, although he did not live on a dairy farm.
May 13, 2004
Music as Language:
Music is a powerful language which can express emotions and form. It is this combination of the two which is of interest to me.
The melodic shapes, harmonic structures and rhythmic patterns are capable of bringing words to life, and giving feelings a direct expression. And yet, it is how one shapes these musical elements that leads to a satisfying and effective communication.
Expressing feelings without form would lead to an amorphous composition which would not sustain interest. Conversely, form without content would be equally disappointing.
Music can speak the language of the soul. And it can do so with the strength of the logical mind as its agent. This is the power of music.
May 19, 2004
[In response to request for information on "Blow the Candles Out" from Patrick Moore, Choral Director, Houlton (ME) High School Chorale]
Dear Patrick --
I have received your inquiry into "Blow the Candles Out." And, I shall try to be of some help.
Of course, the goal of the composer is to write everything in the score, so that no extra instructions are needed. However, there is always more to say!
P. 3, the opening measures in the piano are meant to be waves. And, m. 8, the grace notes are a little flicker of candlelight. More of same in m. 12.
For the chorus, of course, articulations such as the staccato dots around mm. 24-5 are important to produce. And the tenuti in m. 26. Actually, I think that if the chorus simply sings what is written on the page, including all articulations, the song ought to come across exactly as intended. Crescendi on the word "Blow" as in m. 36 are intended to be the blowing out of the candle.
M. 53, lots of "s" sound in "kiss kiss kiss" to sound like kissing. M. 56, the "na" sounds like the vowel of "night."
The final beat of the entire song can be conducted with a little flick of the hand, as if chasing the last light of the candle away.
Dr. Walker --
Thanks so much for your response. Your comments do make a great deal of sense, and I agree with your statements about articulation. Your composition has a lot to teach about various articulations, and I have used it to reinforce staccato, tenuto, and accents.
One thing I have "interpreted" is to have the singers sing the word "out" as "ha-ha-ha until the basses sing the word "out" on the final note. It seems to work well.
We have been discussing the meaning of the text itself, and working on expression. We have discussed the meaning of leaving a candle in the window for a loved one who is away, and I have told the students that this song is one of celebration as a "wayfaring sailor" comes homes, hopefully to stay and start a family. I hope we're not far off the mark.
I was wondering how you came upon this tune, if it had any personal meaning as you composed the work.
Again, thanks for the insight, and we are enjoying your composition.
The audio files of this song on your site were great, and very helpful. I even had my students compare and contrast phrasing and other differences in the performances.
Patrick --You and your students have certainly done your research! And yes, the historical background on the tradition of leaving a candle burning in the window, awaiting the return of the sailor from the sea, is completely accurate, and relevant to this song.
You asked how I came upon this tune. I spent many years as a folksinger, especially during high school and college. Thus, many tunes of this sort came my way. In fact, I always thought that everyone else knew all of these tunes as well! However, I realize that the American folk music tradition is a very rich tradition not necessarily known to all. And thus, I have enjoyed bringing many of my favorite songs to the concert stage. These adaptations often involve adding new words to the songs, attempting to render the songs a bit less strophic, and even including harmonic modulations that did not occur in the original song.
There is no personal meaning attached to this song. Simply, it is one of the many folk songs which I have always enjoyed singing.
August 26, 2004
Good day Dr. Walker.
My name is Marcie Bullock. I'm a senior at Marshall University in Huntington, WV, currently majoring in Music Education. The reason for this e-mail is my interest in your compositions. The music history class I'm enrolled in requires a paper to be presented on a 20th Century composer, and after performing "Though Love Be A Day" my junior year, I chose you to present my paper on.
I basically wanted to tell you how much I appreciate your works, the ones that I have been able to get ahold of thus far, that is. I also wanted to ask you if you would provide any insight to your thought process on the compositional and emotional level of your pieces when creating them. Anything that you would/could tell me about your work and work ethic would be wonderful and great appreciated.
I apologize if this e-mail is bothersome, for that wasn't the intention. I was hoping to get an inside input, for it would be an excellent reference point, and a high point of the paper. I thank you for taking the time to read this, and I hope for a reply. I look forward to performing more of your works.
August 27, 2004
Dear Marcie --
You have asked for some thoughts on my compositional process, particularly with reference to songs. So, here are a few sentences.
When I create any of my works, whether with texts or without, I aim to employ both my sensitivities (emotions) and my intelligence to create a work of meaning and logic. In other words, I try to have a message in my music, whether that is in expressing a text, my feelings about the text, or simply a musical message. And, I endeavor to shape the music so that the message can be most effectively delivered.
When composing songs, I look for central images in the poetry which I want to bring to the forefront of the expression. And, I work to find the right form for the song which will allow the music to speak cogently.
It is valuable to have an emotional response to a poem. But, it is equally valuable to structure one's interpretation so that the music has dramatic and intellectual strength.
My aesthetic is to aim for a tightly formed work where not a note is wasted! The music should be to the point, with content worth hearing. Both the heart and the mind are at work in composing the music.Sincerely,
April 21, 2005
I am currently rehearsing your three Harlem Songs with the Chamber Singers from the Minnesota Center Chorale for performance on May 15 on a concert titled The Poets Sing at the Holy Angels Performing Arts Center in St. Cloud MN. We would appreciate some clarification about a few details.
1. I'm assuming the "ta" is pronounced "tah" (you'll see later why I ask about this one).
Harlem Night Song
2. Beginning tempo is printed as dotted quarter = 60. Should this be dotted half as in m. 49? I guess it could also be quarter = 60?
3. mm. 96-104 - Should performers avoid stress or stress the word "love" (countering the barlines)?
4. m. 131 - glissando also in SA, I assume?
5. mm. 137-40 - Still swung eighths or are these equal?
6. What about the pronounciation of "ta" in this movement? We think that at least those beginning in m. 13 (and all parallel passages) should be (could be?) ta as in "tambourines" (like anticipations of the word "tambourines." If so, then we like the consistency throughout this movement of also using that vowel at the beginning (soprano mm. 7-11; mm. 57-60; m. 64) What do you think?
7. m. 21 (and similar passages) - Do you envision "go - spel" or "gos - pel"? The staccato or an actual gap between the notes seems difficult to achieve with the "s" included in the first syllable. On the other hand, perhaps that isn't the affect you envisioned. Maybe we just need to work more at including the "s' with the first syllable and this cutting it off quickly? I'm assuming that the "sss" should not fill the time between the 2 vowels.
8. m. 118 - Could the tenors drop down to an A (2nd space) in order to have a larger interval so they can really do a gliss?
9. m. 117 - Shouldn't this be left hand? When the singers "play" the tambourine throughout the rest of the piece (including m. 120), the left hand is the tambourine and the right hand strikes the instrument. If we sweep our right hand in m. 117 as though it holds the tambourine, then how would if get back to our left hand for the final tap?
April 21, 2005
Dear Michele --
In the first song, the "tss" and "ta" sounds are as written. It would be fine to have the "ta" sounds here be similar to the "ta" sounds in the last song. In this case, the 'ta" is the same sound as the beginning of the word, "tambourines." You cleverly have already figured this out.
For the second song, "Harlem Night Song," yes, the opening metronome marking should be dotted half = 60.
In mm. 96-104, there should be no stress on any words. This is smooth, sustained singing, to contrast with later appearances of the same text, staccato and in other styles.
In m. 131, the Sopranos and Altos have glissandi.
In m. 137, the eighths are in swing rhythm.
In the last song, "Tambourines," the "ta" sound should be the same as the beginning of the word "tambourines."
In m. 21, "gospel" should be pronounced "go - spel," saving the "s" for the second syllable.
M. 117, you are correct in noting that the left hand is the hand which has been holding the (imaginary) tambourine. Therefore, this is the hand which can be shaken and raised.
And, in m. 118 (even starting in m. 117), the Tenors can start their glissando from the low A, for a more dramatic "swoop." That could be effective.
Thank you for these thoughtful questions. And, good luck with your upcoming performance.
April 27, 2005
Hello Dr. Walker,
I have some questions regarding the third movement of the Concerto for Bassoon and Strings.
I noticed on on of the recordings that in measure 64 on beat 3 she holds the high b-natural through to the end of the measure and on measure 65 she moves to the high c-natural in the middle of the triplet in beat 1.
Is this an option since it is much easier in that register to move from the high b-natural to the high c? Or would you prefer it strictly as written? The only option I see is to leave out the octave c-natural in measure 65 on beat 1.
Also, between letters P and T in the third movement there is an entire section that is not conducted. Is there a metronome marking for this section or is it completely freestyle especially between letters R and S?
Thank you, Dr. Walker.
April 27, 2005
Dear Ruth-Angela --
I am pleased to hear from you as you prepare to perform the Concerto for Bassoon and Strings.
In answer to your questions, in mm. 64-65 of the last movement, the low C (middle C) can be omitted if necessary. This does make the playing easier.
In the section from letter P to letter T, this is the cadenza. Although there is no metronome marking, there are the instructions about starting slowly and accel. in various phrases.
You will want to shape the cadenza in a manner which you feel is the most musical and interesting. This is what a cadenza is about -- free interpretation in order to achieve a good musical result.
If the composer were to insert a metronome marking and strict guidelines, then the cadenza would lose its value. This should be a section which features the interpretive powers of the soloist.
And, I am sure that you will find just the right manner of playing these phrases which suits your style.
September 12, 2005
My name is Josh Ferguson and I am a graduating senior at Marshall University in Huntington, WV. My final research paper and recital both contain your work, though love be a day. However, I am researching this piece from an accompanist's point of view. I was wondering if you had any insight or information that I may use in my paper as well as my preparation of your work. Where are the spots which emotionally an accompanist needs to be aware of? Which spots technically? etc. Anything would be helpful. I would be very grateful to have a reply on this topic. Thank you for your time and your music!
September 12, 2005 (contains replies from composer Gwyneth Walker and pianist Carson Cooman)
Dear Josh --
Your research topic sounds fascinating, discussing the song cycle THOUGH LOVE BE A DAY from the standpoint of the accompaniment.
As a first step, I notice that there are a number of recordings of these songs available. Most likely, you would want to compare the interpretation of the songs (both by the vocalist and the pianist) in these recordings. This comparison would give valuable insights into how these skilled accompanists approached the music.
I believe that I spotted four commercial recordings listed on the Recordings page. And then there is another fine performance on the website, with Tenor Peter Harvey.
I would defer to these skilled performers, since I am not a trained pianist.
Have you also investigated the musical analysis section of the site? I believe that there is an analysis of at least one of these songs on the site. This may prove to be helpful.
Best wishes --
Regarding your inquiry regarding Gwyneth Walker's songs, "from the accompanist's" piano of view, I thought I would share a few comments of my own. Although I have not recorded the songs, I have played the piano parts of nearly all of Dr. Walker's chamber music over time -- including accompanying two performances of though love be a day, with different singers.
As Dr. Walker pointed out to you, the website contains analyses of some of these songs, and the analyses there in general discuss how her musical language works. By comparing the different recorded performers, you will be able to hear various approaches to the playing and singing of these songs.
A few comments of my own and some of the poetic images I keep in mind when thinking about this cycle:
These songs are from from the late 1970's and represent a certain period in Walker's style (among the earliest of her mature works). The works of this period often involve a great metrical freedom, with an "unfolding spirit." They are often written in free meters, or without barlines for extended periods. Sometimes different tempi/meters exist at once (such as the middle section of "Still" where slow quintuplets in the very top of the RH overlap the triple meter accompaniment figuration lowerdown.) This shows the sense of the music existing as a long-stranded entity, and this should be kept in mind when pacing and spacing the music.
For me, each song in the set is thus a little journey that flowers from its introduction into something, usually before disappearing again. There is thus a freedom in the interaction between performer and singer. The accompanist supports the singer, but is also creating the shape and bloom of the harmonies -- as if providing the water and fertilizer to let the "flower" of the song's melodic material fully bloom.
When I play these songs, particularly the "slow" ones (such as "thy fingers make early flowers" and "Still"), I play them with a sense of "spacious openness." "Still" in particular is a poem that blooms towards intensity -- it is strongly passionate in its spirit and I play it keeping that passion in mind.
The songs "lily has a rose" and "maggie and millie and molly and may" I play very playfully -- as befits the poems, always keeping the touch light and spry. Although both poems are a tad "silly", they also each have a "serious" line or too which is important. Thus, like any true "scherzo", there is some serious kernel buried in the heart of its frivolity.
"After All White Horses" to me has the spirit of a "mystical dream." The imagery of the poem draws upon Medieval times and as such, I see the song as a looking back -- a veiled and beautiful recollection of things past.
In general, when accompanying any songs by any composer, I believe it is crucially important for the accompanist to be fully aware of the texts. Although the accompanist does not "sing" the words, the pianist should know these words every bit as well as the singer and should always have them fully in mind throughout. Only then can the true emotional depths of a song be found. In this sense, the pianist is a crucial and important partner in this endeavor -- as they must provide accompaniment which is sensitive and thoughtful to the ENTIRE conception of the song, not just the raw notes on the page.
November 1, 2005
Hello Gwyneth --
Thank you for the very kind email. Vocal Lyrica is thrilled to be experiencing your compositions. Like all great art, we never tire of rehearsing or singing your music. We have been using your web site regularly. In fact, one of our members has also done some additional research on May Swenson. At each of our rehearsals she provides informational “bites” about you and May! One of their questions at the last rehearsal was “Why did Gwyneth Walker choose May Swenson’s poetry?”
November 1, 2005
Dear Ginny --
You asked how I came to select the May Swenson poetry. I have answered this question in person a number of times. Now I realize that I should have put this information in writing, so that other (curious) people could read my response.
I shall preface this by saying that I am always looking for new American poetry to set to music. This is an ongoing search. So, if there is mention of a new poet in a magazine, newspaper or on TV, I always take an interest.
In the early 1990s, I was visiting at my parents' home in CT. They received the NY Times each morning. I often scanned the paper myself, although not reading it as thoroughly as my parents did.
I came across May Swenson's obituary. [!] This was very odd, since I never read the obituary section. But, for some reason, that morning, my eyes went across the page. And there was mention of May Swenson, who had just died.
The article about her included a few lines of her poetry. Immediately I liked this writing. It was succinct, imaginative, and varied. It touched upon many topics, not just the "self!"
There was a Memorial Service announced in the paper. So, I took it upon myself to go into NY and attend the service, even though I had never met May Swenson.
Many of her colleagues were at the service. They read her poems. I truly loved this poetry.
I was able to talk with one of May Swenson's friends who was involved in the Literary Estate. Thus, I gained permission to use the poetry in musical settings.
I own many volumes of May Swenson poetry. It is indeed special writing.
January 14, 2006
I am new to this visiting composer situation. Please help to educate me!
Artistic Director, The Singing Girls of Texas
January 15, 2006
Interacting with a Visiting Composer:
One treats a visiting composer in the same manner as one treats any visiting lecturer at a college or university. The university/department covers the travel and lodging costs, as well as a provides a per day honorarium. In return, it is expected that the visiting composer/lecturer will give some of his/her time to talking with students, attending rehearsals or masterclasses, and meeting with colleagues and audience members. It is very helpful if the schedule is agreed upon and provided in advance to the visiting composer. The schedule should ideally be worked out through discussions with the composer in the months before. This way, expectations for the visit can be synchronized and the maximum benefit can be realized from the composer's visit.
Also, one treats a visiting composer as a guest, in the manner in which anyone would want to be treated when traveling. The visiting composer is a person, not a package shipped on a plane. In other words, the visiting composer needs a bit of time to rest and settle in upon arrival. General courtesy and professionalism back and forth during both the planning process and the actual events leads to the best results.
February 3, 2006
Of the set of six songs (Songs for Women's Voices), "In Autumn" remains the biggest puzzle. We want to know the inspiration for including this poem in the set. The birds, dying figures, and colors are obvious, but by comparison, what is it’s connection with women? It seems opposite to "Women Should Be Pedestals"—just lie down inert unseen. Any inspiring comments to help drive us? Thanks.
February 3, 2006
Alan -- The six Songs for Women's Voices all have very different messages. This variety is what draws me to the May Swenson poetry. One underlying factor seems to be a positive life view. Whether the topic be feminism, romance or faith, the view is always one of beauty and positive energy.
For this song, I interpret the poetry to mean that when it is time for passing, she would simply lie down in the earth, part of nature ("same colored as grass and leaves"). And she would envision that birds be flying overhead. For this reason, I focus on the birds, and end with the two birds in flight, perhaps as the soul floating up to heaven.
Rather than battle death, she would rather let death be a time of uniting with the earth, peacefully, in beauty.
When interpreting a poem that has been set to music, I always recommend interpreting the music first, to see what the nature of the musical gestures are. In this song, there are sections of simplicity (the opening), the floating clouds in the middle, and the soul rising up to heaven at the end. This is a song of beauty and acceptance of death as part of the natural flow of existence.
The connection with women would be the same as any of the songs -- this is poetry written by a woman poet, set to music by a woman composer, to be sung by women singers. Of the entire set, only "Women Should Be Pedestals" is a feminist song. All of the others are "general" in nature in terms of women as topics of the poems.
Also, perhaps it might help if one viewed this song on three planes:
the earth (singing on middle C)
the clouds and shadows (mid-range singing in the middle of the song)
the birds in flight (the ending on the high F)
So although the body rests in the ground, the imagination rises into the clouds, and the soul floats off with the birds to heaven.
February 13, 2006
My teenagers are having a tough time with the lyrics of Women Should Be Pedestals. Any words of wisdom you would like to share that I can share with them? Thanks.
February 13, 2006
Women Should Be Pedestals" is a "tongue-in-cheek" song. This is a satire – the lyrics are not to be taken seriously. For, of course, we do not feel that women should be pedestals, "moving to the motions of men!"
The humor in this song becomes increasingly apparent as the song progresses. "Immobile" (sung by singers perhaps standing very upright and stiff), "smiling" (a smile on the faces of the singers) and the "Ah" (a large swoon!) bring the irony of the lyrics to the fore.
The final note in the accompaniment (the emphatic low C) serves to add a closing exclamation point to this lighthearted song.
February 23, 2006
Hello, Dr. Walker,
I am so glad to found about you on the internet. I have been looking for a great female composer who can be my daughter's role model. My daughter just turned 8 on Jan. 29th, and she is a 4th grader. I think you and Samantha have something in common. You both love music, animals, and nature. ... She just doesn't fit in with other kids in school, she wants to spend more time to play music, and she has asked me to do homeschooling. I don't think homeschooling is a good idea, and I really like to keep her in school. but, I do think after 8th grade, she will be 12 years old. It will the right time for her to move on to be in a institute that she can study music full time. In order for her to apply, she needs to be ready by time she is 11 years old. Dr. Walker, would you please give me advice on how I can help my daughter through her music journey.?
Dear Kitty --
I was interested to read about Samantha and her impressive musical skills. She does sound as though she is well on her way towards a musical career.
My advice will be based mostly on my own experiences, and may not be completely relevant to Samantha. But, I do want to give you whatever help I can.
You write that Samantha wishes to perform, compose and conduct. In my opinion, one cannot do all three of these things and do them well. Composing is an inner-oriented career. One composes in solitude. The other two careers that you mention are outer-oriented.
Mastering each one of these careers will take much time and training. I do not feel that one could give adequate time to all three careers to keep them all at a high level.
If Samantha truly wishes to pursue composition more than performing or conducting, I would advise her to discontinue her piano and violin studies, and find her own voice as a composer, away from teachers. Teachers will try to guide Samantha in her writing. And, she is too young for this. Her own voice needs to develop first.
Also (pardon me for saying this), I would strongly advise Samantha to find her own path in music, apart from her parents' participation. Let this be her career, her music and her voice. I think that the parents should stand back and let Samantha forge her own path.
Most writers have led solitary lives as children. They learn to communicate through their writing. Parents are best left out of the picture.
Of course, if Samantha has stronger interests in performing and conducting, then my advice would not be so valuable. So, once again, this is mostly up to her. By 8 years old, she no doubt has already formed strong ideas of what she wants. Let her do this on her own. Offer instruction when she asks. But mostly, let her find her own voice as a composer away from "hovering" teachers at this early age. Later, when she is in her mid-late teens, she will want to have formal instruction. By then, her voice as a composer will be formed well enough that the outside instruction will help her, but not smother her creativity.
best wishes to you and Samantha --
May 5, 2006
When Dr. Walker 'ties' an eighth note to a half note, for instance, is the consonant intended to be on the tied eighth (on the beat) or following the eighth (the "&")?
The cut-off comes on the beat where the eighth-note falls. This would make it the "British way," I suppose. Simply, it has always looked odd and awkward to me to have whole notes just "floating there" with not apparent end to them!
In studying the music of Italian and German composers (shall we take Richard Strauss as an example), I believe that tying the notes over to eight-note resolutions is common.
In most of my music, other than a few hymn-style works, I tie over to a downbeat for a definite cut-off.
May 19, 2006
I prefer not to be featured on a women's music concert, since I feel that we are beyond that point in our "evolution of enlightenment." Rather, an AMERICAN COMPOSERS concert would be perfect!
But let us not separate the men from the women composers, or even isolate/extract the women composers as some sort of oddity. For, in today's musical programs, men and women composers are represented both in a healthy balance.
I am just an American Composer, and do not view myself as a woman composer.
I am a Quaker, New England composer. Those are great categories as well. Quakers have always been egalitarians. Men and women are equal, and together, not separate.
July 11, 2006
My piano teacher and I discovered Rhythms from the North Country and we simply love the piece. I'm thinking about using it as the finale for my senior recital next year and I just had a few questions about the composer's vision for how this piece should be played. When I strum the strings, should I reach in and strum right near where the hammers hit the strings, or further back on the harp (past the frame)? Similarly, should I always be sitting during the piece or should I "pop up" to get to the strings. Finally, I'm serious about taking what the composer wrote literally while still adhering to those unwritten traditions behind different works. For instance, I noticed on Michael Arnowitt's interpretation (on your website) that he often fluctuates the tempo at the end of phrases and I'm guessing this is something that you wanted in the performance of the piece. Are there any other unwritten traditions or even local musics/histories that I should know about or even look into to get a better understanding of this piece?
July 12, 2006 (contains replies from composer Gwyneth Walker and pianist Carson Cooman)
Dear Kevin --
Thank you for your interesting letter, with detailed questions. I shall do my best to describe how I perform Rhythms from the North Country. But each performer will probably have a unique approach. And, the design of the particular piano may be a consideration.
I strum the strings just beyond the hammers (away from the pianist). I am able to do this by simply leaning forward, not "popping up." I cannot totally recall how Michael Arnowitt performed the music -- "popping up" or leaning forward.
It is to be assumed that musicians shape phrases in ways they feel are musically-satisfying. This is acceptable to the composer.
There is a fine rendition of this work by pianist Jamie Shaak on the CD "The Sun is Love." She performs some other piano selections on the CD, as well as beautifully accompanies Soprano Michelle Areyzaga. I strong recommend that you obtain and listen to this recording. [You might find that Jamie takes even more liberties with this piece than Michael Arnowitt!]
Good luck to you on your upcoming recital.
Best wishes --
Dear Kevin --
I do not have a great deal to add to the comments that Dr. Walker made to you about performing Rhythms from the North Country. I agree with you that it is a very enjoyable piece and makes an excellent recital "closer."
I too would recommend listening to both the Arnowitt and Shaak renditions of the piece to hear two different interpretations.
There should be no need to "pop up" from the bench to strum the strings. This would, in my opinion, be too much motion and might run the risk of breaking the rhythmic flow of the piece. The body should have plenty of room to move while still staying fully seated. (I have also strummed just beyond the hammers away from the pianist.)
Having performed the work a number of times, the biggest piece of advice that I have is to keep always the athleticism of the work in your mind. Dr. Walker's extensive background as an athlete (tennis player) is an influence on the pianistic style of this work. Thus, it requires a different sort of piano technique from Brahms, Chopin, or other pieces from the traditional piano repertoire.
Working out your own interpretation is a matter of getting into your own physicality and athleticism of the work. Rhythmic precision is important, but so is musical shape and a sense of fun and verve. Thus, I have found that it is a piece to learn (first getting all the notes underhand) and then to play with just a little bit of "abandon" -- as if one might be jumping around to make tennis points, etc. It is this process that lets you get the rhythms into your body so that -- just as an athlete would -- your body becomes a firm part of making the music. I don't know if you have had any Eurhythmics study in the course of your degree, but "Rhythms from the North Country" is a perfect piece to use Eurhythmics techniques to help in your learning and interpreting of the piece. It is a great example of a piece where "getting it into your whole body" will aid in your performance of the work.
July 22, 2006
Good luck to you. Be brave!
Here is the chronology, as I would recommend:
1. Talk with a Choir Director, or several, asking about what sorts of pieces they need the most
2. Go home and compose pieces in this genre, but in your own style of course
3. Tell the Choir Directors that you are working on the music -- keep them updated
4. Present the completed pieces to the Choir Directors
5. Attend a rehearsal at least, as well as the premiere, to see how things are going, and to make any small edits you can. Tape the rehearsal if possible.
6. Attend the premiere, and record it...evaluating the music as it is performed before a listening congregation.
7. Make any post-premiere edits you think would be helpful
8. Talk with the Choir Directors about which publishers might be suitable for your music. Assemble a packet of several anthems, with recordings, as well as your bio and list of all of the works you have composed. Ask the Choir Director to send the packet, along with a personal recommendation and suggestions on who might program this music, to the publisher
That ought to work. That is how I have proceeded in the past.
April 12, 2007
I am a senior college student at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and I am doing a presentation on your music for my Choral Literature class. I know that you are very busy and I have read through your website, but I was wondering if you could possibly answer a few questions for me regarding your music, specifically in the choral field.
1. Do you have a preferred choral arrangement to write for?
2. What models/composers do you emulate in the choral literature field?
3. Other than making the music singable (as you specified in one of your interviews), what are some of the other challenges of writing choral music?
4. Which of your pieces has touched you the most in its performance and what musical elements made it succesful?
5. Are you ever conflicted with trying to keep your music tuneful and yet being pulled by non-tonal twentieth century musical trends?
6. What do you see for the future of choral music?
Thank you very much for taking the time to answer these and I hope to hear from you soon.
Sincerely, Jennifer Witt
April 12, 2007
Dear Jennifer --
When composing choral works, I like the variety of working in different genres:
I also enjoy the challenges of composing for chorus with orchestra, or chorus with string ensemble, to balance composing for chorus with piano accompaniment. And of course, writing a cappella music makes the mind turn a bit differently -- matters of pitch and changing texture are greater concerns with a cappella writing than with accompanied writing.
My background was primarily in folk music. During my junior high, high school and college years, I performed in folk groups (small ensembles of about 8 singers) for which I played the guitar and also wrote out all of the arrangements.
It was not until I entered graduate school (the Hartt School of Music) that I became more familiar with "classical" repertoire.
I would not say that I have ever emulated any other composer, choral or orchestral. I started composing at such a young age, that my music became my "voice" early on. But with the many years as a folksinger, I think that my musical style incorporated elements of American folk music. Not one particular composer. The entire language of American folk music.
When composing choral music, or orchestral/instrumental music, I find that I devote a considerable amount of my energy to trying to craft a well-constructed work -- something with a good, solid shape, which has something to say, says it, and then ends before it has started to ramble! These are the challenges which any composer faces, I think.
My musical style has stayed mostly the same since my childhood years. The basically tonal language of folk music can be enhanced by "wandering" far from the tonal center. Having some tension and dissonance in the music makes for a good harmonic language. So, while keeping within a generally tonal language, I do use non-tonal elements here and there to keep the music varied and directed.
I do not choose favorites among my works, That is for the musicologists to do!
And, in terms of the future of choral music, I feel that human beings will always want to sing. And they (we) will always want new music to sing. So, this is a permanent part of human expression.
August 10, 2007
I have looked at the website, program notes for Gifts from the Sea. I gained to helpful information, especially from the recent essays, specific program notes and the "Words and Music" article. I have also done initial research on the poem by A. M. Lindbergh. And obviously, those of us in St. Louis have a perpetual interest and association with Charles Lindbergh and his family. What I’m most interested in finding out is more difficult to articulate. How did the poem speak to you? Are there text painting considerations that may not be obvious (or even those that might not be obvious to me)? Are there musical directions/considerations within the score that you would want to expand upon if room in the score allowed? What would you most want a young choir to know about the piece as they began their study? We can surely learn to sing the notes, and even sing it with a certain level of musicality. I know that the answers to these types of questions would not only be so interesting, but would help us to create a more authentic performance.
Sincerely, Mark Salzman
August 10, 2007
Dear Mark --
How very appropriate that your chorus, with its proximity to St. Louis and, thereby, interest in the Lindbergh family, should be performing GIFTS FROM THE SEA.
You have asked for additional background on the creation of this song. So, I shall try to describe how the music was created.
Several years ago, around 2003, I received a commission to compose music for the Key Chorale, on Siesta Key Island, FL (near Sarasota, FL). I decided to create a set of three songs, all with texts relating to the sea. I titled this set THREE DAYS BY THE SEA.
At the time I received the commission request, I was actually living in Florida at an Artists Retreat called the "Hermitage." This cottage was located right by the beach, an often deserted beach on the cooler, windy days of January.
As I walked on the beach, I started to think about what texts I would like to use for the new project. The Anne Morrow Lindbergh book, A GIFT FROM THE SEA, came to mind. I remembered having read the book in the past, and finding many lovely, sea-related passages. So, I obtained the book and reread it.
There were various lines which stood out as presenting the central messages of the book. These were the most evocative and colorful lines in the book, to my taste. So, I selected the lines and ordered them into what I felt might work as song lyrics. Hence the text for the song GIFTS FROM THE SEA.
The program notes on the website describe the delight with the hermit crab motive. And certainly one can find detailed text-painting throughout. This I shall leave to the singer and listener.
However, I will mention that the general "flow" of this musical setting is derived from the ebb and flow of the waves. One sees the opening indication for the pianist, "Flowing, as waves on the sea." Here we have broad phrases, marked with slurs. Notice in mm. 5-6 for example, how the musical "wave" comes in (m. 5) and flows out (m. 6). The crescendo and decrescendo highlight this motion.
Finally, when the chorus enters, the melody is stepwise and gentle, as if floating above the waves. At letter B, with the sustained A in the Altos, the "floating above" quality is especially prominent.
Mark, you asked if there were additional musical instructions that I might have put in the score had there been more room. The answer is no. I filled the score with many indications, as many as I felt would help guide the Music Director and singers in their performance. The "instructions" come in the form of verbal indications (such as "Floating, as waves on the sea"), and also in dynamics, tempi and articulations. Notice, for example, the accents on the word "impatient," the tenuto marks on the word "patient" and the staccato dots on the words "hermit crab." These are some of the ways in which a composer can relay her musical intentions to the performers.
It would indeed be unsatisfactory to create a work and leave it unfinished in terms of guidelines, simply because one felt one did not have room on the page!!! Not at all. One writes the work to its completion, and then presents it to the musicians to perform. Not a staccato dot omitted, nor a dynamic forgotten! Even the piano pedal markings are inserted.
One may "half finish" some jobs (although I don't know which!). But certainly not a musical composition!
I hope that these comments are of interest and help to you and your signers. Good luck to you.
November 27, 2007
Hello, my name is Taylor Cummings. I am currently a sophomore attending Sturgeon Bay High School in Door County, Wisconsin. I have been a choir student for over 4 years now. I plan to be a part of the musical programs all throughout high school.
In my choir class, I have been assigned to interview or write a report on any composer of my choice. "How Can I Keep From Singing" really inspired me to think about freedom and life, so i have chosen to interview you.
I just have a few questions for you:
1) Please elaborate on why you stated you owe most of your musical talents to your mother.
2) What were you inspired by when you wrote "How Can I Keep From Singing"?
3) Did anyone discourage you when you first started composing music? What affect did this have on your success?
4) What do you do in your spare time?
5) If you were not a composer, what career do you think you would have pursued?
6) Do you think composing is more closely associated with math or with english, and why?
7) Do you think it is beneficial for all children to be involved with music?
8) What are some of the unique skills that are developed or enhanced as a result of being exposed to music?
9) Is there anyone in the current pop culture that you think is brilliant and underrated? Who are they?
10) Oftentimes lyrics are grammatically incorrect. Are there times that you altered traditional words or phrases to help the song flow better, and were uncomfortable with the alteration?
November 29, 2007
My mother had a fine musical ear. I realized how musically-gifted she was when, near the end of her life, she and I visited daily. She was in a Nursing Home in New Canaan, CT. Each afternoon, I went to be with her. We sang many of her favorite songs (from the 1920s on). Often I accompanied our singing at the piano or with my guitar. But on occasion, we had no accompaniment. It was at these times that I was able to hear her harmonizing to the songs, using more than simple harmonies. She could invent lines which expressed chromatic harmonies. All of this with absolutely no musical training.
I have always been able to count on having a good musical ear myself. I was exempted from Ear Training at Conservatory, and often taught Ear Training myself. I know that I received this gift of a good musical ear from my mother. She loved music, but never studied music, either in the form of taking piano lessons or choosing music courses while attending Vassar College. Her musical gifts were innate
I was indeed strongly discouraged in my compositional activities by my older sisters (who told me that I was selfish in spending time creating music) and my father (who would have preferred that I spend my time in shared interests with him: sports and sciences). I was criticized and mocked severely within my family (not by my mother, though).
However, outside of my family, I received strong support for my music. This came from my friends (who performed my works), my college professors (who consistently gave me high grades and university awards) and audiences who heard my music. Most importantly, I received much encouragement for my music from Quakers. This is my faith. And Quakers have always supported me in my work.
I love composing music. My joy comes from within. So, despite the adversities in my family situation, I continued with my music. No one was able to stop me.
I am happy to report that my family criticism has had absolutely no affect upon the enjoyment and growth of my music career! [I am not comfortable with using the word "success" in reference to my composing. "Success" seems to be a rather superficial and arrogant term, I would think.]
Considering other career paths...I can imagine being nothing other than a composer. This is what I have loved doing since early childhood. I have taught Theory and Composition on the college level, and I could do this again. But I would not feel like a complete human being in doing so. Composing is like breathing and living to me.
I have taught music and coached tennis teams. I also enjoy repairing electronic equipment. [!] These are all "service" careers: teaching, coaching, repairing. So, I would say that I feel called to serve. And, therefore, I would say that if I were not a composer, I would probably be a Minister.
I have very little "spare time." However, since composing involves sitting at a desk or a piano, in my non-composing time I try to get up and move about, taking walks in my beloved Braintree community, swimming in my neighbors' pond or playing tennis.
My mind is more mathematically oriented than verbally oriented. For me, music is akin to the science of proportions.
And these are all of the responses which I have to give today. I hope that I have provided some good data for your research paper.
February 5, 2008
My name is Charlette Moe and I conduct two college women's choirs. My women's choirs have found such success in the works of Dr. Walker. We have performed "I Will Be Earth," "Love is a Rain of Diamonds," "I Thank You God," and currently "Crossing the Bar." I think "Crossing the Bar" is completely STUNNING! The open-fifth "bell" section is riveting.
For my final document "disquisition" and lecture recital I am discussing female choral composers. The four women of my research are Eleanor Daley, Rosephyne Powell, Lana Walter and Gwyneth Walker.
I emailed earlier about the possibility of emailing Gwyneth Walker interview questions and I was directed to the AMAZING website. The other three women have completed an email interview for me and Gwyneth's information in the text "Composers on Composing for Choirs" and website are the sources for her information.
1. I plan to use information from articles and interviews on the website, properly cited of course, in the portion which describes Dr. Walker. Do I need additional permission?
2. The harmonic structure of "I Thank You God" travels from C minor to many key areas and finally cadences on C major. Did Dr. Walker have a harmonic traveling idea for "Crossing the Bar.?" Is there a harmonic significance from ending "I Thank You God" in the same key as the beginning of the piece about meeting our Pilot?
3. Does she feel any influence from the minimalistic composers of Glass and Reich? Does she have a specific idea on how to depict "the sea?"
4. I have searched, but I have not found Gwyneth's ideas on what kind of choral literature motivates women's choir or maybe why my choir, and SO MANY OTHER CHOIRS, find success in her works.
THANK YOU SO MUCH! Any information I could receive would be very exciting.
February 5, 2008
General information in response:
Permission is not needed to use information from the website in your presentation. Citing the source is always appropriate however, as you suggest.
I THANK YOU GOD does have a tonal structure, as described in the analysis on the website, which was done by the composer herself. This analysis is on the site in order to serve as an example of the composer's thought process. Researchers may then use this approach as a guide for their own analyses of other works.
There is not a conscious or explicity connection between I THANK YOU GOD and CROSSING THE BAR.
Dr. Walker is not influenced by the minimalist composers.
About depicting the sea through music, I think that you will find quite a few works which have references to the sea. Among these would be THREE DAYS BY THE SEA and LOVE BY THE WATER. Both of these choral cycles are included on the CD AN HOUR TO DANCE. And, no doubt, ECS can supply you with a sample score of each work. Through studying these songs, you ought to have a good grasp of the vocabulary which Dr. Walker uses for the sea.Response from composer Gwyneth Walker:
Dear Charlette --
Your questions and topics are excellent:
1. similarities and differences between I THANK YOU GOD and CROSSING THE BAR, especially considering the tonal structure
2. the musical language used to depict the sea, as evidenced in I WILL BE EARTH and CROSSING THE BAR
3. the musical style and its appeal to performers and audiences
As the composer, my "role" is to create the music. And as a scholar, your "role" is to comment upon and explain the music. So, I shall not endeavor to be a musicologist on my own music. That is never effective. Also, your ideas on the music are more of interest to me than my own ideas! However, I will offer the following comments, which I hope will be of help to you.
For I THANK YOU GOD and CROSSING THE BAR, you may wish to print out the poems, study their form and content, and then relate your observations to your discussion of the music.
For musical expression of sea imagery, do look at the relevant passages in I WILL BE EARTH and CROSSING THE BAR. Also, I refer you to two choral cycles which abound in sea references: THREE DAYS BY THE SEA and LOVE BY THE SEA. After studying these works, you would be very qualified to comment on how the composer expresses the sea in her music. [By the way, the second song in THREE DAYS BY THE SEA, "Gifts from the Sea," exists in both SATB and SSAA versions. You might like to have this work in your Music Library for possible programming with your choruses.]
In terms of repertoire for women's chorus, I realized, a number of years ago that there was ample repertoire for SATB choruses (as I was composing mostly for SATB choruses) and ample repertoire for TTBB choruses. But very little for women's choruses. So, in the 1990s, I set out to try to remedy this situation. By now, I have composed many works for women's chorus. And I am gratified to know that these works have become valued contributions to the repertoire. Thank you, and your colleagues, for finding these works and programming them.
Many of my SSAA works can be performed with chamber orchestra. The orchestral writing is not difficult. The average college or community ensemble can perform them. So, I encourage you to consider performing with orchestra. I feel that it is important for women to get up on the stage and sing their repertoire with orchestra, rather than leaving this up to the SATB or TTBB choruses, who often perform very standard repertoire.
Also, no doubt you already own the fine CD of my SSAA works, NOW LET US SING! This was recorded by Bella Voce Chorus of Burlington, Vermont, and is a first-rate CD. I was able to coach the chorus on all of the repertoire. So, this would be the "definitive" recording. NOW LET US SING! can be ordered from Amazon.com.
Charlette, I realize that your dissertation topic is on women composers for women's chorus. However, I do not segregate myself into those categories. I am simply a composer who composes for orchestra, instrumental ensembles, chorus and solo voice. As a Quaker, I do not view the world as divided into men and women. Rather, all are equal. And for my composing, I put equal energy into my writing for all genres. Recently, brass quintet has been an active category. And my current writing is for full orchestra. So, to the extent that it is possible in your discussions, please remove the adjective "female" or "woman" from me, and refer to me as a composer in general, writing in a variety of genres.
Good luck to you in your presentation. And please give my greetings to your singers. I very much appreciate the support that you are giving to my music.
May 29, 2008
I’m performing the “Harlem Songs” (which I like very much, by the way) with the University if Wisconsin-Madison Summer Choir in July.
I had some questions about the notation and thought I’d ask you directly.
First, in the first two pieces, did you intend the tempo of the unstemmed notes to stay constant or be left to the whim of the pianist?
Then in Harlem Night Song, the tempo marking is dotted quarter = 60, but later at m. 49 it suddenly becomes dotted half = 60. I assumed a misprint. Should it always be dotted half?
Lastly, I assumed that the tempo suddenly frees up at mm 160 and 161 and then goes back in tempo at 162, but should the whole passage be strict? The pieces are so precisely notated in other places, so I wasn’t sure what was intended.
Thanks for your help with these questions. I’m looking forward to doing these works and also An Hour to Dance which I’m doing in the fall.
May 29, 2008
Dear Bruce --
I am delighted to hear of these performances of my music in Wisconsin. And I am pleased to be in touch with you.
To answer your questions about the HARLEM SONGS:
In the first two songs, the unstemmed notes (such as in m. 5 of "Spirituals") should be played rapidly, unmeasured.
Yes, in the "Harlem Night Song," the opening metronome marking should be the dotted half = 60, not the dotted quarter = 60. That was a printing error.
You are correct in understanding that at the end of "Harlem Night Song" the entire texture frees up in mm. 160-161, and then returns to tempo at m. 162.
In other words, your interpretations were completely correct!
Thank you for your abundant support of my music. I hope that we keep in touch
February 23, 2010
These comments were written in response to an inquiry from a conductor regarding the harmonic shape of the choral work Now I Become Myself.
This song begins clearly in E (with the absence of a third, G, so as to not define this as either E Major or E Minor, but with added tones, so perhaps this is best described as an E 9th chord). I believe that my plan for this work was to both start and end in the same E tonality, but to explore other tonalities along the way. And then to be able to grow into a triumphant final chord.
The music stays in the E area until around letter E, after the words "falls heavy on the page, is heard." At this time, the music (suitably) sinks down to a D tonality (initially not defined as Major or Minor, but ultimately settling into Minor), where it stays for quite some time. Although there is growth in range, dynamics and tempo, the tonal center stays in D Minor.
A nice change in tonality occurs with the introduction of Eb at letter H. This is a rather unexpected coloration, and draws special attention to the powerful line, "O, in this single hour, I live all of myself..." This Eb leads the music into the yet lower tonality of C minor. This was chosen specifically to provide a dark contrast with the final "outpouring of the sun" as the harmonic framework quickly shifts from C Minor (m. 71) to the closing chord, a glorious E 9 (or perhaps E Minor 11, depending on if one interprets the A as the 11th, or as an added tone).
The song ends in the same tonality as it began. This is often the case with many compositions.
The central aspect of the ending is that the music, which has modulated down to a "dark" key (C Minor), dramatically brightens up to a much "lighter" key (E). This juxtaposition of dark and light is a common element in harmonic progressions. And in this case, since the keys are a third apart, we call this a mediant progression. Richard Strauss used this language often in his writing. A mediant progression which covers the change from flats to sharps creates an especially dramatic aural effect.
Therefore, in simple response to your question about the final chord, the song begins and ends in E, with many excursions in between. And the most dramatic moment, harmonically, comes when the tonalities of C Minor and E (Major or Minor) are juxtaposed, the darker key leading to brightness on the words "stand still and stop the sun." And, appropriately, the accompaniment also rises from low to high.
So, this is my description of the harmonic shape of this song.
Adam, you also asked specifically about mm. 66-68. This is not a dissonant section. It is a triumphant section, based on the F Minor 9 harmony (the 4th step of the scale in the key of C Minor, which is the key for this section). M. 66 is simply this chord in root position (the F is in the piano). M. 67 lowers the bass to Db (remember, the goal here is to get as low and dark as possible before the resolution to the key of E coming up). So, in the key of C Minor, this is the lowered 2nd step. And then there is a partial resolution to a C tonic chord. However, since the goal is to get to E (the chord which opened the song), m. 68 is merely a false ending. Notice how the 3rd step is avoided in the chorus, so as to not define the harmony. Our goal is the E 9 chord which comes in m. 72.
I think that my advice to anyone attempting a harmonic analysis of any choral music would be to look at the text to see how it influences the harmonic language (and you did this yourself) and also, when questioning the final chord in any work, compare it to the opening chord! That is often quite insightful.
Best wishes to you and your chorus --
June 7, 2012
Greetings to the Festival Choir!
Since we have never met in person, I wish to tell you that I have been composing music all of my life. I write for instrumental and choral ensembles all across the country. My home is in New England -- I was born and raised in Connecticut, attended schools in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, lived for many years in Vermont, and have now returned to my childhood home town of New Canaan, CT. In fact, the view from my composing desk is of the pond where I have played since infancy. Composing music was my favorite activity as a child. And I am still doing this today!
When you are singing I Thank You God, I would like for you to keep in mind the grandeur and triumph of the poem and the song. This is a very BIG "thank you" to God for creating this world, and for giving us the faith to overcome any obstacles in our lives. "I who have died am alive again today." Because the message of this song is so large, I constructed the music to rise from the very low C at the beginning (listen to the piano introduction) to the very high C major chord at the end (as performed by the choir and the pianist). The song moves through different keys in the middle as a way of gathering energy for the dramatic return to C Major at the end.
I gave all of my energy to composing this music. At the time of writing this song, I had moved back to my home to care for my mother during the last years of her life. There was sorrow in my daily life. But I knew that the music would keep my spirit strong. And thus, whenever I listen to a performance of I Thank You God, I remember those special days when I lived primarily through my music. I hope that this song will be as strengthening to you as it was to me.
June 7, 2012
New Canaan, Connecticut
January 20, 2013
You asked about my interest in creating chamber music which includes the reading of poetry. This prompts me to think back quite a few years.
Letters to the World was composed in 2001. As I recall, this work was commissioned by the New World Ensemble (piano quartet) in West Hartford, CT. The music was specifically commissioned in memory of a beloved supporter of the group, a member of the Board, I believe.
I asked to know something about this person, his unique interests, etc. I was told that he loved to read.
In the meantime, I had an extensive chamber music catalog of purely instrumental works. So, I thought that creating a new piano quartet which would involve readings might be unusual, and a nice addition to my catalog.
Since I and the New World Ensemble are all New Englanders, I decided upon the poetry of Emily Dickinson (herself a New Englander). This seemed like an appropriate choice of poet for the commissioned work.
When the music was premiered (in West Hartford, CT), the audience comprised not only music lovers, but also friends of the person to whom the music was dedicated. Some of these friends were not musically-experienced. But they absolutely loved hearing the poetry read aloud, followed by the playing of the short musical movements. Thus, I observed that there is a strong interest in these sorts of interdisciplinary projects.
Your third question pertained to what inspired me to compose a work which included the writings of Leymah Gbowee. This is a topic which I started to address in my brief, introductory comments at the concert. So, let us return to those comments and build upon them.
As I explained at the concert (with gestures to the right and left!), in the summers, Eastern Mennonite University hosts the Bach Musical Festival (and I gestured towards the large music hall) and the Peace Institute (and I gestured in the opposite direction, towards the Campus Center). These two groups share the campus, although their activities are completely separate.
It was my hope to create a new work which might be relevant to both groups.
From the beginning of my association with Musica Harmonia, I became aware of Leymah Gbowee, as a highly respected alum of EMU. With my own Quaker background, the story of this strong, peace-oriented woman was fascinating. Therefore, composing a chamber music composition which would include readings of Gbowee narratives was very exciting.
Thankfully, EMU poet Martha Greene Eads was able to adapt the book MIGHTY BE OUR POWERS to narratives which could be read aloud during a performance. This was essential, since the original writings in the book are not suitable to narrative use.
I am quite interested is this combination of readings and music. This seems to be a genre in which I have a special gift. Critics have long suggested this aspect of my writing, with phrases such as "Walker's music belongs on the stage!" I do not always know what this gift is. But I can see that these sorts of dramatic works speak to an audience. So, I let myself follow my instincts in creating new works in this genre.
Another new work which comes to mind is The Circus of Creation, which combines the readings of Robert Lax poetry with brass quintet music. I believe that there are several other works of this sort in my catalog, such as By Walden Pond (Thoreau texts).
January 5, 2022
I have read with great interest the comments made by the students in response to my inquiry into the change of stanzas in Crossing the Bar. Very good!
The most significant change, of course, is to bring back the opening stanza, after verse 2. I shall explain this in my own words, hoping that my precise explanation might help to guide your students in their future musical analyses.
Verse 2 (But such a tide as moving......) is considered a transition verse, in contrast with a thematic verse. Not only does the piano accompaniment begin to oscillate (i.e., move), but the harmony enriches as well. Our opening verse (Sunset and evening star) is set in the "pure" key of C Major. Now, verse 2 introduces flats taking us toward the C Minor tonality. By measure 32, the harmony is F Minor, or D half-diminished...parts of the C Minor vocabulary. Dissonance is heard between the Ab in the Altos and the D in Soprano 1. There is the C/D Soprano 1-2 dissonance as well.
The reason for all of these changes is to create a moment of special "brightness" as the theme (Sunset and evening star) returns in m. 33. Not only is the return to "pure" C Major glorious, but now the theme is raised up to the E in the Sopranos = a higher pitch. This is an intentional, planned moment of drama, a climax.
One of the students observed that this section at letter C was "higher-pitched with more harmony." This is exactly correct. Whoever made this observation is on track for a good career in music! And I hope that these bright students observe that the next step in development is to actually explain what "higher-pitched with more harmony" means! What key are we in? What changes are made to the tonality? And specifically, in which measures are these changes evident?