Now Let Us Sing!
About the Music
The compositions of Gwyneth Walker encompass a wide variety of styles ranging from serious and evocative settings of texts by renowned poets and authors to robust arrangements of traditional songs and spirituals. The first selection, How Can I Keep From Singing? is a vibrant arrangement for voices, brass, piano and percussion of a Quaker hymn which dates back to the 1800’s. The text expresses the power of song to provide strength to meet the challenges of life.
Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s inspirational book, Gift from the Sea, is the source for the text for Gifts from the Sea. Bella Voce has commissioned Walker to compose a cantata, which is titled Lessons From The Sea, based upon this beloved book. In this final song from the cantata, sounds of the sea can be heard throughout the rolling accompaniment of the piano, and the voices sing of the lessons that the sea can teach -- patience and faith. Accompanist for this selection - Xiudan Lin.
The text for Let Evening Come is a poem by a former New Hampshire poet laureate -- Jane Kenyon (1947-95). In her comments about this piece, Walker writes that this poem “speaks of the peace and comfort of evening…. The opening, four note motive in the piano accompaniment might be heard as church bells tolling the coming of nightfall.” This piece evokes a quiet sense of dusk moving across the farmland in the evening.
Six Songs for Women’s Voices
Walker’s Songs for Women’s Voices include six original songs with texts by American poet May Swenson (1913-1989), who published over 450 poems in her lifetime. As Walker states in the music, the poems she has selected “address a wide variety of topics -- from feminism to God to romance to death -- yet they speak with one voice, one style and one life-affirming philosophy.” Women Should Be Pedestals is a “tongue-in-cheek” commentary on relationships between men and women. Mornings Innocent is a lyrical song of young love. The Name Is Changeless describes one’s search for God first with a hushed, prayer-like chant that evolves into an active interplay of voices and then ultimately ends with a quiet, reflective statement of “God.” In the introduction of Love Is a Rain of Diamonds, the piano creates the sound of a delicate rainfall. In lush harmonies, the voices sing of love that is mature and fulfilling. In Autumn begins with a hauntingly lovely duet that tells of preparation for the coming of autumn (the end of life.) Walker creates the impression of the sound of “water over stones” and other sounds of nature with the voices and piano. This reflective piece ends with notes that meander upward on the words “let birds be flying.” I Will Be Earth is a song of the passionate and “radiant” love of two people -- both strong individuals yet intertwined.
I Thank You God is one of Gwyneth Walker’s award-winning compositions. In 1999, the American Choral Director’s Association selected her for the prestigious Raymond W. Brock Memorial Commission. For an inspiring text, Walker turned to the work of American poet E.E. Cummings (1894-1962) and selected his poem “I Thank You God for most this amazing [day]” This poem was first presented at Harvard -- his alma mater -- in 1952. His poetry, famous for its unusual punctuation, syntax and meter, was quite popular. At the time of his death, Cummings was the second most widely read poet in the U.S. after Robert Frost. Walker describes her piece, I Thank You God, as a song of praise. She states, “A piano introduction marked ‘slowly unfolding, with wonderment,’ spans the broad range of the keyboard, as if expressing the breadth of space and life. The chorus enters, offering thanks to God….” At the end, the piece builds to a final ecstatic restatement of the title phrase.
The Spirit of Women
The Spirit of Women is a set of three songs each based on an American spiritual. So Many Angels! is a lively setting of the American folk song “All Night, All Day” with a few creative additions by the composer! Walk That Valley is based on the spiritual “Lonesome Valley.” It speaks of facing adversity with strength and faith. The third piece, Never Sit Down, is a contemporary adaptation of the traditional song, “Sit Down, Sister.” This piece contains references to heroic and spirited women of the past including Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Sojourner Truth.
Walker turns to another famous writer for the text of Crossing the Bar. The revered English poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson is the author of the poem Crossing the Bar. In this piece, the piano creates the sound of the rolling sea and the voices sing of their hope to “see my Pilot face to face” at the end of life’s final voyage.
Hebrides Lullaby is a traditional song that comes from the island of Hebrides off the western coast of Scotland. The mezzo-soprano soloist portrays Mary as she tells of her love for the infant Jesus. The chorus assumes the role of the angels singing “Alleluia.”
Peace I Ask of Thee, O River, paints a pastoral scene where the brass and piano portray the flowing river and the voices are quietly lifted in supplication.
In the choral score of the spiritual Now Let Us Sing!, Walker indicates that the choir should sing “boisterously!” She gives the lowest voices of the choir -- the second alto section (accompanied by the tuba!) -- a chance to lead the singing!
Bella Voce Women’s Chorus of Vermont was founded in March of 2004 by Dr. Dawn Willis and debuted their first full concert in May of that same year. The chorus, consisting of 40-45 auditioned singers, performs existing and newly commissioned sacred and secular works for women’s voices. The chorus includes singers from four counties throughout northern Vermont, many of whom also sing in a variety of school, church, and community choruses across the region. It has been an journey for Bella Voce, and one of the highlights has included several collaborations with Gwyneth Walker! The choir members have enjoyed getting to know Gwyneth and her music through working closely with her in rehearsals, performances and in the creation of this recording. Her music is richly varied and full of color and depth.
Dr. Dawn O. Willis, Music Director
Dawn Willis holds a Doctor of Musical Arts Degree in Choral Music from Arizona State University and Masters Degrees in Sacred Music and Choral Conducting from Southern Methodist University. She has served as the Director of Choral Activities at McMurry University and Iowa Wesleyan College as well as the Director of the Arizona State University Women’s Chorus. In addition, she has directed community and church ensembles in Texas, Georgia, Arizona, Iowa, and South Dakota. In the spring of 1999, Dawn conducted the McMurry Choirs and Alumni Singers in a performance of Mozart’s Solemn Vespers at Carnegie Hall. Currently, she also serves as the Assistant Choral Director of the Vermont Symphony Orchestra Chorus.
Dr. Gwyneth Walker, Composer
Gwyneth Walker (b. 1947) is a graduate of Brown University and the Hartt School of Music. She holds B.A., M.M. and D.M.A. Degrees in Music Composition. A former faculty member of the Oberlin College Conservatory, she resigned from academic employment in 1982 in order to pursue a career as a full-time composer. She now lives on a dairy farm in Braintree, Vermont. Gwyneth is the recipient of the Year 2000 “Lifetime Achievement Award” from the Vermont Arts Council. She is an award-winning composer whose catalog includes over 170 commissioned works for orchestra, band, chorus and chamber ensembles. Composing works in such diverse musical genres reflects Gwyneth’s enthusiasm for creative endeavors. At home in both serious and light-hearted musical styles, her music is witty, innovative and inspiring. Gwyneth travels all over the United States working with a variety of musicians (ranging from professional soloists to high school musicians) as they premier and record her works.