Composer Margaret Brouwer is giving Lake Erie a voice.
Brouwer, a Cleveland Heights-based Guggenheim Fellow, has loved the lake since childhood summers spent at a cottage in Huron. But she’s become increasingly worried about the lake’s health – the slimy green algae blooms spreading from the Maumee River, the longtime grudge over sludge in the Cuyahoga River, the stormwater runoff making water unsafe for swimmers after heavy rains.
“I thought all this would make a good drama,” said Brouwer. “I wanted the lake clean so I could swim in it. The I did some research. I realized it was so bad for so many people.”
So she wrote an oratorio, which she hopes to develop into a full-fledged musical. It’s called, aptly, “Voice of the Lake.”
In the work, children and concerned citizens oppose pollutants from farms and factories. There’s even singing face-off between U.S. Rep. Marcia Fudge and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which for years fought to dump river sediment into the open lake.
The choral version, with the 130-member Oberlin Musical Union choir and Cleveland Institute of Music Children’s Choir, will premier Nov. 12 at the Breen Center at St. Ignatius High School. Tickets are $20, and $10 for students and seniors.
“I’m hoping this will inspire more people to get involved, even make them more careful about what goes down the drain,” Brouwer said.
With that goal in mind, she’s hosting two pre-performance events:
Panel discussion: Representatives from the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District, Doan Brook Watershed Partnership and university environmental science departments will speak on the health of Lake Erie at 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 21, in the Digital Hub Classroom of the Cleveland Public Main Library. The event is free.
Lake Erie poetry reading: Poet David Adams, a librettist for “Voice of the Lake,” will read poetry about Lake Erie and its rivers at 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 28, at Lucy’s Sweet Surrender Bakery in Shaker Heights.
Brouwer, who grew up in Michigan and graduated from the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, moved to Northeast Ohio to work for the Cleveland Institute of Music in 1996.
She played violin for years, but now focuses on composing and on her chamber ensemble, Blue Streak, named after the Cedar Point roller coaster. She has written commissions for Ohio’s Bicentennial in 2003 and for the Detroit and Dallas symphonies, the Rochester Philharmonic, the Cleveland Chamber Orchestra and more.
She still keeps an apartment in New York City, but Cleveland has her hooked, she said.
The “Voice of the Lake” is supported by grants from Cuyahoga Arts and Culture, the George Gund Foundation, and the Ohio Arts Council, which receives support from the National Endowment for the Arts.
“For a long time I didn’t know whether to have a horrible ending or hopeful,” Brouwer said.
Spoiler event: It’s a happy ending.