Ode to Lake Michigan

Composed by Philip Rice (b. 1988)

You caress Chicago’s bony wrist
all the way up to the fleshy fingertip of the Upper Peninsula,
rustling winds that ignite daydreams:
your sweet beach grass,
your quartzy singing sands,
the thrill of building a castle
hoping you’ll melt it with grace,
give me a new start,
wash my mistakes
(and maybe my sins).
Your meteorology strikes the fear of God in me.
I forgive your lake-effect snowstorms
because summer looks so lovely on you.
Loch Ness has nothing on your fairy-tale
frozen mermaids shimmering deep beneath.
In a burst of silver and green they rupture in July’s swelter,
dazzling the tips of your crumpled blue crests,
swelling in slow pulsing rhythms,
undulating canvas of your immense out-there.
You, my dear, are a great lake.
Don’t worry if other lakes seem superior,
for you alone are the mishigami, the great waters,
the twenty-two thousand square miles of uninterrupted aqua pura.
You alone hold the Petoskey stone with her honeycomb
eyes that see the past,
tell the past.
You are big enough to hold
my childhood.
You are wide enough to make me
You are deep enough.

—Richelle Wilson

Ode to Lake Michigan is a setting of a single poem by Richelle Wilson divided up into seven miniatures. The poem postures Lake Michigan as a source of both bewildering wonder and intimate solace by evoking both mythology and family. Musically, I wanted to show the breadth of emotional space provided by the lake (and thusly the poem): the chaos of the water and the profound sense of stillness that accompanies an awareness of its immensity. The music explores both these spaces with a Coplandian harmonic language based on widely spaced octaves, fifths, and sevenths, contrasted with more turbulent and dissonant polyphony. I have also written a setting of the poem in one movement for mixed choir which uses many of the same motives and textures.

—Philip Rice

Richelle Wilson (b. 1988) was born and raised in rural Michigan and has spent countless summer hours on the Great Lakes pondering the ephemeral quality of her existence and getting sand hopelessly caught in her hair. She holds a Master of Arts degree in comparative literature from Brigham Young University, where she also worked on the editorial staff of Scandinavian Studies, an international academic publication. Her thesis was an ecocritical analysis of how the Baltic Sea operates as a metaphorical space in the poetry of Tomas Tranströmer. Richelle has enjoyed learning both French and Swedish as part of her literary studies and has studied abroad in Paris and Stockholm. She is currently studying in Umeå, Sweden on a scholarship from the Swedish Institute. She loves Borges, jazz, cooking, the Oxford comma, handwritten letters, driving through canyons, and beautiful music—all of which, by her standards, is poetry in its own right.

The commission for this piece was made possible in part by a grant from the Boston University Ministry and Music Endowment .

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