The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

Arranged by Rick Robinson

Original song by Gordon Lightfoot 

The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
Of the big lake they called ‘gitche gumee’
The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead
When the skies of November turn gloomy
With a load of iron ore twenty-six thousand tons more
Than the Edmund Fitzgerald weighed empty
That good ship and crew was a bone to be chewed
When the gales of November came early.

The wind in the wires made a tattle-tale sound
And a wave broke over the railing
And every man knew, as the captain did too,
T’was the witch of November come stealin’

When afternoon came it was with freezin’ rain
Into a hurricane.

When suppertime came, the old cook came on deck sayin’
Fellas, it’s too rough to feed ya
At seven pm a main hatchway caved in, he said
Fellas, it’s been good t’know ya
The captain wired in he had water comin’ in
And the good ship and crew was in peril
And later that night when his lights went outta sight
Came the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

Where does the love of God go when the pain drags on?
And all that remains is the faces and the names
Of the wives and the sons and the daughters.

From composer/arranger Rick Robinson:

I was really delighted to be invited to compose something for MRP and for the memory of the Edmund Fitzgerald. The story, with Gordon Lightfoot’s song and recording, cast quite a shadow in Detroit, where I was born. The 1976 song played constantly on the radio and colored our lives in profound ways. It was the flagship of the Great Lakes fleet of ore-ships. I probably saw it myself a half dozen times right downtown! I suppose we only find our limits when we’re tested. Everyone loses sometimes. Every now and then, it’s a tragic lose. So I whipped off this dramatic retelling of the original ballade suggesting a symphonic score. Squaring the original 12/8 into 4/4 time sped up the pacing by a third. We begin by riding the bow of the huge vessel as it rises and plummets weirdly in the steep waves. The voices enter, and the ride builds, interrupted by a recurring, reflective echo punctuated by a dramatic silence. The cello adds more detail to the waves, which the viola next speeds up to quick 12/8 time. After the ship is lost, the viola voices the cries of foulfrom the dead souls, while their loved ones wait for bad news. I found another way to turn the narrative toward what positive future there could be for their families.

Rick Robinson began playing double bass in Highland Park public schools until he attended Interlochen Arts Academy, Cleveland Institute of Music and New England Conservatory. He held several principal positions in regional orchestras as well as the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra under John Williams before joining the Detroit Symphony Orchestra in 1989. During his 22-year tenure he began transcribing symphonic works for a mixed octet he called CutTime Players. He later began composing for a string sextet called CutTime Simfonica and presenting them amplified in non-traditional venues as part of the Classical Revolution movement. Dedicated to spreading the gospel of classical music, he resigned DSO in 2013 to connect with a wider community to classical in bold new ways. He’s won a Kresge Fellowship and a Knight Arts Challenge grant for what has become a mission-enterprise. While all of his music is neo-romantic, several works blend with urban pop as a fun way to draw new listeners. Read more at

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