Margaret Brouwer

Classical Post highlights Margaret Brouwer's "Voice of the Lake"

'Voice Of The Lake' Oratorio Highlights Environmental Concerns

July 11, 2019

In response to the 2014 algae bloom in Lake Erie, Cleveland composer Margaret Brouwer decided to create an environmental oratorio with hopes of increasing interest around Lake Erie and other threatened bodies of water.

After two years in the making, Brouwer’s 80-minute oratorio, “Voice of the Lake,” premiered at the Cleveland Institute of Music in October. The performance is now available on DVD and YouTube.

Composed of four parts, the oratorio opens with “At the Lake,” a joyful tribute to Lake Erie. The piece progresses with “The Public Hearing,” which portrays the conflict of opinion in Cleveland as to whether it is safe to dump dredged sediment into the lake. The third part tells the story of “Evening Near the River,” during which two campers come across the algae-filled lake and see some of its causes and solutions. Finally, the piece ends with “Sunrise at the Lake,” a resolution to clean up Lake Erie.

Through these four parts, Brouwer attempts to reveal the significance of the lake, which is used as a recreational site, natural habitat and source of drinking water for potentially 11 million lakeside residents. Due to phosphorus runoff from fertilized farms and leaky septic systems, however, the lake was filled with algae, much of it poisonous. In order to convey the reality of the situation, Brouwer took phrases from public hearing transcripts in relation to the algae bloom. The result is a libretto based more so on factual information than on poetry.

The video of the performance is now available for purchase on DVD for $30, of which $8 will be donated to the North American Lake Management Society.

The performance features the Blue Streak Ensemble, Blue Streak Ensemble Chamber Singers and the Cleveland Institute of Music Children's Choir. The soloists include soprano Angela Mortellaro, mezzo Sarah Beaty, tenor Brian Skoog and bass Bryant Bush. The show was conducted by Cleveland Opera theater director Domenico Boyagian.

— Kristine Liao

WXXI features Margaret Brouwer's "Voice of the Lake"

Music expresses love, concern for Great Lakes


Composer Margaret Brouwer lives in Ohio, near Lake Erie. She loves the natural beauty of the Great Lakes and she’s worried about them.

She has composed her love for Lake Erie -- and her concerns for its future --  into a musical work called "Voice of the Lake."

Listen to the feature here

"The Great Lakes are actually the largest body of fresh water in the world," and yet, she says, "We take it so for granted. People don’t realize what a wonderful natural treasure we have." 

She’s concerned about farm runoff that feeds toxic algae blooms, people dumping trash, and the dirt being dredged from the Cuyahoga River being dumped in the lake.

In her music, she started with sounds of people interacting with the lake.

"I think a lot about sounds before every piece that I write, and the sounds that I want to create," she explains, "so I was thinking a lot about the sounds of the lake, the sounds of the children splashing in the water." 

In addition to depicting the ways that people interact with the water, she includes scenes showing innovative ways people have tried to control and stop the algae, and a portrayal of a public hearing about lake dumping.

"I really believe that music should be two equal parts: One would appeal to the intelligence, to your brain -- and one would appeal to your soul and your heart and your emotions.  All the music is pretty emotional, actually."

"A lot of it is beautiful, wonderful, happy music (in) the first part, and there’s angry music, there’s very sad music, too," she says. "The soprano plays the role of the person who loves the lake and sings about it in the first part, and then she is very upset and angry in the second part about the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  In the other parts, her arias are very, very sad.  She doesn’t understand; she doesn’t know what to do about it. She’s trying to figure it out." 

In the end, Brouwer says, "I don’t really give an answer in this piece, other than showing the people who are doing something.  The children ask people to help; they say, 'we need help', and they’re asking everyone to work together to help the lake."

Brouwer says she struggled with how exactly to end the piece.

"I could have made it fictional, and had it be something where people were all leaving the area because there was no good drinking water and people were dying, because that could happen," she says. "Right now, I just decided to leave it up in the air with what’s going to happen, who’s going to get involved." 

"Voice of the Lake" has been performed at an International Symposium for the North American Lake Management Society in Cincinnati and at the Conservancy for Cuyahoga Valley National Park, as well as in more traditional concert settings. Brouwer also plans to someday turn it into an opera, with a story set in and around the lake. A recording is now available on DVD and to watch on YouTube

Classical Music Daily features "Voice of the Lake"

Margaret Brouwer's new environmental oratorio
is now available on DVD and at YouTube

... the message Brouwer’s piece delivers is one that needs to be heard. - Classical Voice North America

In August 2014, an algal bloom in Lake Erie poisoned the drinking water of the four hundred thousand residents of Toledo, Ohio, USA. 'Lake Erie is in trouble, and getting worse by the year', wrote The New York Times. The dire situation of pollution in this Great Lake is the inspiration for American composer Margaret Brouwer's work, Voice of the Lake. A live performance of this critically-acclaimed work, which took place at the Cleveland Institute of Music on 19 October 2018, is now available to watch on both YouTube and on DVD.

Brouwer has always been keenly passionate about the environment, and this interest often informs her compositions. In an interview with Cleveland Classical she said, 'The creation of the work started with my personal wish for Lake Erie to be clean'. Brouwer has more to say in an article on

Voice of the Lake (2016-18) is an eighty minute oratorio for vocal soloists, choirs and chamber ensemble which brings to life the ongoing environmental concerns that are affecting Lake Erie: a recreational treasure, expansive natural habitat, important economic engine, major shipping channel and the source of drinking water for eleven million people. A musical vista of nature and the lake, the lyrics are by Margaret Brouwer with additional text gleaned from public record transcripts including Congresswoman Marcia Fudge and the US Army Corps of Engineers, with a short video by Joshua Lipton.

The video features the Blue Streak Ensemble, Blue Streak Ensemble Chamber Singers, and the Cleveland Institute of Music Children's Choir, with soloists Angela Mortellaro, soprano, Sarah Beaty, mezzo, Brian Skoog, tenor and Bryant Bush, bass, conducted by Cleveland Opera Theater Director Domenico Boyagian. The DVD is available to purchase (for US$30, of which $8 will be donated to the North American Lake Management Society) at or watch now on YouTube.

Posted 27 June 2019 by Keith Bramich