Begin is not a little ditty for novice singers – but rather a challenging and fulfilling undertaking. Listen to the stunning recording by the Oakville Choir for Children and Youth. (directors Dr. Charlene Pauls and Dr. Sarah Morrison.)

Begin is an extensive composition written for SSA a capella girl choir. Based on a poem “Begin” by Toronto writer Tanis Rideout, the music describes an imaginary journey of Marilyn Bell and Shirley Campbell, two long distance swimmers who tried to swim Lake Ontario in the 1950’s. Campbell was unsuccessful and Bell became a legendary figure. Music sails through the geological landscape of Lake Ontario, expresses in a poetic way how nature and history defines the relationship we have with water: the tides that push us together, also pull us apart. Some theatre elements such as making sound effects, movement, body percussion, and “rapping” of swim terminology are integrated in the music, highlighting the drama of the text. This composition conveys an empowering message how two different young women faced and conquered huge challenge with strength, intelligence, perseverance, and courage.

Begin, begin, begin…

This lake, like others, was dug out

Grinding, grinding, scouring, scouring
Glacial ice grinding South – scouring weak Silurian stone
an arctic tsunami – leaving only the backbone of the escarpment
Canadian Shield and broken tumble of kames in its retreat

Begin, begin, begin…
glacial, glacial, glacial…
rebound, rebound, rebound…

Shimmering waters…
Give or take a geologic blink
and now, a girl on Holocene shores
measure the distance – her to here.
Fifty four…
fifty four kilometres as the crow flies,
the herring gull, the cormorant with dried wings.
Sixty-four against the current.
Three point two kilometres an hour.
Slower than a winter housefly bumbling against your window.

This might be finished
this might be finished tomorrow

Stroke, roll, turn, glide ….
breast-stroke, front-crawl, glide, slide
butterfly, dolphin kick, tumble turn, body roll…

She inhales, wishes for the bones of a bird
a pigeon’s honing for home…
Small arms become wings, beating the jagged lake.

She’ll make the decision over and over
Nothing is a miracle or happens only once

Begin, begin, begin…

text by Tanis Rideout




SSAA – a cappella with body percussion $2.75 CP 1705 – duration – 6:30