The Lake Isle Project

On the First Friday in June, the Indianapolis Choral Artisans performed "The Lake Isle" in the Speck Gallery, surrounded by visual art inspired by the piece. ICA director Rick Cobb reflects on the experience below. This post originally appeared on the

Indianapolis Choral Artisans website


The Indianapolis Choral Artisans finished their inaugural season earlier this summer by joining forces with the Harrison Center for the Arts for a special project which helped us begin the journey of 

"serving the city with collaborative art experiences through the craft of choral music-making." 

When our choral community launched last fall, the desire was not to develop a group of singers who operated within the vacuum of a "chorus singing for themselves." What would it look like instead to link arms with other artistic organizations in order to make a positive contribution to the aesthetical life of our city? I'm grateful for the Harrison Center partnership, because I strongly believe that the choral art-form can and should cross-pollinate with other art mediums 

(painting, dance, photography, theatre, etc)


I was thrilled to find a choral composition which I thought would work well in collaboration with some of the visual artists and artisans of the Harrison Center. The text is taken from a poem by William Butler Yeats entitled, "The Lake Isle of Innisfree", set to music by the contemporary composer Ola Gjeilo. I approached the HCA staff to see if any of the artists would be interested to interpret Yeats' poem through their particular mediums. Eleven artists graciously agreed to take part in the project (Lorie Lee Andrews, Kathryn Dart, Kyle Ragsdale, Carolyn Springer, Kate Oberreich, Johnny McKee, Benaiah Cusack, Benny Sanders, Sarah Hedges, Elyce Elder and Anne Cleary). "The Lake Isle Project" was birthed and became one of the featured shows for the First Friday in June held in the Speck Gallery.

That evening, guests were given the opportunity to deepen the experience of assimilating Yeats' poem into both the head and heart through the raw materials of text, paint, sound and fabric. You really need two things in order to unpack any piece of art:

  1. The use of the imagination to see connections between things.
  2. And patience, which allows the piece to speak to you through its own unfolding temporal process.

In certain arts, such as architecture, sculpture and painting, the whole appears before the detail - the assimilation of the work progresses from the general to the particular. In literature and music, the detail strikes one first and leads to the appreciation of the whole - the assimilation progresses from the particular to the general. 

William Butler Yeats & Background on the "Lake Isle of Innisfree"

William Butler Yeats was born in 1865 in the city of Dublin to the Irish painter John Butler Yeats. His childhood was spent in county Sligo, where his parents had been raised and in London, where he was educated. Yeats returned to Dublin to study painting but quickly discovered he preferred poetry. He became deeply involved in Irish culture and the political landscape. He is rightly regarded as one of the most significant poets - in any language - of the 20th century. Yeats was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1923 and died in 1939 at the age of 73.

Innisfree is a real place, located in Lake Gill in County Sligo, which was an area Yeats loved and knew well. The poem, "The Lake Isle of Innisfree" was published in Yeats' second book of poems, The Rose (1893). It is one of his first great and enduring poems. The final line, "I hear it in the deep heart's core", is a crucial statement for Yeats, not just in this poem but for his career as a whole. The belief that truths dwelling deep within the human soul was one that always guided Yeats. Remaining true to the "deep heart's core" was in the opinion of his contemporaries his primary undertaking as a poet.


Background on the musical composition and composer


The contemporary composer Ola Gjeilo wrote "The Lake Isle" in 2015. Born in Norway in 1978, Gjeilo moved to the United States in 2001 to begin his composition studies at the Julliard School.  Presently a full-time composer based in New York City, he is also very interested in film, and his music often draws inspiration from movies and cinematic music. His concert works are performed all over the world. The musical composition in itself is a microcosm of collaborative convergence utilizing string quartet (2 violins, viola and cello), keyboard, steel-stringed guitar and vocal ensemble as the sources of sound. None of the above elements predominate as a single entity; the different elements combine to make one whole. 

A live performance of "The Lake Isle" by the Indianapolis Choral Artisans - Chamber Singers 

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Slideshow of Lake Isle Project Exhibit 

Created with

flickr slideshow



Interview with participating visual artist, Anne Cleary

As a visual artist, which particular mediums are your particular focus?

I'm an abstract painter - typically oil on canvas or wood panel. I do a lot with textiles, in particular silk. My particular piece for the Lake Isle project is entitled, "Sounds of the Deep" and it is silk dye textile paint on silk organza.

What specific images from the Yeats' text captured your imagination and how did you try to communicate that in your piece? 

  • This poem is very personal to me in that it reminds me of a lake my family and I frequent. It is a place similar to the Innisfree of the poem. When he refers to the fact that he can "hear it in the deep heart's core," he's communicating that Innisfree has become a part of him. The depth and sound of the water is something he carries with him wherever he goes. I especially love the image of Yeats "standing on the roadway or pavements grey." I recall from my own life those times when I lived in several large cities on the east coast where the mineral smell of summer rain steamed up from the pavement. The traffic rush, people and the city sounds connected to an interior peaceful feeling - in the heart's core even among all of the busy. The veil, like the nature of the silk organza also refers to the fog of a lake, of steam rising on an early morning; of not quite discernible landscape across the body of the water; inky trees, shadows, droplets of "the peace that comes dropping slow."

You're also a musician (voice and cello), how does your approach to music-making influence your work as a visual artist? Any overlap between the two disciplines?

  • Music and visual art have always been intertwined for me and I have a very difficult time trying to do one without the other. I quit trying to separate them because really, what is the point? My work has a lyrical quality, sometimes like notes on the written score possibly - but not intentionally. It just seems to end up that way; the visual language is music based. This poem asks us to arise, and the! It does too, slowly first, and then it builds...the fog like layering of strings with the guitar tingling along, pulling and driving us from underneath. The motif is a traveling one, carrying us somewhere. My painting is the destination - my own Innisfree.