(for programs and publicity)
(for bedtime reading)
Elizabeth Alexander (b.1962) grew up in the Carolinas and Appalachian Ohio, the daughter of a piano teacher and a minister/prison warden. The music, stories and challenging questions that filled her childhood are reflected in her catalogue of over 100 songs and choral works, and a style which moves easily between concert stage, choir loft and jam session. Her acclaimed text settings of both original lyrics and the words of others prompted Choral Director Magazine to write that her “mastery of prosody and declamation results in a marriage between music and text that is dynamic and indelible.” Other reviewers have described her music as “brilliantly innovative” (New York Concert Review), “truly inspired” (Boston Intelligencer) and “stunning...exquisite...sculpting light into sound” (Kansas City Metropolis).
Elizabeth’s many commissions have included works for orchestra, chamber ensembles, solo instruments and voice, but she is best known for her choral pieces, which have been performed by thousands of choruses worldwide. A recent McKnight Composition Fellow, she has also received grants, awards and fellowships from the Jerome Foundation, New Music USA, Minnesota State Arts Board, New York Council on the Arts, Wisconsin Arts Board, National Orchestral Association, International League of Women Composers, American Composers Forum. She studied composition with Steven Stucky, Jack Gallagher, Yehudi Wyner and Karel Husa, receiving her doctorate in Music Composition from Cornell University.
She lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota, where she reads voraciously, makes pretty good biscuits, looks for all kinds of excuses to visit her two grown sons, and gardens during the three month period in Minnesota which is not winter.
I was raised in a Southern family that harmonized on car trips, read newspaper articles aloud, ate dinner together, and sang loudly in church. My mother gave me my first piano lessons and played duets with me. When I was five years old we were playing "Home on the Range" when I suddenly felt powerfully moved by one particular chord. Years later I would learn that this was a "borrowed iv chord," a discovery which sparked a lifelong love affair with music theory.
I spent my teens in Appalachian Ohio, where I played Bach, Chopin, Prokofiev, Debussy, Billy Joel, the Beatles, and anything I could pick out by ear. Because I didn't know that some musical styles were thought to be too simplistic, dissonant, sentimental or passé, I unabashedly loved them all. I wrote many songs during that time, some of which were not too bad.
I attended The College of Wooster, where my studies with Jack Gallagher gave me a foundation I still appreciate today. From there I went to Cornell University, where I received my doctorate in music composition, studying with Yehudi Wyner, Karel Husa, and especially Steven Stucky. During my Ivy League years I shed my Southern/Appalachian twang while simultaneously struggling to find a musical voice. It took me years to make a connection between those two things, but ever since then music's come easier and life's been more lovely.
I never intended to write so much choral music. I got into it innocently enough, thinking that I could write a choral piece every so often and quit whenever I wanted to. Little did I know that the power and possibility of synchronized singing would seduce me so thoroughly, but it did and I'm sure I'm better for it.
Composing is a solitary art, but I am not a solitary person. I've been a composer-in-residence in many schools and arts programs, and I have a small piano studio in which all of my students also compose music. Young people remind me why I love music.
I have received my share of enthusiastic and tepid reviews, often for the very same piece. Positive or negative, my favorite reviews are delivered from the heart. A reviewer from Philadelphia's Broad Street Review once wrote: "I heard plenty of wonderful music between Thanksgiving and Twelfth Night, as I usually do. For So the Children Come was the most personally moving piece I encountered." If I were only going to receive one review in my whole life, that's the one I'd want.
I have published my own music for 20 years, an endeavor which makes me a walking advertisement for a liberal arts education. I receive more technical, legal, artistic and logistical help from my friends and family than I deserve, which makes me glad you don't have to deserve everything you get in life.
One final joy is being a member of the Independent Music Publishers Cooperative, or IMP. I get to pool my time, energy and resources with seven other composer-publishers with exquisite voices, high standards, and the drive to work cooperatively and hard. You'll find me and my fellow "impsters" at music conferences, on concert stages, and on our collective website, www.imp.coop.