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What’s Keeping You From Singing?

Cover image by Mark Winter (aka Chicane)
www.chicanepictures.com

A soulful reminder of music's power to lift the heart.
Commissioned by Rochester Women's Community Chorus
Poet/Lyricist: 
Elizabeth Alexander

A buoyant reminder of music’s power to lift the heart during difficult times, this soulful song addresses depression’s weighty cloud from the very first lines.

Its unusual chorus is based on four questions that cultural anthropologist Angeles Arrien observed in the healing practice of First Nations shamans: “When did you stop dancing? When did you stop singing? When did you stop being enchanted by stories? When did you stop finding comfort in the sweet territory of silence?”

What’s Keeping You From Singing? asks these challenging questions with lyricism and tenacity, holding out the possibility for music and loving community to heal and nourish the soul.

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https://www.seafarerpress.com/sites/seafarerpress.advantagelabs.com/files/works_variant_audio_files/recording-alexander-whats_keepin_you_from_singin.mp3 SSAA a cappella - Choral Score
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What’s Keeping You From Singing?

Elizabeth Alexander

Girl, you got yourself a heck of a smile,
Rosy and rowdy and redeeming.
But I can’t help noticing that it’s been awhile
Since I have seen it beaming.
The wind is beckoning! Come on, come on!
Taste this moment before it’s gone.
Every breath is a secret dawn,
So Sister, come on!

CHORUS:
What’s keeping you from singing?
What’s keeping you from dancing?
What happened to the whispering stories that invite
    you to listen to your heart’s own guide?
What’s stopping the sweet, sweet silence of the night
    from gentling the winding of your mind?
Oh, whatever’s getting in the way of the truest part of you,
Sister, lay that load aside.
Oh, whatever’s getting in the way of the truest part of you,
Lay that load aside, lay it aside, lay it aside.

Although the road you’re on may be as rough as they come,
Walk on, walk on, walk on.
Remember that the heart of a woman is a powerful drum:
Listen to it beating in you, it’s beating in you –
It’s beating in you:

CHORUS

Although the songs come harder when you’re not feeling strong,
Sing on, sing on, sing on.
Remember that your voice is a ribbon braided into our song:
Listen to it calling to you, it’s calling to you –
It’s calling to you:

CHORUS

Composer's Note: 

Composer Note: My mission in composing this song was to respond to the joys, sorrows, hopes and dreams of Rochester Women’s Community Chorus. Soon after the contract was signed, the choir sent me a rich letter describing what was important to its members – community, joy, song, peace, courage...

In the letter were some poems and quotes, including an excerpt from Angeles Arrien’s book, The Four-Fold Way: Walking the Paths of the Warrior, Teacher, Healer and Visionary (HarperCollins, © 1993):

“In many shamanic societies, if you came to a shaman or medicine person complaining of being disheartened, dispirited, or depressed, they would ask one of four questions. When did you stop dancing? When did you stop singing? When did you stop being enchanted by stories? When did you stop finding comfort in the sweet territory of silence?”

Meanwhile, I had more commissions than I could comfortably keep up with. As a self-publisher I was scrambling to keep up with order fulfillment, printing, bill paying, special requests, editing, and the endless email correspondence that comes along with running one’s own business. I loved the music I was composing and the musicians I was writing for. But with every week bringing some new deadline or unexpected challenge, I was not really resting. My brain felt full all the time.

In short, I was not singing. I was not dancing. I was not hearing stories. I was not enjoying silence.

Yes, my mission was to respond to the joys, sorrows, hopes and dreams of Rochester Women’s Community Chorus...but in every commission I also have to engage the yearnings of my own heart. I wrapped Arrien’s four questions into the chorus of What’s Keeping You From Singing?, and wrote a song of encouragement and love both to the choir and to myself.

Composing this song encouraged me to slow down, trust more, and accept less work. As I write these words two years later, I am happy to report that I am singing.

Performers: 

PREMIERE: Rochester Women's Community Chorus / Kristy Houston (Rochester, NY)
Madrigalia / Cary Ratcliff (Rochester and Brockport, NY)
Rochester Women's Community Chorus / Kristy Houston. Sister Singers Network Festival. (Grand Rapids, MI)

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