The Music of Elizabeth Alexander

Split Hickory

A new musical set in Central Appalachia round where I grew up

Split Hickory Songs: Freedom and Justice & A Taste of Home

Composer-Librettist Notes from Shawnee State University Theater workshop

As I’ve watched Split Hickory emerge from the written page this past month, the words of German philosopher Martin Buber keep echoing in my mind: “Human beings are promise-making, promise-keeping, promise-breaking, promise-renewing creatures.” This timeless truth, as beautiful as it is painful, is the backbone and heartbeat of Split Hickory.

All day long we keep countless spoken and unspoken promises. We care for our children and we show up at our jobs. We clean up our dog’s poop. We stop our cars at red lights, wait our turn in grocery lines, and thank the person at the diner who comes around with a fresh pot of coffee. These are just things we do — except for the times when we don’t, which also sometimes happen.

Of course it’s not just individuals who make, keep, break, and renew promises. Groups of people do this too. The apartment where I’ve lived for the past month is across the street from an elementary school, and every weekday morning the outdoor loudspeaker leads students in a pledge that says America is “one country.” Now that’s a promise that has been broken and renewed more than once! Indeed, it’s the promise which, six years ago, first led me to imagine a young woman named Bonnie Leatherwood.

Like Bonnie, I left my hometown in Central Appalachia when I went to college. After that, it seemed only natural that I would center my life around the large, progressive cities that offered support to composers like myself. In the decades that followed I came to believe that these cities were truly the place I belonged. But as the social contract between rural and urban regions became ever more frayed, that easy sense of belonging felt less certain. I was a child of two cultures who did not feel completely at home in either one.

Split Hickory became a way for me to spin something beautiful and true out of this ache. When three months ago Shawnee State University offered to give my labor-of-love work-in-progress a staged workshop, I dropped everything else in my life to make it happen. The cast members were incredibly flexible and supportive even as I handed them multiple script rewrites. I suspect that more than one theatrical heart was sent into a flutter by my last-minute edits (not to mention brand new songs!), but everyone involved had promised to do whatever they could to bring this musical to life. And that, friends, was a promise that was kept.

Alrighty, enough yapping. We’re glad y’all could come by for a visit. There’s a place at the table for everyone, so sit back and make yourself at home.

Elizabeth Alexander
(Portsmouth, Ohio. Fall 2022)

Workshops and Helpful People

Thank you to all the wonderful people who are helping me turn my dream spark into a full-fledged musical!

Shawnee State University Theater, Portsmouth, OH
Director: Summer Logan
Musical Director: Stanley Workman, Jr.
Lead Singer: Jarod Emerson
Bonnie Leatherwood: Allyson Withers
Jerilyn Leatherwood: Rachel Barrick
Barker Leatherwood: Nate Marcum
Josh Leatherwood: Josiah Burton
Siobhan: Lio McElroy
Carter Lavender: Aiden Nicholson
Faith Hale: Savanna Nell
Annie Hale: Mariah Ginn
Ensemble: Rebekka Jones, Owen Atkins-Plumlee

Nautilus Music-Theater, St. Paul, MN (4/22/2019-4/23/2019)
Artistic Director: Ben Krywosz
Guitar & Vocals: Gary Rue
Vocals: Prudence Johnson

Beloved Readers* (Various times)
Craig Allen
Ellen Wold
George Alexander
Ginny Allen
Katherine Allen
Margaret Alexander
Melissa Lovett
Oliver Alexander-Adams
Sara Lovett
Simon Alexander-Adams
Steve Harper

* My beloved readers are sometimes referred to as my “draftees” because they somehow allowed themselves to get “drafted” into table-reading my “drafts.” – EA