The Music of Elizabeth Alexander

Split Hickory

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

Thank you for your interest in this work-in-progress!

So what’s this musical about?
Composer Notes
Workshops, Performances & Helpful People

So what’s this musical about?

Having left her Central Appalachian hometown for a prestigious university education, Bonnie Leatherwood finds it easy to get lost in new experiences and her rewarding future career. But as her family and friends back home struggle with economic turmoil and its social repercussions, she must reconsider what it means to be faithful to a people and a place. With an original folk-country score and faithful storytelling, Split Hickory brings grit, humor and grace to a story of tenacity and love.

Workshop and Lyric Videos

River Road: Split Hickory’s opening song
Family Chains: A fierce declaration of independence
Frog Likes Water: A song about addiction, choices, and amphibians
A Taste of Home: A song about memory, ambivalence and love
Freedom and Justice: Two cherished ideals fight it out

Composer Notes at Shawnee State University
Portsmouth, Ohio, Fall 2022

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.

Workshops, Performances and Helpful People

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

Rough Cuts
Nautilus Music Theater
St. Paul, MN

July 2023

Debi Kilde
Rachel Barrick
Eric Morris
Gary Rue, music director
Ben Krywosz, artistic director

Shawnee State University Theater
Portsmouth, OH
October-November 2022

Jarod Emerson, Allyson Withers, Rachel Barrick, Nate Marcum, Josiah Burton, Lio McElroy, Aiden Nicholson, Savanna Nell, Mariah Ginn, Rebekka Jones, Owen Atkins-Plumlee

Summer Logan, artistic director
Stanley Workman, Jr., music director

Rough Cuts
Nautilus Music Theater
St. Paul, MN
April 2019

Prudence Johnson
Gary Rue, music director and vocals
Ben Krywosz, artistic director

The hapless folks who somehow volunteered themselves to be part of script readings:
George & Margaret Alexander
Oliver Alexander-Adams
Simon Alexander-Adams
Craig & Ginny Allen
Katherine Allen
Steve Harper
Melissa Lovett
Sara Lovett
Ellen Wold