The Music of Elizabeth Alexander

Fighting Over What We Believe

A bold meditation on conflict, communication and compassion

Words by Elizabeth Alexander

A bold meditation on political conflict, communication and compassion, with a compelling dialogue of voices, and a call-to-action refrain. The interplay between different sections of the choir reflects the dynamic relationship necessary for all difficult and important conversations.

Dialogue is a key element of this song. In the original version for youth and adult choirs, it works well for the two choirs learn their parts separately, combining them at 1 or 2 final rehearsals. In all the other versions, there are prominent soloists/small groups in all parts.

Details and Ordering Information

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Composer Notes

Composer Notes

This commission came with an exciting and irresistible mission: To compose a piece with social justice at its core, which youth and adult choirs could perform together. The church that commissioned the song knew my work already, so I’m sure they suspected that this mission would have me chomping at the bit. And because I already knew of the church’s commitment to unflinching dialogue and bold actions, I knew that this song’s hard edges and difficult questions would be welcome.

While this piece was still in its conceptual stage, Minnesota’s legislature was becoming increasingly polarized and paralyzed. Eventually this resulted in a full state government shutdown, foreshadowing the federal shutdown that would occur the following year. As I saw the suffering caused by this lack of bipartisan cooperation, I realized I need look no further for my social justice theme.

Fighting Over What We Believe became a meditation on conflict, communication and compassion, with a dialogue of many voices and a “call to action” refrain. The interplay between soloists and different sections of the choir reflects the dynamic relationship necessary for all difficult and important conversations.

Text

Fighting Over What We Believe

Talking left, talking right, talking far into the night,
Splitting hairs, splitting up, splitting off,
Less and more, rich and poor, what to address, what to ignore,
What are we really fighting for?
Persuade, coerce,
Convene, disperse,
Accept or curse?
Deny, confess,
Condemn or bless?
Who lives? Who dies?
My truth, your lies.

Bring in, shut out, what’s that all about?
Who gives out retribution and grace?
What to keep, what to spend,
What to give and what to lend?
Some have not, some have a lot.
Can we learn to share the things we’ve got?

I see us fighting over what we believe, how to love and how to pray.
We begin with hope and resolve and dreams, and end up fighting over what we believe.
I see us fighting over what we believe, leaving spirits poor and lonely.
I want to use my fighting spirit in a different way instead of fighting over what we believe.

I want to wrestle with the angel ‘til the light of dawn,
And struggle with my need for pride.
I want to take on my tendency to turn my head,
And grapple with why it feels so hard to gently lay our differences aside.

(Day, night, wrong, right, no end in sight.)

We all believe in justice. Let’s talk about what that looks like.
And we believe in compassion. Let’s look at what that really means.
We believe in the holy work of listening, to every voice.
Let’s start our conversation there…

Instead of fighting over what we believe. It wears us down and wears us out.
We have eyes to see, we have ears to hear, we have hands that long to give and receive.
I see us fighting over what we believe, leaving spirits poor and lonely.
I want to use my fighting spirit in a different way instead of fighting over what we believe.

(Divide, unite, exclude, invite, day, night, wrong, right, no end in sight!)

We all believe in justice.
Let’s talk about what that looks like.

Elizabeth Alexander
© 2011 by Elizabeth Alexander

Performers

Performers

SATB & soloists
Premiere: Choir of First Unitarian Universalist Church of Nashville / Jason Shelton (Nashville, TN)
Arizona Unitarian Universalist Choral Festival / Elizabeth Alexander (Chandler, AZ)
Choir of Community Church of Chapel Hill / Glenn Mehrbach (Chapel Hill, NC)
Choir of First Congregational Church of Montclair / Julie Morgan (Montclair, NJ)
Choir of First Unitarian Society of Madison / Dan Broner (Madison, WI)
Choir of Rogue Valley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship / Tamara Marston (Ashland, OR)
Choir of St. Luke Presbyterian / David Lohman (Minnetonka, MN)
Choir of Unitarian Universalist Church of Elgin / Shari Smagatz (Elgin, IL)
Choir of Unitarian Universalist Church of Silver Spring / Michael Holmes (Silver Spring, MD)
Choir of UU Church of Vancouver / Patrick Scofield (Vancouver, WA)
Choir of UU Fellowship of the Peninsula / Janet Gecowets (Newport News, VA)
Choir of Valley Unitarian Universalist Church / Kellie Walker (Chandler, AZ)
Choir of Westside Unitarian Universalist Congregation / Bertram Gulhaugen (Seattle, WA)
Choirs of First Parish of Sudbury & UU Church of Reading / Debra Morris-Bennett & Mary Cunningham (Sudbury, MA)
Des Moines Diversity Chorus / Julie Murphy (Des Moines, IA)
High School All-County Chorus, Rockingham County Schools / Gwen McLeod Hall (Reidsville, NC)
Pacific Northwest UU Music Festival Choir / Elizabeth Alexander (Shoreline, WA)
Rockingham County High School All-County Chorus / Gwen McLeod Hall (Reidsville, NC)
Social Justice Through Music Choral Festival Choir / Elizabeth Alexander (Tucson, AZ)

SSA & soloists
Premiere: Choir of First Congregational Church of Montclair / Julie Morgan (Montclair, NJ)
Anna Crusis Women’s Choir / Miriam Davidson (Philadelphia, PA)
Aurora Chorus / Joan Szymko (Portland, OR)
CHARIS, The Saint Louis Women’s Chorus / Stuart Chapman Hill (Saint Louis, MO)
Indianapolis Women’s Chorus / Meagan Johnson (Indianapoolis, IN)
North Carolina Governor’s School East Chorus / Gwen McLeod Hall (Raleigh, NC)