The Music of Elizabeth Alexander

Folks, I’m Telling You

A driving, blues-inflected riff on hard truth and deep love

Words by Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes’ short, sassy poem, “Advice,” contains an irresistible combination of hard truth and deep love. This dynamic setting is packed with edgy jazz harmonies, straight-ahead rhythms, and soulful, blues-inflected lines.

The piano part is challenging, but lies under the hands in a gratifying way, a showpiece for a strong player. A few single-line solos offer oppotunities for singers to offer up “a little lovin’ in between.”

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Composer Notes

Composer Notes

One thing I love about Langston Hughes is how he combines brutal truths with deep love. His short and to-the-point poem, “Advice,” cried out for edgy rhythms and complex chords whose intensity would somehow also convey clear-eyed compassion. I loved every single minute of writing this piece.



Folks, I’m telling you,
birthing is hard
and dying is mean —
so get yourself
a little loving
in between.

Langston Hughes
© 1994 by the Estate of Langston Hughes. Reprinted by permission of Harold Ober Associates Inc.



Premiere: Common Chords Chorus / Elizabeth Alexander (Ithaca, NY)
Berkshire Choral Festival Chorus / Philip Brunelle (Sheffield, MA)
Choir of First Unitarian Universalist Church of Nashville / Jason Shelton (Nashville, TN)
Choir of Unitarian Universalist Church of Silver Spring / Michael Holmes (North Bethesda, MD)
Denison University Chamber Singers / Wei Cheng (Granville, OH)
Earlham College Madrigal Singers / Dan Graves (State College, PA; Washington, DC; New York, NY; Cambridge, MA)
Harmonium Choral Society / Ann Matlack (Madison, NJ; Waterloo Village, CT)
Lyon Singers, South Lyon High School / Andrew Hathikhanavala. Michigan School Vocal Music Association Festival (Grand Rapids, MI)
Portara / Jason Shelton (Nashville, TN)
Portara / Jason Shelton. ACDA Tennessee Conference (Murfreesboro, TN)
Spectrum Singers / Amy Saari. Interfaith Thanksgiving Service (Warren, MI)
University of Northern Colorado Chamber Choir / Jill Burleson Burgett (Greeley, CO)
VocalEssence / Philip Brunelle. Annual Witness Concert (St. Paul, MN)
Westminster College Choir / Natasia Sexton (Fulton, MO)