The Music of Elizabeth Alexander

Folks, I’m Telling You

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

Music: Elizabeth Alexander

Words: 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.

A handful of joy-filled solos offer opportunities to revel in what it means to “get a little lovin’” between our birthing and our dying. The colorful piano part lies under the hands in a gratifying way, a showpiece for a strong player.

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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)