The Music of Elizabeth Alexander

Get Curious

A compelling look at how curiosity can nudge anger into something beautiful and transformative

Music: Elizabeth Alexander

Words: Elizabeth Alexander

A rhythmically-dynamic riff on the power of curiosity to shape anger into something beautiful, powerful, and even transformative. By turns fierce, humorous, and thought-provoking, this powerful call to compassion offers an unforgettable experience for performers and audiences alike.

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Composer Notes

Composer Notes

Twenty years ago while trying to make sense of what seemed like an impossible life situation, I found myself ranting in a therapist’s office. “I hate this!” I said over and over. “How can I stop feeling angry so much of the time?”

At some point my therapist replied: “If you don’t want to be angry, get curious. Because you can’t be angry and curious at the same time.”

What great advice that was! I was causing a lot of suffering for myself and other people because there wasn’t room in my hot little head for anything but my own unhappiness. What a game changer it was when I stirred curiosity into the mix!

Did you hear me say it was easy to get curious? No you did not because I didn’t and it wasn’t. I’d long prided myself on being an independent-minded woman, a voice for positive change, a force of nature! I wasn’t shy about speaking up and speaking out. But suddenly I was making different choices. I was reconsidering qualities that I had come to think of as weak, ineffectual, and even old-fashioned: prudence, restraint, forbearance. Sometimes it felt like I was losing my basic identity.

It took a long time for me to figure out how to be courageous and curious at the same time. When people gave voice to opinions I found offensive – often ideas about justice, religion, or politics – I learned to hold my tongue until after I’d counted to ten. After that I learned to count to twenty. Finally I learned to listen without counting at all. Wow, I could make a fully conscious decision about when, how and whether to share my opinions! I can still easily fall back into judgment or mindless anger, but at least now I know the secret of getting unstuck.

If you’ve already guessed that I wrote a song about curiosity, well you’re right! It took the better part of a decade to find musicians willing to take on this unusual theme, but shortly before pandemic I found the perfect partners: University of Illinois Women’s Glee Club and conductor Andrea Solya. They dove into Get Curious headfirst, with wide-open hearts and a real sense of purpose!

Of course, Get Curious is about more than li’l ol’ me. Our fraught and fragile world is in desperate need of more curiosity. You won’t find an identity group anywhere with a surplus of curiosity, whether it be a family, country, sex, gender, race, religion, political party, sports team, or community choir.

Having grown up in the Carolinas and Appalachian Ohio, it especially breaks my heart to see how disinterested people can be about the dreams, values, and needs of other regions. I often wonder how much this lack of curiosity feeds our country’s deep and deepening animosities. I wonder how much healing could happen if all of us would “start wondering what’s behind things.”


Get Curious

Anger can be a beautiful thing. Powerful. Transformative.
But sometimes Anger can get the better of us.
We can get hijacked by Anger, get rigid, get self-righteous.
Anger can get in the way of listening.
When that happens, it’s time for us to get Curious.

Start wondering what’s behind things,
beyond the daily grind of things,
within the intertwined of things – Get Curious.
Unpack the reason why of things,
the parts we can’t deny of things,
the sweet imperfect sigh of things – Get Curious.

Wonder at the world like Alice,
Climb a tree like sister Eve,
Open a door like Goldilocks,
Peek into Pandora’s box.

Behold the look-within of things,
the most authentic spin of things,
the sinew, sweat and skin of things – Get Curious.

Curious has a rotten reputation.
(We’ve been told it killed a cat!)
Lies like that erase imagination,
Shut it down in seconds flat.

Set aside the pride of things,
get past the true and tried of things,
the black and white divide of things,
wander on the other side – Get Curious.

It’s the remedy for righteous Rage,
It’s the best antidote to Furious,
Keeps Fear from flying out of control,
Keeps Bitter from moving right into your soul.

Get to know the grain of things,
the wane and wax and wane of things,
the ebb and flow and ebb of things,
the interdependent web of things…

Start wondering what’s behind things,
beyond the made-up mind of things.

Anger can be a beautiful thing.
Powerful. Transformative.

Get Curious.

Elizabeth Alexander
© 2023 by Elizabeth Alexander



Premiere: University of Illinois Women’s Glee Club / Andrea Solya