The Music of Elizabeth Alexander

Oath Taking

An incisive song about reconciliation, promises and integrity

Words by Opal Palmer Adisa

Opal Palmer Adisa’s visceral poem expresses a passionate desire for honesty, integrity and accountability, as reflected by the Kongo people’s ancient nkisi nkondi figures. This passionate, incisive musical setting captures the poet’s uncompromising vision of right relationship.

Details and Ordering Information

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Composer Notes

Composer Notes

For me, Oath Taking reflects several things. First and foremost is Opal Palmer Adisa’s deep connection with the Kondo people’s nkisi nkondi figures, tangible embodiments of honorable promise-making and promise-keeping. Also woven into this song is the character of soprano Carol Harris, who commissioned and premiered this song. Her teaching, art and life were impeccably informed by precise communication, principled action, and clear-eyed engagement with unvarnished truth.

Text

Oath Taking

used to be
the word spoken
lived like the multi-colored butterfly
that hovers over a nectar-laden tree
every word
was a nail
driven with force
into wood
to say it was to make
it come through
and if perhaps
you didn’t value what you spoke
the priestess would come around
hold up her mirror
to help you remember
the spirit of your words
and every time
you moved a hand
jerked a neck or
stretched from your rib-cage
a sharp nail-stabbing pain
would remind you
not to speak lightly
your words would reflect
from the mirror that was your soul
you would know then
the consequences of speaking idly
you would be reminded
that speaking
is a noble act
a gesture of respect
that we insignificant beings
offer to the life force

Opal Palmer Adisa
© 2000 by Opal Palmer Adisa, from Leaf of Life (Jukebox Press, Oakland, CA). Used by permission of the author

Performers

Performers

Premiere: Carol Harris, soprano and Elizabeth Alexander, piano (St. Paul, MN)
Anne O’Byrne. First Unitarian Universalist Church. (Richmond, VA)
Debra Hammond and Elizabeth Alexander. UUMN National Conference (San Diego, CA)
Harriet McCleary and Pam Sohriakoff. Open Eye Figure Theatre (Minneapolis, MN)
Harriet McCleary and Ruth Palmer (Bloomington, MN)
Kathleen Humphrey and Elizabeth Alexander (St. Paul, MN)