The Music of Elizabeth Alexander

Only a Couple Fishes

An animated retelling of the “loaves and fishes” story, with generosity at its core

Words by Elizabeth Alexander

At first glance, this song offers a light-hearted retelling of the ancient story of the five loaves and two fishes. But a closer look reveals a deeper truth: that gratitude and radical generosity can bring forth an abundant feast for everyone.

The audience/congregation may be invited to join in singing the chorus, an easy-to-learn canonic song of sharing.

The chorus itself, entitled Song of the Five Thousand, may be licensed for congregational use through One License or Seafarer Press.

Details and Ordering Information

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Composer Notes

Composer Notes

In this timeless story the mysterious source of the bounteous food is never named. Do the overflowing baskets come from a divine source after the wise man expresses gratitude? Or is there another possible source, more human but no less miraculous? It was important to me that my retelling ask this question, but not answer it.

Also, writing the lyrics of this song was a blast! Some of my rejected lyrics were just as funny as the ones I kept. For example, here are some of my alternate versions for the third and fourth lines of verse 2:

  • While the shortfall was explainable, a feast was unattainable.
  • This was all that was available. The amount was hardly scalable!
  • The amount was truly comical. It was hardly economical!
  • The amount was truly laughable, but the wise man still stayed affable.
  • The amount was quite forgettable. What a shortfall! How regrettable!

These couplets still crack me up, but in the end I had to go with lyrics that told the story best.

Text

Only a Couple Fishes

Long ago, five thousand people headed out into the wilderness,
Listening to a wise man,
And following where he led.
When their bellies started rumbling,
Some people started grumbling,
’Til the wise man opened up his arms and said:

As we share what we have with each other,
Let us sing out joyfully.
May abundance lead to gratitude,
Then to generosity.

To and fro they passed a basket, but discovered when they looked within:
Only a couple fishes, and only five loaves of bread.
The amount was truly humbling;
Morale was quickly crumbling,
But they prayed together as the wise man said:
As we share what we have with each other,
Let us sing out joyfully.
May abundance lead to gratitude,
Then to generosity.

Overflowing baskets started coming forth before their very eyes:
Suddenly there was plenty, and everyone there was fed.
There was so much that was edible;
The feasting was incredible,
And so much left over that the people said:

As we share what we have with each other,
Let us sing out joyfully.
May abundance lead to gratitude,
Then to generosity.

Elizabeth Alexander
© 2012 by Elizabeth Alexander

Performers

Performers

Only a Couple Fishes (complete song)
Premiere: Children’s Choirs of Trinity Lutheran, Watertown Evangelical Free Church and Immaculate Conception / Joyce Harding (Watertown, MN)
ACDA Illinois Children’s Honor Choir / Emily Ellsworth (Glen Ellyn, IL)
ANIMA Young Singers of Greater Chicago / Brandon Pemberton (Elmhurst, IL)
Children’s Choir of Unity Church-Unitarian / Kathleen Radspinner (St. Paul, MN)
Choir of First Parish in Concord / Beth Norton (Concord, MA)
Choir of Starr King Unitarian Universalist Church / Sarah Dan Jones (Plymouth, NH)
Choir of Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Whidbey Island / Mavis Cauffman (Freeland, WA)
Choir of Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at Stony Brook / Dan Weymouth. Interfaith Thanksgiving (Stony Brook, NY)
Choir of Valley Unitarian Universalist Church / Kellie Walker (Chandler, AZ)
Choral Conducting Workshop / Rodney Eichenberger (Cannon Beach, OR; Alexandria, VA)
Rainier Youth Choirs / Leora Schwitters (Kent, WA)
Williamsburg Methodist Summer Music Camp / Lou-Anne Smith (Williamsburg, VA)

Song of the Five Thousand (canon)
Premiere: Children’s Choirs of Trinity Lutheran, Watertown Evangelical Free Church and Immaculate Conception / Joyce Harding (Watertown, MN)
Bread & Roses / Peggy Safford (DeKalb, IL)
Choir and Congregation of Unitarian Fellowship of Lawrence / Susan Harper (Lawrence, KS)
Choir of First Unitarian Universalist Church of Rochester / Joe Mish (Rochester, MN)
Choir of First Universalist Society of Hartland Four Corners / Patty Talbot (Hartland Four Corners, VT)
Choir of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Catskills / Catherine Cattabiani (Kingston, NY)
Choir of Unity Church-Unitarian / Ruth Palmer (St. Paul, MN)
Florence Church of the Brethren (Constantine, MI)
ACDA Illinois Children’s Honor Choir / Emily Ellsworth (Glen Ellyn, IL)
ANIMA Young Singers of Greater Chicago / Brandon Pemberton (Elmhurst, IL)
Children’s Choir of Unity Church-Unitarian / Kathleen Radspinner (St. Paul, MN)
Choir of First Parish in Concord / Beth Norton (Concord, MA)
Choir of Starr King Unitarian Universalist Church / Sarah Dan Jones (Plymouth, NH)
Choir of Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Whidbey Island / Mavis Cauffman (Freeland, WA)
Choir of Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at Stony Brook / Dan Weymouth. Interfaith Thanksgiving (Stony Brook, NY)
Choir of Valley Unitarian Universalist Church / Kellie Walker (Chandler, AZ)
Choral Conducting Workshop / Rodney Eichenberger (Cannon Beach, OR; Alexandria, VA)
Rainier Youth Choirs / Leora Schwitters (Kent, WA)
Williamsburg Methodist Summer Music Camp / Lou-Anne Smith (Williamsburg, VA)