The Music of Elizabeth Alexander

Sketches in Gray

Whimsical portraits of the dusky, steely, foggy, shadowy, and furry

Five playful and evocative character pieces with “gray” subjects: Twilight, Cogwheels, Fog, Shadows and Squirrels. This intimate, 4-minute set is suitable for pianists young, old and middling.

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Composer Notes

Composer Notes

When I wrote these tiny piano pieces as a Christmas present for my husband, I was an exhausted mess. I had just completed a whoppin’ big orchestral work, the final requirement for my Cornell University doctoral degree. All I wanted to do was sleep, take walks, catch my breath. I entitled the set Shades of Gray without much deliberation, thinking that the color was a utilitarian catch-all for the individual pieces.

I was still striving to regain a sense of ease a few years when some mice moved into our apartment, providing me a long-awaited opportunity to lobby both my landlord and my husband for a cat. And not just any cat: a gray cat. I knew it didn’t make sense but somehow I got it into my head that a gray cat would be a more comforting presence. Gray was peaceful. Gray was undemanding. Gray was simple. So soon a dusky kitten from a neighbor’s surprise litter came to live with us. We named him Heffalump. He was a good cat.

I didn’t make a connection between these two occurrences until I renamed the set Sketches in Gray many years later. Clearly the color represented a more long-standing desire than I had realized! Thinking on it now, I feel such tenderness for that young woman, fleeing from all the sound and color and light into whatever peace she could find – even in a quiet, unassuming color. The ingenuity of human resilience is an extraordinary thing.



Premiere: Elizabeth Alexander. Wisconsin Alliance for Composers Conference (Appleton, WI)
Elizabeth Alexander (Ithaca, NY)
Genevieve Jones (Madison, WI)
Megan Sharp (Wooster, OH)
Yuri Yamamoto. Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly (Charlotte, NC)