The Music of Elizabeth Alexander

Song of Kabir

A luminous song of wholehearted devotion

Words by Kabir

A fluid, luminous setting of a beloved prayer by Kabir, offering praise to a God both universal and intimate, both of and beyond this world.

About the poet: The Indian poet Kabir (1440-1518) grew up amidst Hinduism and Islam, and was deeply influenced by both. He had little use for the rites and trappings of any religion, and openly despised the pious quoting of scriptures from any religion. His poetry invoked the divine using both Hindu and Muslim names – “Allah” and “Brahma” – but in all cases Kabir engaged with the divine in a way that was deep and immediate. Today Kabir is revered by Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs alike, and his songs are loved by people of all faiths.

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Composer Notes

Composer Notes

Most of my music has been commissioned for specific occasions or performers, so I don’t always have complete control over a given piece’s theme, length, difficulty, mood or style. These artistic “nudges” have often resulted in my growth as a composer, prompting me to get out of my comfort zone and write music that I would not have imagined otherwise.

But some pieces were written simply because I was inspired, growing out of exactly where I was at the moment I conceived them. Song of Kabir is one of those pieces. Once I heard how the opening measures could breathe and flow, I simply couldn’t wait for an interested commissioning party to come along. I fell headlong into Kabir’s universal and intimate vision of divine presence, both of and beyond this world.

About the text and translation: Rabindranath Tagore translated many of Kabir’s songs into English, introducing them to a worldwide audience. His 1915 rendering of this poem reflects the writing style of Tagore’s culture and time: “The creature is in Brahma, and Brahma is in the creature: they are ever distinct, yet ever united. He Himself is the tree, the seed, and the germ. He Himself is the flower, the fruit, and the shade…”

The lyric used in this musical setting is adapted from Tagore’s version, in a modern rendering which reflects the universality of Kabir’s deity, as well as the less florid language of our time.

Text

Song of Kabir

You are in us, and we are in You,
Each being distinct, yet ever united.
You are the tree, the seed, and the cell;
You are the flower, the fruit, and the shade;
You are the sun, the light, and the lighted;
You are the manifold form of infinite space;
You are the breath, the word, and the meaning;
You are the limit and the limitless.
You are the Immanent Mind in us;
You are the Supreme Soul within the soul.
Blessed are all who see You.

Kabir
Translated by Rabindranath Tagore
Adapted by Elizabeth Alexander

Performers

Performers

Premiere: Unity Singers of Unity Church-Unitarian / Ruth Palmer (St. Paul, MN)
Arizona Unitarian Universalist Choral Festival / Elizabeth Alexander (Chandler, AZ)
Association of Church Musicians Winter Choral Workshop / Bruce Gladstone (Madison, WI)
Canticus Vocal Ensemble / Scott R. Peterson (Yakima, WA)
Cary Academy Choir / Laura Sam (Cary, NC)
Choir of First Church in Boston / Paul Cienniwa (Boston, MA)
Choir of First Unitarian Universalist Church of Rochester, MN / Joe Mish (Rochester, MN)
Choir of First Unitarian Universalist Society of San Francisco / Mark Sumner (San Francisco, CA)
Choir of Grace St. Paul’s Episcopal Church / Christina Jarvis (Tucson, AZ)
Choir of Unitarian Univeralist Church of Birmingham / James Sullivan (Birmingham , AL)
Choir of Unitarian Universalist Church of Nashua / Jed Holland (Nashua, NH)
Choir of Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of the Peninsula / Janet Gecowets (Newport News, VA)
Choir of Valley Unitarian Universalist Church / Kellie Walker (Chandler, AZ)
Combined Choirs from Santa Barbara Area / Ken Ryals. Interfaith Thanksgiving Service (Santa Barbara, CA)
Crown of the Continent Choir / Craig Hodges (Whitefish, MT)
Halalisa Singers / Mary Cunningham (Lexington and Reading, MA)
Harvard Choral Fellows / Carson Cooman (Cambridge, MA)
Kenyon College Chamber Singers and Community Choir / Benjamin Locke (Gambier, OH)
Pacific Northwest UU Music Festival Choir / Elizabeth Alexander (Shoreline, WA)
Saint Paul Vocal Forum / Karin Barrett (St. Paul and Minneapolis, MN)
Seattle Pro Musica / Karen Thomas (Seattle, WA)
Social Justice Through Music Choral Festival Choir / Elizabeth Alexander (Tucson, AZ)
Thomas Circle Singers / James Kreger (Washington, DC)
Universal Gospel Choir / Lonnie Delisle (Vancouver, BC CANADA)