The Music of Elizabeth Alexander

They Have Freckles Everywhere

Seven affectionate portraits of our bodies’ amazing parts

Music: Elizabeth Alexander

Words: Elizabeth Alexander

Seven wildly diverse musical portraits of our bodies’ amazing parts, based on children’s poems but composed for real women. They Have Freckles Everywhere is an aural and visual celebration of our physical nature, with moments of thoughtfulness, delight, serenity, mischief, and unbridled genre-hopping.

Performers are welcome to perform individual movements separately if they wish:
I. My Eyes
II. My Birthmark
III. My Legs
IV. My Brain
V. My Mouth
VI. My Fingers
VII. My Cheeks

Details and Ordering Information

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Composer Notes

Composer Notes

Commissions are gifts of possibility, especially when collaboration is involved. They Have Freckles Everywhere came about through an unusual partnership in Portland, Maine between Women In Harmony and the children of Hall Elementary School. In order to explore how the human body can be portrayed in art, the children visited an art gallery, photographed favorite parts of their own bodies, and wrote poems in response to their photographs.

I was delighted when I received the poems – over 100 in all! They were imaginative, witty, gregarious, thoughtful, and packed with vibrant images. I laid them out on the floor and wove them into lyrics for seven body parts: eyes, legs, brain, mouth, fingers, cheeks, and one quite distinctive birthmark.

As I worked with the children’s poems and subsequently set them to music, I was blown away by how unabashedly these children celebrated their bodies. I was also painfully aware of how self-conscious adults often are about how we sit, walk, gesture, eat, speak and look. The children’s words were an irresistible invitation to rediscover the playfulness that “mature people” often lose touch with. It’s no wonder that I found myself moving around and dancing as I composed!

When Women in Harmony performed They Have Freckles Everywhere for the children and their families, they did so with great gusto! The visceral pleasure of having a body and being alive was on full display. And of course after the song was over, every one of the art-makers took a bow.

About these seven “pieces of me”
My Eyes: This song’s evocative lyric is a collage of metaphors and similes the young poets used to describe their eyes. Some images refer to physical beauty, while others refer to the emotions these “windows to our souls” reveal: joy and sorrow, intimacy and distance, warmth and coldness.
My Birthmark: Just as the poet’s birthmark is “a lonely dot right on the bottom of my foot,” this song’s short phrases are separated from one another, and generously sprinkled with staccatos!
My Legs: As women age it’s especially easy to begin feeling uncomfortable about our legs. And what a sad thing that is, since legs are designed to be empowering and life-enhancing. With this in mind, my musical setting gives the singers’ amazing appendages the chance to really “step out”!
My Brain: Rather than focusing on the brain’s intellect – the part which gets us through a difficult exam or intense chess match – this song’s lyric speaks to the brain’s mysterious connections and vast neural network. At the song’s conclusion the winding line “my brain is an endless maze” becomes a labyrinthine canon.
My Mouth: From a young age we are taught to exercise a certain amount of caution when opening our mouths. Some of these cautions make sense, like chewing with our mouths closed and covering up when we sneeze. But the reasons for some other no-no’s are harder to understand. Why are people strongly discouraged from opening their mouths wide unless they’re yawning, singing, or sitting in a dentist’s chair? And while it can certainly be disruptive to make funny noises with our mouths when other people are talking or concentrating, why does it seem like there’s no good time to ever make funny noises?
Singers have their own special hang-ups about oral dos and don’ts, one of the foremost being the dreaded “diphthong.” Unlike the so-called “pure vowels” in languages like Italian and Latin, many American vowels are combinations of two vowels. For example, the vowel in the word “mouth” is sort of like an “ah” sound followed by an “oo” sound. Some musical traditions consider diphthongs to be “unmusical” so composers and singers often tend to underemphasize them. But in “My Mouth” I do the exact opposite, celebrating diphthongs in all their wild and wooly glory!
My Fingers: My fingers are short. Pianists with hands like mine get good at finding workarounds for playing wide intervals on the keyboard. “My Fingers” is written especially for similarly-fingered pianists, for while they are frequently required to move their arms to different spots on the keyboard, their fingers do no stretching whatsoever!
My Cheeks: Although the title of this song is “My Cheeks,” it’s the freckles that receive top billing. Like children, they are small, unpredictable, irrepressible, and as the title says: everywhere!

Text

They Have Freckles Everywhere

I. My Eyes

My eyes are like an oval and an almond.
My eyes are like stones in the road.
My eyes are like a pool of water.
Ocean pieces glint in the sun like shining sapphire spheres.
Travel into two worlds of black.
Travel down into the depths of wonder, into my eyes.
My eyes are like fish swimming in a pond,
My eyes, warm like a blanket, cold as ice.

II. My Birthmark

My birthmark is
one lonely dot
on the bottom
of my foot.

III. My Legs

You always have them right underneath you.
Right underneath you, you have your legs.
I love my legs because I can wiggle them
and bend them right when I want to.
They can leap and run, and jump on a bed,
and pick me up from the ground.
They swing back and forth, high and low.
I love to dance!
I love my legs because I can wiggle them
and bend them right when I want to.
Legs are what you use for walking,
kicking through the water,
playing on the playground.
I love my legs
for they can
run and walk
and wiggle and bend
and shake and kick
and swing and leap and dance!

IV. My Brain

My brain is an endless maze
A canoe floating down a quiet river.
Enter into the mists of thought,
Venture in to the distance,
into belief, desire, suffering, joy, pain
into wonder, into dreams
My brain is an endless maze.

V. My Mouth

My mouth.
Blurting out
Sound.
A sea of
Sound.
Enough
to fill the soul.
Enough
to fill the world.

VI. My Fingers

My fingers are short.
Very short.

VII. My Cheeks

They have freckles everywhere.
My cheeks are very soft,
And they have freckles everywhere.
And my cheeks puff up,
And they have freckles everywhere.

Elizabeth Alexander with students in the Hall Elementary School Many Rivers Program
© 2007 by Elizabeth Alexander

Performers

Performers

Premiere: Women in Harmony / Catherine Beller-McKenna (Portland, ME)
Bella Voce Singers / Jessica Corbin (Brooklyn, NY)
Lamar High School Chorale Women / Gail Land (Houston, TX)
Vox Musica / Daniel Paulson (Sacramento, CA)

Selections
Lamar High School Chorale Women / Gail Land. Texas Music Educators Convention (San Antonio, TX)
Olive Branch High School Choir / Joelle M. Norris. ACDA Southern Division Conference (Memphis, TN)
Voca Lyrica / Virginia Kerwin. 11th Annual Invitational School Choral Festival (Big Rapids, MI)