The Music of Elizabeth Alexander

Trouble in a Minnesota Town

A town’s wild descent into madness — and mangoes!

Music: Elizabeth Alexander

Words: Neal Bowers

Habanera, tango and comic opera meet in this melodramatic romp, in which a town’s descent into madness involves public demonstrations, Latin dance, and fruit.

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Composer Notes

Composer Notes

My friend Sam Bates could hardly contain his glee when he introduced me to Neal Bowers’ poem, “Trouble in a Minnesota Town.” He knew it would be love at first sight. The instant I read the climactic proclamation “MANGOES O MUERTE” I mentally began to set Bowers’ whimsical words to music.

Creating a musical vocabulary as colorful as the poem’s own freewheeling idiom was a giddy experience. I had never combined music from such vastly different styles before! During this process I thought frequently about Yehudi Wyner, a former composition teacher who also occasionally delighted in weaving diverse musical threads together.

When I put the finishing touches on Trouble in a Minnesota Town I had no idea how the song would be received by audiences. But I was certain of one thing. It might be the first genre-bending song I ever composed, but it certainly wouldn’t be my last!


Trouble in a Minnesota Town

The sign in the grocery window says,
and everyone who passes
is seized with a tropical longing:
the sun sets hot orange;
a dense perfume
loiters along the street;
on the tongue is the memory
of something softer than spun honey.

Before daylight, the whole town
is mad for the flavor of mangoes.
A spicy sweetness, almost a cross
between cloves and ginger,
lodges in the brain like a stuck tune.
By noon the record shop
has sold out of calypso albums;
reggae and salsa are going fast.
In the square, someone is showing how
to dance the mambo, the rumba,
pleading for a partner to tango,
por favor, por favor.

When the sign goes up announcing
a sale on papayas, guavas, bananas, avocados,
it is already too late.
The people have begun to paint
their slogan on the walls–
and the mayor has received
a list of demands:

Neal Bowers
© by Neal Bowers. Reprinted by permission of the poet



Premiere: Arthur Krieck. Charles Ives Center for American Music (New Milford, CT)
Andy Wilkowske / Elizabeth Alexander (St. Paul, MN)
Arthur Krieck. Adirondack Festival of American Music (Saranac Lake, NY)
Arthur Krieck. St. Peter‘s Cathedral. (New York City, NY)
Bradley Greenwald (St. Paul, MN)
David Gagnon. Wisconsin Alliance of Composers. (Madison, WI)
Eric Howe. Sounds New. (Kensington, CA)
Wendy Matsutani & Jessica Johnston. Source Song Festival. (Minneapolis, MN)