The Music of Elizabeth Alexander

What’s Keeping You From Singing?

A soulful reminder of music’s power to lift the heart

Words by Elizabeth Alexander

A soulful reminder of music’s power to lift the heart during hard times, What’s Keeping You From Singing? addresses the joy and well-being so easily obscured by depression’s somber cloud.

This song’s memorable refrain poses four questions key to spiritual healing, as framed by cultural anthropologist Angeles Arrien: “When did you stop dancing? When did you stop singing? When did you stop being enchanted by stories? When did you stop finding comfort in the sweet territory of silence?” With delicious close harmonies and down-to-earth warmth, this song offers choral communities a way to hold loving space for these challenging questions.

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Composer Notes

Composer Notes

My mission in composing What’s Keeping You From Singing? was to respond to the joys, sorrows, hopes and dreams of Rochester Women’s Community Chorus. Right after we signed the contract, the choir sent me a letter listing things that were important to its members: community, joy, song, peace, courage…

Included with the letter were several poems and quotes, including an excerpt from Angeles Arrien’s book, The Four-Fold Way: Walking the Paths of the Warrior, Teacher, Healer and Visionary (HarperCollins, © 1993). Arrien writes:

“In many shamanic societies, if you came to a shaman or medicine person complaining of being disheartened, dispirited, or depressed, they would ask one of four questions. ‘When did you stop dancing? When did you stop singing? When did you stop being enchanted by stories? When did you stop finding comfort in the sweet territory of silence?’”

At the time, I had more commissions than I could comfortably keep up with, and as a self-publisher I was scrambling to keep up with order fulfillment and administrative tasks. While I loved the music I was composing, I was seriously weighed down by these responsibilities. I was not able to rest deeply, and my brain felt full all of the time.

In short, I was not singing. I was not dancing. I was not being enchanted by stories. I was not finding comfort in silence.

While addressing the needs of commissioning parties is always paramount, in order to write powerful music I also have to engage the yearnings of my own heart. So I wrapped Arrien’s four questions right into the chorus of the song. Joyfully, I composed a song of insight, compassion and joy for both the women’s chorus and for my own neglected self.

Text

What’s Keeping You From Singing?

Girl, you got yourself a heck of a smile,
Rosy and rowdy and redeeming.
But I can’t help noticing that it’s been awhile
Since I have seen it beaming.
The wind is beckoning! Come on, come on!
Taste this moment before it’s gone.
Every breath is a secret dawn,
So Sister, come on!

What’s keeping you from singing?
What’s keeping you from dancing?
What happened to the whispering stories that invite
you to listen to your heart’s own guide?
What’s stopping the sweet, sweet silence of the night
from gentling the winding of your mind?
Oh, whatever’s getting in the way of the truest part of you,
Sister, lay that load aside.
Oh, whatever’s getting in the way of the truest part of you,
Lay that load aside, lay it aside, lay it aside.

Although the road you’re on may be as rough as they come,
Walk on, walk on, walk on.
Remember that the heart of a woman is a powerful drum:
Listen to it beating in you, it’s beating in you –
It’s beating in you:

What’s keeping you from singing?
What’s keeping you from dancing?
What happened to the whispering stories that invite
you to listen to your heart’s own guide?
What’s stopping the sweet, sweet silence of the night
from gentling the winding of your mind?
Oh, whatever’s getting in the way of the truest part of you,
Sister, lay that load aside.
Oh, whatever’s getting in the way of the truest part of you,
Lay that load aside, lay it aside, lay it aside.

Although the songs come harder when you’re not feeling strong,
Sing on, sing on, sing on.
Remember that your voice is a ribbon braided into our song:
Listen to it calling to you, it’s calling to you –
It’s calling to you:

What’s keeping you from singing?
What’s keeping you from dancing?
What happened to the whispering stories that invite
you to listen to your heart’s own guide?
What’s stopping the sweet, sweet silence of the night
from gentling the winding of your mind?
Oh, whatever’s getting in the way of the truest part of you,
Sister, lay that load aside.
Oh, whatever’s getting in the way of the truest part of you,
Lay that load aside, lay it aside, lay it aside.

Elizabeth Alexander

© 2018 by Elizabeth Alexander

Performers

Performers

Premiere: Rochester Women’s Community Chorus / Kristy Houston (Rochester, NY)
Choir of River of Grass Universalist Congregation / Gayle Giese (Fort Lauderdale, FL)
Encore / Randi Grundahl-Rexroth (Roseville, MN)
Longwood University Choir and Chamber Singers / Pamela McDermott (Farmville, VA)
Madrigalia / Cary Ratcliff (Rochester and Brockport, NY)
Rochester Women’s Community Chorus / Kristy Houston. Sister Singers Network Music Festival (Grand Rapids, MI)