Reasons for the Perpetuation of Slavery


I. The Sheer Possibility in the First Place II. The Existence of Endless Prepositional Possibilities III. An Unexamined Life

SSAA, a cappella

A compelling meditation on the timeless institution of human slavery. This dramatic 7-minute work by composer Elizabeth Alexander pours forth with ferocity, urgency, wry humor and compassion, in a powerful litany of temptations, rationalizations and justifications. "Reasons for the Perpetuation of Slavery" is an unforgettable concert experience, and a rare opportunity for a choir to engage with a challenging, contemporary social issue. The first movement, "The Sheer Possibility in the First Place," may be performed as a stand-alone piece.


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Order Sheet Music
Catalog Number: 
Commissioned By: 
ACDA Women's Choir Commissioning Consortium
Premiere Conductor: 
Phillip Swan

Cantala; Phillip Swan, conductor. Lawrence University, Appleton, WI


"Alexander's writing for women's chorus is especially good, and...her settings of subjects relating to women's issues are exceptionally strong." David N. Lewis, All Music Guide

Text Author or Source: 
Elizabeth Alexander

"Reasons for the Perpetuation of Slavery: An Incomplete List"
Lyric by composer Elizabeth Alexander

The sheer possibility in the first place.
Unstoppable wanting. Wanting the unstoppable.
The need for cultivation. The cultivation of need.
Hard choices. Easy outs.
High hopes. Slippery slopes.

The allure of order. The desire to acquire.
Classes of people. People of class.
The gain of capital. Capital gains.
The persistent perception of greener grass.

The justification of pride.
The pride of ownership.
The ownership of justice.

The tidiness of titles. The convenience of caste.
Distributions of wealth. A wealth of distributions.

The price of cotton. The price of rice.
The price of sugar. The price of gold.
The price of oranges. The price of tomatoes.
The price of keeping the prices low.

The price of beauty. The price of toys.
The price of plenty. The price of more.
The price of a hit. The price of a life.
The price of liberty. The price of anything.

The desire for a fix. The fixation on race.
The race towards civilization. The civilization of desire.

Chains of command. The commands of corruption.
The corruption of language. The language of chains.

Classification, misinformation,
Collaboration, accumulation,
Calculation, rationalization.

The existence of endless prepositional possibilities:
As a short-term solution, in the interest of progress,
'Til my head's above the water, 'til my feet are on the ground,
For the good of the nation, for the company, for my family,
Despite a few misgivings at the present time,
Behind closed doors, by hook or crook,
Beyond our borders, as a very last resort,
Between you and me, beyond my control,
On the cheap, on the sly, with my back against the wall,
Out of sight, out of mind, out of my hands,
Under the radar, under the gun, under the table, around the law,
In for a penny, in for a pound, in for a lifetime -
Just this once.

Longings for chocolate, palaces, pyramids,
Flowers in the winter, rubber and rum.
What people will do for a little black dress,
A hand with the children, a carpet, a kiss,
An immaculate house, an unexamined life.

The price of cotton. The price of rice.
The price of sugar. The price of gold,
The price of oranges. The price of tomatoes.
The price of keeping the prices low.

(Looms of fingers. Fields of hands.
Chests of organs. Pounds of flesh.
Platters of thighs. Legions of legs.
Rivers of blood. Heavings of hearts.
Batteries of arms and backs and shoulders.)

Business, pleasure, labor, leisure,
Backers, buyers, brokers, liars,
Winners, losers, dealers, users,
Borrowers, lenders, traders, vendors,
Profits, losses, owners, bosses.

People of means. The means to an end.
Unheeded rumors. Eager consumers.

© 2010 by Elizabeth Alexander.
Reprinted by permission of the author. All rights reserved.