Lifting As We Climb


libretto conceived and created by Joan Szymko (from various sources)

Suffragists come to life and previously hidden voices of African American women fighting for the vote are heard in Lifting As We Climb, a 100th anniversary commemoration of the passage of the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution. Lifting As We Climb celebrates the history of women's suffrage movement while exploring the present day assault on voting rights; anticipating a future that will require a diligent, informed public ready to fight for equality, democracy and universal suffrage. The libretto for this 30 minute choral work was created by the composer. The title and phrase "Lifting As We Climb" echoes the motto of the National Association of Colored Women, led by suffragist and renowned civil rights leader, Mary Church Terrell. Featuring three stylistically distinct musical movements supported by historical narratives and underscoring, Lifting As We Climb is scored for women's choir, speakers (6) piano, alto saxophone and drumkit.

Choral movements are available as separate octavos; search by individual title:

1. What We Do -Now
2. Organize, Agitate, Educate!
3. We Are All Bound Up Together 
4. We Shake We Shine

Digital purchase only.

Lifting As We Climb was commissioned by GALA Choruses as the 2020 Dr. Catherine Roma Commission Project. 


Item Voicing/Instrumentation Duration Price Audio View Score Quantity
conductor's score
SSAA, piano, alto sax, drumkit 30:00 $12.00
piano/vocal for rehearsal
SSAA, piano 30:00 $7.00
JS-100.1 Libretto, set of 6 (1 per speaker) $30.00
set instrumental parts
Alto sax, drumkit $15.00

Lifting As We Climb

Joan Szymko with Ellen Hagan

No 1  

What We Do—Now

poem by Ellen Hagan

We mourn, we bless,

we blow, we wail, we

wind—down, we sip,

we spin, we blind, we

bend, bow & hem. We

hip, we blend, we bind,

we shake, we shine,

shine. We lips & we

teeth, we praise & protest.

We document & we

drama. We demand &

we flow, fold & hang

loose. We measure &

we moan, mourn & whine

low. & we live, and we

breathe. & some of the time,

we don’t.

Tonight, I am here. Here

& tired. Here & awake,

sure, & alive. Yes here &

still, still here, still & here

& still awake & still still



Organize, Agitate, Educate! 

lyric by Joan Szymko (on quotes by Sarah Grimke, Susan B. Anthony, 

Sojourner Truth, Carrie Catt, Anna Julia Cooper, Lucy Stone) 

I ask no favors, I ask no favors for my sex;all I ask of my brethren 

is that they will take their feet from off our necks! 

Organize, agitate, educate!


We’ll have our rights; see if we don’t;
and you can’t stop us from them; see if you can; 

You may hiss as much as you like, but it’s coming’ 

Organize, agitate, educate!
We’ll win the vote; see if we don’t. 

It is the emblem of equality,
the guarantee of liberty. 

Organize, agitate, educate!
Roll up your sleeves, set your mind to making history, 

and wage such a fight for liberty that
the whole world will respect our sex. 

To the wrongs that need resistance,

To the right that needs assistance,
To the future in the distance‚ give yourselves! 

Organize, agitate, educate! Roll up your sleeves,
set your mind to making history,
and wage such a fight for equality 

and the guarantee of liberty. 

We’ll have our rights! 



"We are all bound up together 

in one great bundle of humanity." (Frances Ellen Watkins Harper) 


No. 3 We Shake, We Shine  

lyric by Joan Szymko

The struggle is never ending.

Freedom is never really won.

You earn it and win it in each generation.

You earn it and win it for all of us, 

every one of us, for all of us— for the people.

We the people— Shake the foundations of privilege

We the people —Shine the light of truth 

Right the wrongs! Press on! 

Hold on for the common good.

We shake, we shake

We shine, we shine

Onward and upward,

Upward and onward—

Lifting as we climb.

The struggle is never ending. 

Keep your hands on the plow—

Upending hypocrisy,

Defending democracy

Demanding equality

It’s our turn, it’s our time—

Our turn, our time is now!

We shake, we shine

Onward and upward,

Upward and onward—

Lifting as we climb!


conductor's score