Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Day 16: Chris Krycho: Joseph Holds the Son of God

Please listen to:  Joseph Holds the Son of God

This piece and the poem below are closely related and complementary, though each can be appreciated on its own. For notes on the composition of both music and poetry, see the end notes.

Joseph Holds the Son of God

Twilight, in a bright little house

        in the town of Nazareth.

A craftsman rocks an infant child;

        he feels the gaze of the stars.

Words fail him as the twinkling eyes

        of his son catch heavenlight.

No phrase conveys his sentiment:

        Joseph holds his infant son.

Sixteen weeks since the miracle happened,

        the boy is restless, colicky and noisy,

so Joseph rocks him as his mother sleeps; 

        only Heaven knows how much she needs to rest.

She rarely speaks of what God's messenger

        had told her over sixty weeks ago,

but solemnity is ever mingled

        with her joy, responsibility and hope.

Sixteen weeks, and already so much change,

        little fingers stretching,

the torso filling out with baby fat,

        and chubby cheeks for smiles.

Every passing day he is hungrier,

        less sleepy, more alert,

inquisitive and eager to explore

        his slowly growing world.

Nothing had prepared him for this terrifying joy, 

His workman's hands (and mind) tremble in expectation

Of coming years when they would shape not only a house

But a man, a man who might fulfill his nation's hope.

Nothing had prepared him for this mix of happy fear;

His skill is in creating good, simple furnishings,

Not training a leader, a prophesied savior king,

But Adonai has spoken and Joseph will obey.

Nothing had prepared him for this marvelous weight, 

To look down in happiness his heart could not contain

At his son, the child his beautiful wife had born him,

This child he'd had no part in siring, who came from God.

Nothing had prepared him for this striking, horrified delight, 

The wondrous reality of a human child, his to raise,

With all the possibilities that entailed, and nightmares too,

Yet Adonai was faithful and true, God's will be done, he prays.

Sunrise, in a dark little house

        in the town of Nazareth.

A craftsman rocks an infant child;

        he feels the heat of sunrise.

Words fail him as the waking gaze

        of his son shines clear and pure.

Delighted, humbled, awed, amazed,

        Joseph holds the son of God.

The notes that follow are not necessary to understand either poem or music; they are presented simply for those interested in the creative process behind composition and poetry of this sort.

I sat down to write the piece of music that inspired this poem eleven days ago. When I began, I wasn't sure where I was going with the piece; I only knew it was a very different direction from last year's piece...ithin a few hours, I had the opening piano section worked out, and as I got up to go eat dinner, I finally understood what I was writing:  Joseph holds the son of God: image, phrase, and feeling all in one. 

Over the intervening days, I slowly shaped the music to convey that idea. Joseph holds the Son of God:  what was he thinking and feeling, some cool evening under a Nazareth sky, the miracle itself both behind him and nestled in his arms? Fatherhood is, by all accounts, a stunning enough feeling all its own. Add that the child in your arms is God's promised Messiah, with all the national and religious hopes tied up in that...he is your responsibility to raise... how would you feel? I don't know the answer to that question, but I hope the piece conveys a little of the sweetness and the awe and the mystery that faced Joseph a little over two millennia ago. 

When I finished the music, I realized I wanted to write an accompanying poem, the poem printed above. The structure of the poem is derived from the structure of the composition. The music opens, transitions into new material which it then repeats slightly altered, introduces the main theme (a development from the previous material) and builds on it thrice over, and then concludes with a modified restatement of the opening.  The poem does much of the same. 

Slightly subtler is the structure of the stanzas: each quatrain is composed of lines whose syllabic count is the same as the number of measures in the corresponding section of the music. In some sense, then, the poem is deeply derivative of the piece of music. On the other hand, the poem stands well on its own: While the derived structure gives it ties to the music, the same structure frees it to have a unique, original feel of repetition and variation.


  1. Chris, you already know I think this piece is beautiful, so I'll comment on the poem: I like it, a lot! I wasn't kidding when I said the ending of the piece made me think of another beginning, and the poem feels the same way. It's a sunrise -- another day. The music conveys that well. The poem is very thoughtful and thought-provoking. Well done.

  2. Thanks! I'm glad you like it so much.

    Minor note to James: I made a mistake in the poem: "forty months" should be "sixty weeks." (Terrible math! Forty months is 3.33 years!)

  3. I wasn't counting. ;) But I fixed it.