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  • Jamison Stevens

New Choral Work

For the past year, I've been mulling over a poem I wrote trying to set it as a choral piece. It's a rather short poem, three stanzas, four lines each. Rhythmically it's fairly straightforward, but the subject matter and my own feelings about it made me dwell on it for an entire year.


This is the poem...


The Mother and the Child

The Child is not Hers

She loves Him more than life itself

But His Life is for Hers

She holds Him in Her arms

She’ll hold Him there again

Though now She weeps for joy at Him

In pain She’ll weep again

The Mother and the Child

For Him Her soul She’d give

His fate is sealed by God Himself

This Child was Born to Die


I remember showing this to my composition teacher, and after reading it he just leaned back in his chair and muttered, "Holy shit..." It's a little heavy, that I'll admit. I'm not saying it's good—by no means am I a poet, I almost always prefer to work with other people's poems. But this one stuck with me for some reason.


By the third stanza you realize what this poem is about—it's an account of the nativity scene. Mary holding her newborn son in her arms, not knowing what's special about him, other than that he is her firstborn child. In my mind, this text is a lullaby being sung by a quiet choir of angels looking over the newborn infant and his mother, singing them both to sleep.


At the time I wrote this poem, I was living on my own after going through a rather rough time with my own family around Christmastime/New Year's. I think for some reason the timing couldn't have been more right, because something about the story of Christmas stuck with me. I thought about that special connection between Mary and Jesus—so perfect and yet so strained. How did Mary feel knowing that the son she just gave birth to didn't belong to her? Of course, we know the stories of "the humble Virgin Mary" being grateful to God à la Hannah and Samuel. But she must have felt more. It's always frustrated me that one of the most crucial characters in the Bible is mentioned only twenty or so times, and she only speaks four times. This vast lack of character development has led to a lot of speculation from many people I'm sure—I'm certainly guilty. But anyways, the struggle I was going through at the time definitely led me to resonate with the story of Mary, and seeing as how I was probably a little (very) down-in-the-dumps at the time, my response by means of this poem was bound to be a bit dark.


I digress...


Finally, after a year, I figured the piece out. On a drive through New England, this humming theme came to me—very simple, open fifths in lower voices, nothing special. But it stuck with me for four days, undeveloped, unworked, just that theme. When I came back home that night, I sat at my piano and played through the theme. By the end of the night I had written the piece.


The work is only about three minutes, written in A minor, 4/4, simple harmonies, simple text-setting. Not to say I don't like it—I do, and those I've showed it to also have received it very well. Today I have my composition lesson so we'll see how my professor responds to it. I'm hoping to share it with the choral director at my university soon.


At any rate, I thought I'd share what I've been working on. I wanted to get this all out at some point anyway, so I'm glad to finally put down my thoughts about this work.


—J.S.

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