Could Joseph have a stutter?

April 10, 2006

page from

Page 8 from the sketches for “Hebzibah” by Roger Bourland

People often ask composers: “What comes first? The melody or the words?” For me, the words always come first. Many lyricists enjoy writing to an existing tune, many hate it. For this teeny “opera” or maybe I’ll call it a chamber opera (3 voices, violin, cello, and piano) I am continuing Nadia Boulanger’s mandate for the grand line, of which page 8 appears above. Yes, I compose with pencil, but then after I have the foreground/melody it goes right into Sibelius (music notation program). Having the melody stretched out creates a kind of scaffolding in time across the work. There are often little blank measures with squiggles, meaning “put something in here…”

In this story, Mary is carrying the infant Jesus on the donkey, Hepzibah, and Joseph is walking by their side. Here is my question: Joseph hardly has much material. I mean, I can add stuff like “she’s right” and so on. But it occurred to me that it might be amusing to have Joseph have a stutter. He has a bit more character, is more human, and is different from the other two characters. Now, according to Christian faith, Joseph is NOT the biological father of Jesus, so this shouldn’t be disrespectful. Or is it?

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