“The Builder” for SATB chorus and piano

Smoothing a cypress beam
With a scarred hand,
I saw a carpenter
In a far land.

Down past the flat roofs
Poured the white sun;
But still he bent his back,
The patient one.

And I paused surprised
In that queer place
To find an old man
With a haunting face.

“Who art thou, carpenter,
Of the bowed head;
And what buildest thou?”
“Heaven,” he said.

This work is dedicated to, and will be premiered by Canticum Novum at Westminster Choir College, under the direction of Vinroy D. Brown, Jr.

As I see it, the last stanza can be interpreted in two ways.The first could be that the very act of building something to him is heavenly; that his craft brings a piece of Heaven down to his daily life here on Earth. The second is a more dark interpretation: that he is escaping the troubles of this life, a Hell on earth, by building Heaven for himself.

I debated back and forth between these interpretations, and ultimately set the text to convey a little bit of both. Here is the beginning of the climax of the work, where the tonality shifts to an almost melancholy sort of inquisitiveness:

The music behind his one-word response, though utilizing some ethereal, close-knit major chords, also has a sense of uncertainty about it; many of the chords are inverted and dissonant, and we don’t arrive at feeling of cadence until the last chord.

Contact me if you want to give it a try.

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