Funny things joy said

Instrumentation: SATB, Piano, & String Quartet
Purchase: Contact composer directly
Duration: 15:00 (6 movements)
Language: English
Story:  When my older daughter Joy started speaking with regularity, I started keeping a list on my phone called “Funny Things Joy Said.”  Whenever she said something funny, completely out of left field, or filled with the kind of wisdom that only toddlers possess, I would jot it down verbatim in an effort to document and later remember one of the precious and all-too-fleeting moments.

Funny Things Joy Said is a musical setting of some of the highlights of that list.  I undertook this project in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic after having been diagnosed positive myself in March.  I just needed the wisdom, warmth, humor, and, well, joy of Joy.
 
For those who are wondering, Joy (now 6) gave me permission to set her words to music.  Her favorite movements are “A Vegetable” and “What Do People Melt Into?”  Not the easiest thing in the world to explain when your six-year old runs around in public singing “blood” over and over again, but hey she mostly sings in tune so it’s a net positive.  She also still loves croutons. 
Text and Context:
I. Brunch
Brunch isn’t an adventure!  It’s just breakfast at a lunch place!

One Sunday morning, I said to Joy “We’re going on an adventure today!”  She responded, “Oo, where!”  I said, “We’re going to brunch!”  Her face immediately turned from youthful excitement to aged exasperation and I could feel her disappointment.  In retrospect, it’s really my fault – when I said “adventure” I’m sure she pictured a day at the water park, the zoo, hiking, or really anything other than…brunch.

II. What Do People Melt Into?
What do people melt into?  Blood?

One of my favorite things about kids is how they can react to any stimulus with observations, questions, or insights you would never expect.  Joy was happily slurping a smoothie when she noticed the more solid parts of it melting in the bottom of her cup.  She took one look at the band-aid on her arm, covering one of the countless owie’s that kids constantly accrue, and asked “What do people melt into?  Blood?”  Needless to say, just like that face-melting scene in Indiana Jones, this stuck with me – I always imagined her comment with the same metaphysical implications and rife-with-life-lesson-ness of a chorale, and so the music is a tonally unstable chorale where almost every measure contains a three-note sinking/melting pattern.

III. My Name
My name has three letters.  That’s not enough letters.  Now that I’m four, it should have four letters.

Joy daydream-ily posited this thought on her fourth birthday.  The matter-of-factness that kids have while expressing ludicrous-to-adult thoughts is hysterical and inspiring.  I tried to let the music reflect this daydreamy world that kids frequently inhabit and adults rarely do.  True to her sentiment, each voice’s main melody only has three notes until getting to “four letters” when it adds a fourth pitch (a fourth letter!  Sorry, Dad joke.).

IV. A Siri
Dad?  What do you have to do to learn to be a Siri?
 
One night after dinner, Joy had a question about something and I didn’t know the answer (this is a common parental occurrence).  I responded in what I imagine the same way most people do by saying, “Let’s ask Siri.”  Then Joy said, “Dad?  What do you have to do to learn to be a Siri?”  It was at this moment that I realized that every time I asked Siri for help looking up information, Joy thought there was a human talking to me on the phone and finding the information for me.  Noting that being a Siri would obviously be the best job ever, she asked this, hoping to learn what kind of vocational training she would need to one day be a Siri.  I love her so much.
 
V. The Right Notes
Dad, this is very pretty, but I think you should play the right notes.

Joy was sitting on the piano bench next to me.  I was trying to help hammer home for her the idea that it’s ok to make mistakes, so I attempted to play a piece beyond my limited piano-playing abilities (Claude Debussy’s La Fille aux Cheveux de Lin, from Préludes Book 1) while pointing out where I was messing up.  While I was playing, Joy said, “Dad, this is very pretty, but I think you should play the right notes.”  Ouch.  The music juxtaposes snippets of the original Debussy piece almost exactly as I (poorly) played it with Joy’s comment.

VI. A Vegetable
Dad: Now Joy, we need you to pick out a vegetable from the salad bar to go with your orange chicken.
Joy: CROUTONS!!!
Dad: Joy, croutons aren’t a vegetable.  
Joy: Oh no.

 
Joy and I were shopping for ready-made dinner at the grocery store, and she picked out a bowl of orange chicken with rice.  Wanting to make sure she had a balanced meal, I told her she had to get a vegetable to go with her chicken.  Great parenting, right?  Thanks!  She scanned the salad bar with all the intensity of a hawk surveying a cage full of mice, saw the croutons, and her EUREKA moment that ensued was so obvious, so palpable that I think the cartoon light bulb that appeared above her head would have been visible from space.   Something about the way she defeatedly said “Oh no” just screamed Baroque recitative “chunk, chunk!” to me, hence the recitative and choral fugue form of this movement.