Joseph Merrill Fifield was born on October 23, 1978 in Chicago, Illinois, the third child of Bill and Patty Fifield. When he was one, the family moved to Idaho Falls where they stayed for almost 20 years. Many other siblings were born—six brothers and two sisters. Joseph was a happy, exuberant child, always laughing, smiling, turning everything into a sword or a gun, pretending to be a cowboy or a pirate, leading other boys in skits and stories and war games. He was a performer. In family theatrical productions, Joseph was often the lead and certainly the most natural actor.
In his elementary school years, he was well loved by his teachers. He would stay after school to talk to them and play the piano for them. He also befriended some of the older people at church, wanting to go over to their houses to eat their cookies and just talk. He was quick to laugh at jokes and memorize them; he always valued humor. He had many close friends at church and school whom he loved and who stayed close to him his whole life.
At age five, Joseph began playing the piano, and for him playing the piano was just that—play. He loved it; he reveled in it. It didn’t take long for his very musical family to realize that his talents were exceptional. First of all, he loved composing. By age seven or eight, he had quite the collection: songs such as “Comanche #1,” “Comanche #2” and “Christmas Comanche.” By ten, he was playing Chopin Nocturnes and Mozart Piano Concertos with sensitivity and maturity.
In the 7th grade, he competed at the national level of the prestigious Baldwin piano competition, playing with such depth and beauty that the judges were astounded. By 14 he was playing Liszt’s “La Campanella” flawlessly (most of the time!).
Singing and playing his song:
“Time Does Not Bring Relief”
He also played the cello and sang beautifully. He enjoyed playing the Bach cello suites, singing through the cello, breathing through his nose and closing his eyes. His voice was beautiful and pure—not as showy as some in his family, but well enough to sing the lead in his high school’s production of Crazy for You with a lot of soul and romance. In high school he began his love affair with jazz. He became the pianist in the high school jazz band and wrote many jazz songs for his family and friends, including the famous “Linda’s Waltz.”
“Once In Awhile”
Joseph did many other things—and all of them rather well. He loved his part time job at an instrument repair shop and formed a strong friendship with its owner (“Some Extraordinary Dave”). He was a perfectionist at art—always paying attention to the minutest detail and producing beautiful work. He was a talented poet/writer, composing whimsical Dr. Seuss-type works such as “Dirk the Shark,” that were read and loved by his family and friends. He spent hours finishing 10,000 piece puzzles, making intricate origami creations, and even making a ship in bottle.
Throughout those growing up years, Joseph managed to be at peace with his siblings and friends. He rarely fought; he abhorred conflict and could not be persuaded to take a stance in an argument. He was not one who inspired jealousy, although he was clearly the best at so many things. He was, overall, humble and likable. He had unique, special relationships with each of his siblings, even ones who were quite a bit younger than him. He took time to make them feel loved and valued.
This is not to say that Joseph led a charmed life. Beginning in high school and continuing on throughout his adult life, Joseph struggled with depression, anxiety, and feelings of isolation. He had difficulty expressing his feelings in mediums other than music.
After graduating from High School, he was a missionary for two years in Dusseldorf, Germany. From the accounts of those who knew him in Germany, Joseph wasn’t a showy missionary. He didn’t have the gift of communicating and teaching that others had, but he certainly had the gift of loving. According to one woman he baptized, Joseph was the favorite of all the older women. He would be naturally drawn to them, laugh with them, compliment them on their hair or their cooking, tell them how beautiful they were, and play the piano to please them.
Back at home Joseph studied jazz piano at Brigham Young University. He became involved in BYU’s jazz ensembles. He continued to compose jazz songs, many of which were performed in his small jazz trio and BYU’s big band, Synthesis. He lived to play the piano and made many close friendships with other jazz musicians. After graduating from BYU, he struggled to find his way. Music, the only way he knew how to communicate his feelings, was difficult in the real world. How could someone as gentle and non-competitive as Joseph make it as a musician? He lived in New York City for a while, applied and was accepted to graduate programs including NYU and Manhattan School of Music, and earned money playing for gigs. The considerable challenges of making his way in music drained him, and he began to look for work elsewhere. The struggle left him feeling fatigued, depressed, and anxious.
Despite his challenges, he maintained close relationships with his parents and siblings. He remained optimistic about his future and was always looking for some advice, something to help him find happiness and direction. He battled his depression by controlling his diet, and he read a lot of religious and self-help books to give him direction. He tried to work in retail so that he could learn to be more outgoing. He always had plans: plans to take dance classes, plans to take girls on dates, plans to advance his career in some way, plans to apply for graduate school, plans to try to publish his songs or his children’s stories.
On February 22nd, 2006, Joseph fell from a cliff while hiking in Provo, Utah and died. In his car were some “Learn Latin Dance” videos; in his planner were two tickets to a jazz concert; in his shirt pocket was a rough sketch of a children’s book he was thinking of writing. He is deeply mourned by his family and friends. To them, he was a peacemaker, a humorist, a talented musician, a gentle soul. He left a volume of music, poetry, and writing that is cherished by those who loved him.