work details

All Is

on an original poem of Misha Penton

  • Instrumentation: SATB, mezzo solo, viola, piano
  • Completed: June 2016
  • Duration: 7 1/2 minutes
  • Texts: Misha Penton, "First Day"
  • Audio:
    • All Is

      Texas State University Chorale - Joey Martin, conductor

      Soon Cho, mezzo-soprano; Ames Asbell, viola
      Recording session - May 1, 2017

  • Commission and Dedication:

    Commissioned by and dedicated to the Texas State University Chorale and their director, Dr. Joey Martin

  • Published:

    G. Schirmer (Craig Hella Johnson Choral Series) (click to purchase)




  • Text:

    First Day
    by Misha Penton

    My little boy stands
    With his back to where he’d like the trees to be
    Darkness smooths out the low baby hills
                 into a starless not-yet horizon
                               laid out before his eyes in I-want-to waves
    His blue jeans, all dirt and wonder from an afternoon wishing for sun
    His hair, barely blonde on the
                 not-yet first ever night breezes
    His freckles, a pattern of tomorrow worlds,
    Running-through-cornfields sweat and the very newest bee pollen dust
    a striped blue and white grass stained shirt, untucked on this
                 not-yet first ever day
    He breathes in beauty
    He breathes out imagination
    His small hand closes on the marble in his pocket
    “This will be a special one,” he thinks
    “This will be the best of the bunch”
    “This is the last one”—
    In a swooping swooshing swirl of an arc,
    Quicker and more certain than the other times,
    He casts the little multicolored sphere out! and over the out-of-breath
    And last skipping seconds of childhood
    Up, up, up!
    And into the soonest celestial expanses
    And what was that?- a snap? a crack? a shudder? a thunder?
    In less than a trillion-trillionth of a second
    All Is stars and breath and life and blood and men and war

  • Program Note:

    I have enjoyed a long and rich creative collaboration with the poet, artist, soprano, and mover-and-shaker Misha Penton. My first opera, Klytemnestra: the original subversive female, was written on her original libretto and she premiered the title role. Her work on my couture song The Captured Goddess continues to inspire me. And so it was that I asked her if she would honor me by allowing me to set her poetry to music once again. 

    All Is is a creation story refashioned. In Misha’s tale, God is but a little boy wasting away the afternoon while toying with clouds and marbles, imagining the beginning of a world in the same way that a child discovers for the first time. And behind this young boy is the Mother: always watching and observing, caring from behind the scenes, and taking pride in the new world that her child is creating. This character is taken in the music by the mezzo-soprano.

    My music is restless and unbridled, as a child who fusses and pouts when not wanting to be restrained. The music is optimistic as a child is naïve, until the final warning words of the work: creation is not just fun and games, but brings with it the possibility of tragedy, usurpation, and deceit.

    Dr. Joey Martin and the Texas State University Chorale commissioned this work from me, and I am glad to share a wonderful history of collaboration and friendship with Joey and his students. I lovingly dedicate this work to them. 

  • Performances:
    • April 29, 2017 (premiere)
      Texas State University Chorale
      Soon Cho, mezzo-soprano
      Joey Martin, director 
      Texas State University - San Marcos, TX
    • March 10, 2018
      Back Bay Chorale
      Scott Allen Jarrett, conductor
      St. Paul's Church - Cambridge, MA