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What Color Is The Dawn?


Composed in 2019

For soprano solo, SATB choir, and marimba

Duration: 30:00

Text: Klara Wojtkowska (used with permission)

I. What Color Is the Dawn?

II. Maputo

III. One Night

IV. One Last Sunrise

Movement 1 may be performed as a stand-alone piece for unaccompanied SATB choir, and is available for purchase through MusicSpoke.

What Color Is the Dawn? is a piece I had hoped to write for many years. The inspiring experience of taking part in the inaugural PREMIERE|Project Festival, hosted by Choral Arts Initiative in Newport Beach in June 2018, gave me the opportunity to write the first part of what ultimately became this four movement cantata. 


The words were written by my friend, Klara Wojtkowska, a violinist and author, who spent a year traveling the world on a Watson Fellowship. She sent out travel diaries to a list of friends, and something about her writings during her time in South Africa struck me as both innately musical, and powerfully connective. I immediately asked her permission to set her text. In particular, her recounting of an impromptu meeting of cultures, in which a jazz trio from Norway is joined onstage by an enthusiastic local member of the audience, forms the emotional centerpiece of the cantata as a whole, leading to the climactic idea: "Sometimes I am again convinced that there is nothing in the world as wonderful as music." For me, Klara's text evokes the sublime beauty of our natural world, and asks us to contemplate our place within that world, both in relationship with nature and with each other.


I am incredibly grateful to the incredible musicianship of Choral Arts Initiative and its Director, Brandon Elliott, for collaborating with me and bringing to life this piece which had been a dream project for me for nearly a decade. Special thanks also to Soyun Cheon for her superb artistry in tackling the massive marimba part, and to Lorraine Joy Welling for her beautiful performance of the solo soprano part.



What Color Is the Dawn? (movement 1) was commissioned by Choral Arts Initiative; Brandon Elliott, conductor, for the PREMIERE|Project Festival 2018.

First Performance: June 15th, 2018, PREMIERE|Project Festival

St. Mark Presbyterian Church, Newport Beach, CA

Choral Arts Initiative; Brandon Elliott, conductor

First Complete Performance: November 17th, 2019

St. Mark Presbyterian Church, Newport Beach, CA

Choral Arts Initiative; Brandon Elliott, conductor

Lorraine Joy Welling, soprano; Soyun Cheon, marimba

What Color Angle 2.jpeg


Related Works:

A Dream Within A Dream

Lemonade Toccata

Masque of the Red Death

Songs and Dances

What Beckons


Full Text:

I. What Color Is the Dawn?

What color is the dawn?  


Before the sky turns pink and blue, 

when the first cutouts of shadows of trees emerge from the darkness, 

on a background of ... What?  


This blank in-between, a clearing of color before the new ones roll in? …  


A rest?

A moment.


The earth and the sky separate sadly, divide into their roles, acknowledge differences, part ways.

They see each other for the first time by the light of the sun and realize – we are different.

Later to be united, melded once more by night, which erases the dividing horizon.  

Or is it a moment of indecision on the part of the sky?  


The sun not yet here, the stars gone – what next? Is it Dawn, pressing the snooze button, hoping for a few more minutes’ sleep before coming to color the sky, to paint it anew?


What color is the dawn?  


II. Maputo


A city of Acacia trees tossing out liberal amounts of passionate red flowers.  

One man tells me, "Here, unlike Joburg, people have places to go." 

A city of romance: I rack up marriage proposals.  


The wonderful thing about this trip, was that after all my journeys through Zimbabwe and Mozambique, I knew that I was going somewhere, to a specific place, where there was a bed and a familiar face at the other end.  

There can be nothing better about a journey. 


My meanderings around Maputo turned relaxing. I met a couple of interesting and kind people, attended one Seventh-day Adventist service as a guest in a tent, admired the trees, walked in parks, sat in the train station.  

Thought about coming and going. About leaving.  

This is a different kind of travel – the kind that is not rushed, that is not pressured, that doesn't make you do something that you don't really feel like doing because this is your only chance in the world to do it.



III. One Night

One night Lynn and I went to a concert of a Norwegian Jazz Trio at a bar in central Maputo. 

While listening to the meandering melodies, I thought of God and how complicated life is,

how my stories are incomplete, unsatisfying. 

Did Hanna from Harare make it back in time for work in Johannesburg? (Shush!) 

The beauty of D to Eb. The violin. (Still!) The way all our experiences and ideas, when talked about, are subject to persuasion by (Listen!) hearing what others think, or even by simply hearing ourselves talk. 

How the loud bar music keeps people from thinking. (My feet are dancing!)

How the music meanders, sometimes with no climax.  

How artful these kinds of musical "meditations" can be, how expressive they are.


Acacia trees in the hot city of Maputo, burning red flowers. Do children make you suffer?

Sweet mangoes. The train station. Buses. The market. The African man who loves history.  


Leaving soon.


Suddenly, a remarkable thing happened:  

A man who had been standing enthusiastically at the corner of the stage, who couldn't keep his body in place – that's how excited he was about the music – began to play along with the group. First, he clapped and danced. Then he started playing with a spoon against his cheek. The group could have responded in several ways – they could have ignored him, they could have stopped playing even. But instead, they welcomed this man in – subtly, with smiles, with nods, with a sort of playing to him and giving him space in the music. The man eagerly took his cue and ran off, returning a few moments later, dumping a whole lot of percussive instruments on the stage. He clambered up on the stage – a huge man, in lay clothing – and twisted the microphone in his direction, using the spoon, and any other kinds of knickknacks he brought with him. And the group let him in, traded solos with him. They created a space for him in their community. 


Perhaps they knew him before. But I like to think that they didn't, that in this moment a dialogue was created in the most expressive way. You play a note I like. I play you a note you might like. You like my note and add to it.

We listen to each other. We play together. 


Sometimes I am again convinced that there is nothing in the world as wonderful as music.



IV. One Last Sunrise

One last sunrise, till Pretoria.  

What color is this soft and swirling dawn?  

Changing gray clouds that line the sky, morphing into passionate fireballs of color?


I think of all the moments of courage I found on these buses, beginning with the blind woman with shining tears, who trusted strangers to take care of her, for little bits of kindness (which, if you're looking, can always be found on buses). The woman with maimed legs, who got her own bathroom breaks.  A disoriented Hanna, braving a foreign country to get back to work.


Clouds spread unevenly over the sky, like a poorly buttered piece of toast. 
The sky goes from blank to a bright and smiling yellow, tinged with a flattered pink.  

Dawn comes with a smile – a new day is here, a new life – lighting the underbellies of clouds, like some great dragon sleeping on a horde of gold and rubies.  

The clouds, clutching each other for warmth before, start to disperse, exploring the sky.


But where the sun is coming up, the clouds turn into waves of deep scarlet and red and pink and orange grasses.

The land makes room – the trees stay dark, watching. 

Nothing is distracted, everything waking up.


The clouds like a gorgeous shawl, like the hem of a beautiful dress dancing around the feet of a pretty girl.

And nothing can stop this light, these colors. They spread all over, everywhere.  

Who thought to begin days in such a wonderful and beautiful way? And to end them this way?  

The color constantly deeper and deeper, every moment showing up my poor imagination. 

Whirlpools of color, of dancing gold.  

A finger tracing mysterious sentences in the sky.


And ... we are here.

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