It Is Happiness (3 mvts)


Mary Oliver (1935-2019)

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? Such is the emphatic query in “The Summer Day,” —the first movement of It Is Happiness, a 20 minute choral suite for treble voices and chamber orchestra featuring fresh and lively settings of iconic poetry by Mary Oliver, one of America’s most significant and best-selling poets,

“… Oliver’s poetry has been a touchstone for understanding our world and ourselves. She described her work as loving the world. Her poems capture the human spirit and nature’s complexity with wonder and awe.”

Joan Szymko is honored to be one of just a handful of composers ever granted permission to set Oliver’s poetry to music. Szymko is master at illuminating texts, and she is here at her very best.

It Is Happiness, may be performed with full [fl,ob,cl,hrn,bsn,vn(2),vc,pno] or reduced forces [fl,vn,vc,pno]. JS-118.1 (Chorus with piano reduction) is to be used in rehearsal preparation for performance of either of the the available orchestrations.

Movement No.1 The Summer Day is available as a stand alone octavo with piano and flute obbligato for SSA or SAB voicing.


Item Voicing/Instrumentation Duration Price Audio View Score Quantity
JS-118 (Conductor)
licensed PDF
SSA, fl,ob,cl,hrn,bsn,vn(2),vc,pno 20:00 N/A
JS-118R (Conductor)
licensed PDF
SSA, fl,vn,vc,pno 20:00 $12.00
JS-118.1 (piano-vocal/rehearsal)
licensed PDF
Chorus & Piano Reduction
SSA $7.50
JS-118RP (set parts)
licensed pdf / Reduced Forces
fl,vn,vc,pno $20.00
JS-118 No.1 The Summer Day
audio sample
JS-118 No.2 Sunrise
audio sample
JS-118 No.3 Wild Geese
audio sample

Audio Credits: 

Viriditas Vocal Ensemble, Joan Szymko director



Mary Oliver (1935-2019)

No1. The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean—
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down—
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?

No 2. Sunrise

You can
die for it—
an idea,
or the world. People
have done so,
their small bodies be bound
to the stake,
an unforgettable
fury of light. But
this morning,
climbing the familiar hills
in the familiar
fabric of dawn, I thought
of China,
and India
and Europe, and I thought
how the sun
for everyone just
so joyfully
as it rises
under the lashes
of my own eyes, and I thought
I am so many!
What is my name?
What is the name
of the deep breath I would take
over and over
for all of us? Call it
whatever you want, it is
happiness, it is another one
of the ways to enter

No 3. Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your bodylove what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting—
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.


licensed PDF