Solo brass quintet (2 trumpets, horn, trombone, tuba); wind ensemble instrumentation: flute 1-3, oboe 1-2, english horn, Eb clarinet, clarinet 1-2, bass clarinet, bassoon 1-2, soprano saxophone, alto saxophone 1-2, tenor saxophone, baritone saxophone, trumpet 1-3, horn 1-3, trombone 1-2, euphonium, tuba, string bass, percussion 1-4
Seraph Brass and a consortium of wind ensembles
Additional orchestrations by Noah Goulet
DUST is still under exclusivity.
I arrived in late 2018 to start a faculty position at the Texas Tech University School of Music in the West Texas city of Lubbock. Finally, after a thrilling and exhausting first year, I felt like I had my bearings and was ready to explore at least some of the ten ecoregions and 268,597 square miles that compose the state. Unfortunately, however, a highly infectious, novel respiratory virus had different plans, and Zoom classes, remote work, and long periods of isolation defined my remaining years in Texas.
As a result, my time in Texas was unique. Mostly, we know a place through people and shared events. And while I met many extraordinary people in Texas, I came to know it best through landscape, climate, and history. Texas, for me, was long drives where you begin to believe that high plains are so flat you can start to see the curvature of the Earth. But take a trip southwest, and the rolling prairies and verdant grasslands will overwhelm you. I could wake up to a brief, intense rain shower with massive hail, get caught in a dust storm at noon, and then hide from the scorching sun until a beautiful temperate night. I came to know Texas through its ambient and tactile qualities. Texas is extreme in that way, in every way. It’s immense and intimate, precarious and nurturing, vital and violent all at once.
Unsurprisingly, its history is too. In its Declaration of Causes to succeed from the Union in 1861, Delegates of the People of Texas wrote: “She was received as a commonwealth holding, maintaining and protecting the institution known as negro slavery…which her people intended should exist in all future time.” After the war, Texas failed to ratify the Thirteenth Amendment. It was one of the fiercest resistors of the Civil Rights Movement. Presently, it is a perennial sight of the worst of our national gun crisis.
But in its vastness, there are other histories. How could there not be? Coincident with this history of violence is a legacy of idealism and pluralism. Texas is also a state of utopian religious societies, socialist communes, and a diversity that resisted its foundational white supremacy. Its lands hosted three of the most significant pre-modern societies and nearly twenty indigenous tribes. This Texas was and is a crucial site for developing a range of musical styles, including Mariachi, Country, Rock ‘n Roll, Blues, and Conjunto.
Dust reflects my time in West Texas and my engagement with its complex past. The form of the piece is ideal for this. I employ the brass quintet as a deliverer of triumphant melodies and bombastic power. It’s hard not to hear them when you see images of the favorite avatars of Manifest Destiny, like the stagecoach or the cowboy. But a brass fanfare too often distracts us from critically engaging with what is being celebrated. I wanted to use these instruments to evoke something else. In parts, you’ll hear whispers of Mariachi tunes “El Rey” and “Volver Volver” that I heard on local radio, which recognizes Hispanic culture's centrality to the state. Mainly, you’ll hear excerpts from the cowboy tune "The Old Chisholm Trail." Written to commemorate the cattle trail established by two businessmen—the Lenape rancher Black Beaver and Jesse Chisholm, a merchant of partial Cherokee descent—that provided a means for Texas ranchers to reach eastern markets. Based on a seventeenth-century English melody, the song would have been sung thousands of times over hundreds of miles. It was a literal musical accompaniment to the growing prosperity of the state’s signal industry. Surrounding these musical citations are passages that fill out this world. To create a sonic analog of the massive space and textures that define the landscape, I expanded rhythms and wrote lines that conveyed unfolding vistas rather than an epic outcome. It was my way of translating this place to make it comprehensible.