Prairie Music

 Commissioned by the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra (Allen Tinkham, music director) for the Ear Taxi Festival, October 2016.

This piece was conceived on a late fall road trip through some Midwestern states. It was in the middle of fall, and though the fields had just been stripped bare of corn, the trees were just beginning to turn and the sun shone through all the hours of our drive. I decided to write landscape music dedicated to the peculiar beauties of my homeland.

Months later, when I had the time to actually begin writing, I realized something about why that beauty is so peculiar – it’s almost entirely man-made. The land was sectioned off into a precise grid by the Northwest Ordinance, with most of our roads and streets following straight north-south or east-west lines for miles. What contours or forests there were have been plowed flat. Our mountains and cliffs are artificial – a steady rise of buildings from the suburbs ending abruptly at the Lake. It’s a human landscape – stark and unnatural, but also filled with memories.


Instrumentation – 4 fl (3rd & 4th picc), 4 ob, 4 cl, 4 bsn, 4 hn, 4 tpt, 3 tbn, b. tbn, 2 tuba, timp, 3 perc, 2 hp, pno, strings
Duration – 10′



“As reflected in the title, there is something of the open prairie sound of Copland in Malmquist’s Midwest style, albeit glimpsed through a more stoic modern sensibility. Tinkham and the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestras gave this premiere a full-bodied and eloquent debut and the composer was warmly applauded by the audience.” – Lawrence A. Johnson, Chicago Classical Review

“One of the strongest offerings of the evening, it is constructed primarily of two- or three-note sustained phrases that blur and fold into each other against a constant percussive backdrop. The result is an evocative, complex work suffused with the kind of lonely unease that is easy to feel on a rural back road.” – Kyle MacMillan, Chicago on the Aisle



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