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Book of Imaginary Beings

I received word just yesterday that my proposal to write a piece for Eric Hansen, Skyler Murray, and Scott Holden—all fabulous musicians—was accepted by the Barlow Endowment, who awarded me a grant to write a 15–20 minute piece for bass, saxophone, and piano. Seeing how the endowment has given grants to a couple dozen Pulitzer Prize winning composers, in addition to commissioning a Pulitzer Prize winning piece, this commission is kind of a big deal. It’s also my first. So between all these things, I’m pretty excited.

“So what,” you may ask, “are you thinking of doing in this new piece?”

Good question. Though I don’t yet have any specific musical ideas, I have already identified what expressive resources the instruments offer. (This is how I start every piece I write, by exploring what the instruments can do.) Though I’ve written before for sax and piano, I haven’t written anything for solo bass. In studying what it can do, I was surprised to discover that, as a solo instrument, it has a strong, articulate tenor range. If that sounds surprising, go listen to the Bach Cello Suites transcribed for solo bass, in which the instrument sounds like big, resonant cello. I’m eager to explore the possibilities here.

In addition to determining my expressive resources, I’ve also begun to get a sense for the piece’s shape and feel. It’ll be in five to seven short movements, each with a different character, though all meditating on change, loss, surprise, and imagination. And unlike my orchestra piece, this time I already have a title in mind: “Book of Imaginary Beings,” after the book by Borges (with which, apart from having the same title, it will have no relation).

So now, with a commission behind these preliminaries, I’m excited to get started!