Prior Art (2004) for ten musicians


oboe (doubles on metal wind chimes)

bass clarinet

horn (doubles on suspended cymbal)


percussion (vibraphone, crotales, snare drum, tam-tam)

violin, viola, cello, and bass

Duration: 15 minutes


Photo: Hoi Wood Chang.

Just a few feet away from my studio, several hundred sheep are making their way through the field, led by a shepherd wearing a black cape and driving a pickup truck. Is someone filming an epic biblical movie? No, I am assured, these sheep are real. The shepherd passes through here every year. The cook always takes him a beer. Eventually, the flock goes on its way, but five lambs are accidentally left behind. Someone calls the police, and two officers come, and they try to contact the shepherd. No one knows what to do in the meantime, but the lambs are cute, so everyone (including the policemen) starts taking photos. Finally, the shepherd drives up in the pickup truck to retrieve his lambs. But the lambs don’t want to be retrieved; they are happy here with lots of grass, lots of attention, and no roaming. The shepherd and policemen have trouble catching the lambs, but after an hour they do finally get them all into the truck, and the shepherd drives away. These sheep can’t have anything to do with this piece, which was nearly finished by the time they visited. But I nevertheless feel some strange connection. Maybe the sheep simply make a good illustration of my surroundings, which in turn influence the music I write. Maybe there are visual similarities, however coincidental, between the layout of the score and the arrangement of the lambs. Or maybe they offer some impossibly corny metaphor about my compositional process: maybe the lambs are some abstract musical ideas from my past works which I revisit in this piece. So then am I the shepherd who comes back to get them, only to find them unwilling to come? Or am I one of the policemen who just takes pictures of them because he doesn’t know what else to do? And how exactly does one take a picture of an abstract musical idea?

Performance History

  • Speculum Musicae, May 2004, Miller Theater, New York City
. Susan Nidel, flute; Stephen Taylor, oboe; Allen Blustine, bass clarinet; John Smith, horn; Christopher Guzman, piano; Jeffrey Irving, percussion; Curtis Macomber, violin; Lois Martin, viola; Chris Finckel, cello; Kurt Muroki, bass; Michael Adelson, conductor.
  • Ensemble Surplus, September 2005, Theaterhaus, Stuttgart, Germany
. James Avery, conductor.