• Euphonium* and piano
  • Duration: 9 minutes
  • Commissioned and premiered by Christian Folk, March 2020

Tundra is a musical window into the experience of living with depression. When Christian approached me about writing this piece, I knew right away that it would be one of the most difficult yet fulfilling projects I’d take on. I have been using music as a creative and emotional outlet for most of my life, but the idea of using music to represent such a personal and sensitive experience was scary, even to me. The composition process was emotionally demanding on an uncharted level, but the result is a piece I am immensely proud of. My hope is that performances of the work will help to promote dialogue around mental health. 

Tundra ecosystems are vast, treeless plains found throughout the coldest regions on the planet. Tree growth is limited here due to severely low temperatures and permanently frozen subsoil, called permafrost. National Geographic refers to tundra as “barren” and “one of the earth’s coldest, harshest biomes”. While covered in snow for the majority of the year, tundra lands are rewarded with bursts of hardy wildflowers in the summer. 

I have found comfort in noticing the parallels between depression and the tundra environment. There is a sense of emptiness, stillness, and despair that comes with having a foundation that is permanently frozen; it is increasingly frustrating to try to grow and thrive in these conditions. But there is also a sense of hope and determination in this ongoing effort, and a wave of relief and gratitude when things begin to thaw. The surprise of wildflowers in the summer is natural imagery that represents the addition of a support system for a person with mental illness. For Christian, this turning point was meeting his fiancee, Christy; for me, it was meeting my fiance, Brian. 

This piece is a continuous series of musical tension and release between the person with depression and the person in the supportive role. My goal was to depict not only the darkest moments, but also the relentless effort to rise above and the brief but glorious moments of triumph. Despite all the challenges that come with this journey, all four of us have committed to accepting, and even embracing, life in the tundra.

*This piece was originally written for euphonium and piano, but has also been adapted for other solo instruments to spread the message to a broader audience. Currently available solo parts: euphonium, french horn, bassoon. More coming soon!