The Palouse

Whenever I am asked to write a song for a company (or in this case, a nonprofit), I usually compose to an existing video. I enjoy the challenge of reacting to something that is not my own. But I get particularly amped when someone asks for my help with music and a song I’ve already recorded (and only played for Brangien and our cats) leaps to mind as a perfect match.

That’s what happened with the music I contributed to the new Seattle Arts & Lectures Podcast series “SAL/on air,” which features talks with writers who have visited SAL over the past 30 years. (Episode 1 is out now—more episodes will be released soon and you cansubscribe here). Associate Director, Rebecca Hoogs, asked for my help with a tiny a theme song (aka “bumper”) to use as an intro and outro for each episode. I’ve attended many of these lectures and knew the music should have a sense of inquisitiveness and possibility.

The Palouse is the region where my dad grew up, on a farm near Colfax, WA. It’s also the name of the song that I immediately thought of for SAL/on air. I have always loved driving through that area of the Washington/Idaho border. It’s where I used to visit my Aunt Evelyn and Uncle Walt in their solitary farmhouse plopped down in the middle of a shag carpet of wheat. Pigs and apple trees mingled within a few strides of the concrete patio. And the most alien feature for a kid from Anchorage, Alaska was the chorus of crickets—simultaneously soothing and unsettling.

The song is spacious and rolling. To create it, I played the instruments of my youth: trumpet, piano, a Roland synthesizer I bought in Anchorage in 1984 (which remains in my studio today), and drums similar to the set my mom rented for me in the late ‘70s. (I wonder if she realized how annoyingly loud drums would be in the hands of an untrained minor? Thanks, Mom.) Much like the fields of The Palouse, the song keeps shifting in small ways. If you listen carefully, you might hear the wind in the wheat and the chorus of crickets as the synth dips in and out of the mix, with the piano and drums driving through it all. Near the end, you can hear the creak of a piano bench. I need to get that fixed.

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