for trombone or tuba and piano


8 minutes

Commissioned by/Premiere

Premiered June 13, 2023 by Joshua Williams, tuba and Yu-Ting Peng, piano at Music Academy of the West, Santa Barbara, CA.

Commissioned by Music Academy of the West. This work was created with the support of a residency from the Stiftung Laurenz-Haus in Basel, Switzerland.


Purchase version for tuba and piano
Purchase version for trombone or bass trombone and piano


I began composing Groundswell when I met tubist Joshua Williams in a practice room at the Mannes School of Music in New York, where I teach. I was struck by his talent and virtuosity and by how a tuba can fill a room—how it can shake our bodies—with its huge sound. 

During our meeting, I asked Joshua to play a single C on his tuba, swelling from pianissimo to forte. As he did, I mindlessly laid my foot on the sustain pedal of the piano, as I am wont to do. I was shocked at how the tuba swell activated the strings of the piano, causing them to ring sympathetically.

I looked over at Joshua, laughed, and said, “Well, now we have the opening of the piece.”

The music that emerged after this meeting features different swells from the tuba and a silent part for the pianist who has to carefully depress the pedal in time so that the tuba can sympathetically activate the strings.

As I continued to write the piece, I began to think about the orchestral nature of the tuba: We usually think of the tuba as the bass of a large ensemble, blending the strings, percussion, and winds. Something about tuba and “just piano” began to feel off to me. So, in order to solve this issue, I began thinking of ways to transform the piano—and the pianist—into an orchestra. I placed blu-tack putty on the piano’s highest strings to create a percussive drum sound; I asked the pianist to vocalize various sounds to imitate the brass; and finally, I asked them to pluck strings inside the piano to imitate string pizzicato. All of this creates a highly virtuosic and balletic piano part, making the work very much a concertante duo, rather than a piece for tuba and accompanist.

The title Groundswell refers to both the sense of seismic force that the tuba conveys and also the fast accumulation of activity that happens in the piece as it grows increasingly intense. It was commissioned by the Music Academy of the West and is dedicated to Joshua Williams and Yu-Ting Peng. The version for trombone and piano was premiered by Rudi Hermann and Christina Bauer, piano at the Druckereihalle im Ackermannshof, Basel, Switzerland.