baritone voice, trumpet, trombone, bass clarinet, and pre-recorded electronics
(also available in a version for string quartet and electronics)


4 minutes

Commissioned by/Premiere

The Yale Club, New York, NY
February 23rd, 2010

Version for string quartet was commissioned by the Argus Quartet.
James Madison University’s Contemporary Music Festival, Harrisonburg, Virginia
February 14, 2017


Purchase from Project Schott New York
Purchase from Project Schott New York (string quartet and electronics)



Download electronics. How to Breathe Underwater is performed alongside a track of prerecorded electronics consisting of processed sine waves. These sounds should blend seamlessly and effortlessly with the ensemble, beginning imperceptibly and eventually overtaking (drowning) the ensemble. The performers should consult the reference recording provided for questions of balance. Since the synchronicity of the electronics and players is paramount the work must be performed with a click track.


How to Breathe Underwater is a portrait of depression. In the same way that composers of the 19th century wrote miniatures based on the figures of the Commedia Dell’arte, How to Breathe Underwater was inspired by a character in the Jonathan Franzen novel, Freedom. While reading the novel, I was struck by the character named Connie Monaghan. The author described her as having “no notion of wholeness—[she] was all depth and no breadth. When she was coloring, she got lost in saturating one or two areas with a felt-tip pen.” This kind of singular obsession—the sense of being overwhelmed, and eventually drowned, inspired me to compose this piece. In fact, I initially called the piece All Depth and No Breadth. However, I decided that How to Breathe Underwater was a more appropriate title. In the end, I wanted to suggest optimism, not fatalism.