Beyond the Clouds is dedicated to my friend, Joe Hobbs. In 2013, Joe and a group of close friends planned a long trip in which they’d see another part of the world while challenging themselves physically and mentally. This adventure would take place across the globe in Nepal, trekking for three weeks to the remote Himalayan base of the Annapurna massif. A few months before the trip, one member of the team had to cancel and I took his place. We had each been facing various stages of transition and loss in our own lives and this adventure was a perfect way to face our respective unknowns while bonding as friends in the process.

One of the details we overlooked when planning our trip was that we’d be trekking during Nepal’s monsoon season. This meant we’d be hiking in the rain most days, up and down endless, steep, ancient trails and across wobbly, slick suspension bridges at high altitudes. Our views of the mountains were usually obscured by clouds, though on rare occasions magnificent, glaciated peaks would be revealed from a clearing in the clouds, bringing a completely new dimension to where we actually were. The miserable, soggy, leech-filled paths became our gateway to witnessing something much greater. Living in rainy Portland, Oregon, I often ponder how my ground-level experience of the low, grey ceiling overhead differs from the bright, expansive, blue sky beyond the clouds. I’ve found this to be a useful metaphor of life, acknowledging how personal perception and circumstances often differ from a more objective reality.

Since that adventure in Nepal, we’ve embarked on several others. Each trip has has been filled with unique challenges and discovery. Perhaps most importantly, they symbolize the power found in making the deliberate choice to connect and persevere together and seeing that the world is a much bigger place than we often perceive. I treasure these experiences and the friends I’ve had them with.

Beyond the Clouds was commissioned by the Vandegrift High School Percussion Ensemble from Austin, Texas where Joe serves as the director of percussion. It will be premiered in Chicago, Illinois at the 2017 Midwest Band and Orchestra Clinic.

–Jim Casella