Beyond the Clouds was commissioned by the Vandegrift High School Percussion Ensemble from Austin, Texas where my friend Joe Hobbs serves as the director of percussion. In 2013, Joe, myself, and a small group of friends planned a trip across the globe to Nepal, where we'd trek for three weeks to the remote Himalayan base of the Annapurna massif. Each of us had been facing various stages of transition and loss in our own lives and this adventure was a way to challenge ourselves both physically and mentally, facing our respective unknowns while bonding as friends in the process.

One of the details we overlooked when planning our trip was that it'd take place 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 completely 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 in different parts of the world. Each trip has has been filled with unique challenges and discovery. Perhaps most importantly, they represent the power within 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 is dedicated to Joe Hobbs, Mark Hunter, and Sean Womack – the friends with whom I’ve shared these ongoing adventures. This piece will be premiered in Chicago, Illinois at the 2017 Midwest Band and Orchestra Clinic.

–Jim Casella