Before starting to play, the four members of The Westerlies step to the side, huddle, and do some breathing. The pre-performance ritual, says ensemble member Andy Clausen, helps the group “get on the same page.”
It's a striking example of the exciting brass ensemble's unity. The members grew up together in Seattle, and when they each moved to New York, where they’re now based, they found themselves “hanging out, homesick, and sort of sticking together as a unit.” So naming the group after the winds that blow from west to east made sense.
In the midst of another journey — the ensemble is currently touring — The Westerlies dropped by the WFMT studios to perform a brand-new piece called This is Water by ensemble member Andy Clausen. In fact, the piece — which appears on the quartet's recent album Move — is so new that it is the video premiere. Beyond that, we found out after recording that it's the first time the group has played it in public!
The title, explains composer Andy Clausen, references a graduation speech given by David Foster Wallace. In the speech, Wallace shared a fable, the composer recounts, “of two fish, swimming through the water. The older one says, ‘Nice water today,’ and the younger one replies, ‘What's water?’”
Clausen adds, “It’s sort of a metaphor for awareness of the world around us.”
This metaphor inspires Clausen, who strives to be present, in part through being in nature. He built the three highly personal movements of the piece around places that have meaning to him — Carmel in California, Lopez (one of the San Juan Islands in Washington), and the Harlem River in New York City.
Speaking of each place, Clausen reflects that Carmel has "a very magical energy to it," while Lopez — where the group has spent a lot of time creating music together — is always foggy. And in long walks along the Harlem River, Clausen would pass by bustling traffic, industrial areas, and a "dilapidated circus." Each inspiration runs deep in this highly observant, personal, and expressive piece.
For more information about The Westerlies, visit westerliesmusic.com. The excerpts of this interview have been edited for clarity.