Deserts was commissioned for the Symphonic Wind Ensemble of the University of St. Thomas, Saint Paul, Minnesota, by the University’s Director of Bands, Dr. Matthew J. George. It was premiered by them on 2nd March 2008.

In initial discussions with Philip Sparke, Dr. George offered him the challenge of writing something outside his normal ‘comfort zone’. The composer’s style is usually optimistic and outgoing so they agreed on a ‘sparse’ piece, the composer deciding on the theme of ‘nothingness’ – deserts, so to speak.

During its composition, the piece took on a life of its own. It starts with the musical evocation of a desert (it could be sand, ice or extra-terrestrial) and ties into a theme the composer had previously explored: the paradox of danger combined with awesome natural beauty. A faster central section goes on to broaden the scope of the subject to deal with 'emotional' deserts, and the dangers we face by isolating ourselves and not sharing our thoughts and emotions with others. It develops into a sort of 'battle' between brutality (emotional and/or physical) and the optimism of the human spirit - a sort of struggle for dominance between pessimism and optimism. The slow music returns, but is transformed by the victory of optimism and the piece ends in tranquil serenity.