Variations on an English Pastoral Theme is based on the tune "Brother James's Air". This version began life as a fall orchestral audition etude. When the composer noticed that he was still hearing students play it in March, he realised the variations had captured the imagination of the players and had potential as an educational tool to teach expressive playing.
At the heart of the piece is the opening violin solo melody, which is rather free-form in a wistful, quasi-improvisatory folk style - as if played while sitting outdoors on a rock. The melody wanders in and out of modal territory in the manner of early 20th century English string suites. Subsequent variations feature guitar-like accompaniment, duets, fragments of melodic material for each instruments, and a wide range of sweeping dynamic contrasts. The piece closes quietly, as it began, but in a new key with the solo in the cello.