2004 November at John Mackey's Blog



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  • November 30, 2004

    ASU: Home of In-N-Out Burger

    I’ve just returned from a quick run, picked up coffee at the local Circle-K, and am about to head to lunch at…

    Are you ready for it?

    In-N-Out Burger!!!

    Yesterday, Fatburger. Today, In-N-Out. Although my writing can’t match this, I’ll attempt a full review later.

    This afternoon, I finally get to hear the ASU wind symphony rehearse “Redline Tango.” They’ve scheduled up to 75 minutes for my little 9-minute piece, so I imagine it’ll be pretty smokin’ by the time we’re through!

    1 Comment

    November 29, 2004

    ASU: Home of Fatburger

    Today was my first full day at Arizona State. It started with a brief meeting with Gary Hill, the head of bands at ASU. Then it was an uber-tasty lunch at Fatburger (why doesn’t Manhattan have Fatburger?!), followed by a composition seminar.

    I haven’t heard any of their music yet, but the group of composition majors seemed like a good bunch. I played “Redline Tango” for them and took questions, and before I knew it, the 50-minute class was over. Seeing that I had no way to entertain myself after the forum, one of the student composers invited me out for coffee with him, his wife, a friend of theirs, and another composer. It was a really nice time. It’s fun talking with other composers who are my age, whether it be about pieces they’ve written, or things I’ve written, or whether the new Photo iPod is worth $600.

    Tonight: dinner with the band TA’s.

    Tomorrow: my first rehearsal with the wind symphony! I’ve heard talk that they’re going to try to play the piece with the entire ensemble standing. Should be fun! More tomorrow…


    November 28, 2004

    Arizona State University, part 1

    Not much to report yet, but I’ve just arrived here in Tempe, Arizona. (For those of you not familiar with Tempe, it’s right next to Phoenix.)

    Perhaps not the best planning to travel on the last day of the Thanksgiving weekend. Although only one flight was delayed, my total travel time — door to door — was 12 hours. Yes, 12 hours from the time I hailed a cab in NY until I reached the hotel in Tempe.

    Needless to say, I’m beat. Fortunately, AEJ made me a delicious turkey sandwich to eat on the plane, and that made the whole day a lot more pleasant. She even sent along a great big slice of pecan pie. All that was missing was cream corn.

    Now it’s time to quickly unpack and get to bed. Tomorrow, I’ll meet with the composition students at ASU. I’m really excited about that.

    More soon…

    Oh — one more thing. If you’re in the Tempe area, the ASU performance of “Redline Tango” with Gary Hill conducting is on Thursday evening. If you’re in the New York City area on Thursday, though, you can catch a performance of “Juba,” performed by the Alvin Ailey Dance Company at City Center!

    1 Comment

    November 23, 2004

    Another review

    I just got a call from Robert Battle. Turns out we got a grant from the American Music Center to have live music for his upcoming New York season, and there’s even enough left over for the company to commission a score from me. So, keep an eye on this space for updates on that!

    Robert also told me about this new review of “Mass.”

    In other news… After much thought and writer’s block, I’ve sort of abandoned The Alamo Polka. I couldn’t come up with an intelligent way to mix cowboy music and polka without the piece becoming excessively jokey. (A friend also pointed out that he, not even being Texan, was somewhat offended by the title.)

    So, with AEJ’s help, we have a new idea.

    I still want to write a polka, but rather than mixing it with cowboy music, I’m going to mix polka with Middle Eastern music.

    What’s the result?

    “Lawrence Welk of Arabia”

    We’ll see where this takes us…


    November 22, 2004

    Damien Rocks Binghamton

    I’m exhausted. 6 performances in 10 days in three different cities. I’m not complaining; it’s been amazing to feel like a “real composer,” and I feel incredibly fortunate. But wow — it gets tiring.

    AEJ and I drove up to Binghamton on Saturday afternoon, arriving just in time (after a leisurely lunch at Pizza Hut) for the pre-concert talk. I spoke a little about the piece, and took questions from the audience.

    The goal with these things, in my opinion, is not to lecture the audience about what they’re going to hear. The goal is just to show the audience that I, personally, am not scary. If I can convince them that I’m not a bad guy, then they go into the performance giving me the benefit of the doubt. I want them to think, “well, he’s a nice guy, so how bad could his music be?” If they start listening with that attitude, then the performance is typically well-received. So, when I speak to the audience, I usually just focus on sounding positive, and joke about being a living composer. (I don’t recommend starting with a political joke, however. I once considered a joke about Iraq in front of an extremely conservative audience. Take my advice: don’t do it.)

    Pre-concert chat out of the way, AEJ and I took our seats for the concert. After works by Ives & Jennifer Higdon (separate pieces, not collaborations, by the way), Jose-Luis Novo, the conductor, introduced me, and I took the stage to say a few words, this time for the entire audience. (Pre-concert chats are generally fairly sparcely attended, whereas there were about 1200 people in the hall for the concert.) I made a few more jokes, briefly told the story of how I came to write the Percussion Concerto, raved about the soloist, Damien Bassman, and quickly took my seat before I made a complete fool of myself. (I don’t know what I said, but it seemed to go well, as an elderly woman offered to adopt me at the post-concert reception.)

    I didn’t know what to expect of the performance, because for the first time in one of my orchestra performances, I was only there for the performance, and hadn’t heard a single rehearsal. (I had just returned from Florida State the day before.)

    Needless to say, Damien played the hell out of the piece. He needs to play the piece more often, because — man — he’s just the best there is. I was worried about the audience reaction. This was an especially elderly crowd — and that’s saying something for an orchestra concert — and I expected people to cover their ears to protect them from the massive amount of sound coming from the stage. (Percussion concerti are, um, loud.) But to my surprise — and relief — not two seconds after the last beat, the audience started screaming their appreciation to Damien, and he got a full-blown standing ovation. (I’ll also note that his performance was the only time that the audience gave a standing-O that night. Go, Damien!)

    It was a great concert. Jose-Luis was a pleasure to work with, and I hope he’ll do the piece again sometime. What a nice and talented guy.

    The next morning, AEJ and I stopped off at IHOP for a tasty (and sweet) breakfast, then drove back to NYC, stopping at a few exits to admire the beautiful countryside. I wish I were wealthy, as I’d love to buy a place out there…

    The next performance: Wednesday at Alice Tully Hall, when the Juilliard Percussion Ensemble will perform “Mass,” this time without dance. Should be fun!