2005 February at John Mackey's Blog



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  • February 14, 2005

    The Week in Photos

    Okay, here we go… It’s “John’s Week in Texas: A PhotoBlog”

    On my way to Texas, I had a few minutes to grab a bite to eat at LaGuardia Airport. I opted for this sausage, egg, and cheese on a biscuit sandwich. Um, mistake. Don’t let the glistening cheese fool you; it was nasty.

    That afternoon, I arrived in Grapevine for the Grapevine High School performance of Redline Tango. Here’s Steve Andre — the man who made my trip to Texas and TMEA possible — rehearsing with his awesome group.

    After their great concert the following night, I had a drink with Steve and Danny Prado (one of the funniest guys I’ve met in a long time — and I love his name). No pictures of that event (what happens in Grapevine stays in Grapevine), but here’s the late-night burrito I had post-drink.

    The view out the window of my hotel in Grapevine. I think that’s a movie theater.

    The chair in my room. Comfy.

    Later, in San Antonio, I took a tour of the exhibit floor. It was, well, Texas-sized.

    The colors in this exhibit nearly fried my optical nerve.

    Saxes! One of the SEVERAL sax booths!

    I’ve been looking for a gimmick. A funny hat? Maybe a cape? That’s clearly not enough to grab one’s attention. What you need is a golden hat, and shiny pants!

    One major highlight of the convention was the University of Texas with Jerry Junkin giving an informal performance of Corigliano’s new piece “Circus Maximus.” It’s astonishing. This blog entry is kind of light, and not at all worthy of a description of John’s masterful and brilliant score. What I will share here, though, is this picture of the marching band crossing on front of the stage. Yes, there’s a marching band in the piece.

    Here’s a picture of Steve Bryant, John Corigliano, me, and Eric Whitacre. It’s a reunion of Corigliano students! We’re not worthy.

    Immediately after this picture was taken, Steve Bryant opened his trench coat and flashed everybody in the room.

    Out for cocktails! Here’s Jeff Gershman and Steve Bryant. At this point in the evening, we were still pretty sober. That quickly changed.

    Downtown San Antonio. This picture kind of explains it all. Very cool city.

    Gary Hill tuning the All-State band before the concert.

    After the concert, I posed for several pictures and signed lots of autographs on parts. Here’s one of the 165 awesome All-State players.

    Dinner, post-concert! Steve Bryant had this awesome pepper-crusted beef dish. Yummy.

    I had filet mignon with a mashed corn side dish. Holy tasty!

    I hope that someday, Eric Whitacre will let me into his posse.

    Dessert! Bread pudding with vanilla ice cream. A perfectly delicious way to end the week!

    The CBDNA convention is next week. Get ready for pictures of more tasty meals!


    TMEA: Awesome & Loud!

    I’m back from TMEA in San Antonio. The players were awesome. I can’t imagine how they played Redline Tango as well as they did — after only three days of rehearsal. And it’s not like they had the music ahead of time. They literally learned the entire piece — and the other pieces on the program! — in three days. I was blown away.
    And speaking of being blown away — you should have heard the low winds and low brass in this group! That low pseudo-funk ostinato in the winds was tight, and I didn’t expect it to be, with that many people playing! (This band had over 160 players. There were 5 or 6 people playing the first bassoon part alone! There were, I think, 5 baritone sax players!) And the low brass – WOW! I loved this group. I wish I could always have 14 trombones play in my pieces.

    So hats off to every one of those players. I hope they all enjoyed playing Redline Tango at least partially as much as I loved working with them.
    And it goes without saying that Gary Hill, who conducted the concert, gave them a hell of a great experience. Gary’s the man.

    And what does a 160-player concert band look like?


    Big. And LOUD. Awesome.


    February 8, 2005

    Beware the "Stampede"

    I heard the University of North Texas Wind Symphony perform live tonight. (Thanks to Sean R. for schlepping me up there and back.) I’d heard that they were a great ensemble, and man alive, it’s true. Eugene Corporon runs a hell of a program there. The wind symphony is tight.

    They played the same program that they’re playing at TMEA in San Antonio on Thursday, and it was nice to get a preview tonight. The whole program was played exceptionally well, as I said, but one piece in particular stood out. That piece was “Stampede” by Steve Bryant. Steve has crafted a piece that’s both witty and gritty, at times toe-tapping, and other times far too rhymically complex to tap along at all. I totally dug it. I got the impression that it’s pretty wickedly difficult, but the UNT winds made it just sound fun. I’m excited to hear it again on Thursday night — and hopefully see the score. Steve has a real winner with this one.

    Grapevine’s performance of “Redline Tango” last night was a blast. I still can’t believe they did as well as they did. It doesn’t seem logically possible to me that a high school band can be that good.

    This afternoon, I visited with the TCU conducting grad students. They had a lot of great questions, and we had a good chat. I also got a few tips from them that are helping me with orchestration ideas on the new piece. For example, it turns out that a lot of colleges have steel drums — and even full steel drum bands. Since I was trying to mimic a steel drum sound in the calypso anyway (I was using rolled marimba with hard mallets), I’m going to go ahead and give the option to use actual steel drums in that section. Also, although I’ve been hesitant to write that contrabass clarinet solo, assuming it would have to be played on contrabassoon instead, this group felt that a lot of groups would be more likely to have a contrabass clarinet than a contrabassoon. Even if they’re still relatively rare, I’m going to go ahead with the contrabass clarinet solo, and hope for the best.

    It turns out that there’s a new beer in Europe, aimed at the gay market. Letterman just did a Top 10 list about it, and it was pretty hilarious. My favorite was actually #10. Check it out. (If the link doesn’t work yet, it should work within 12 hours or so from now — after the show has aired everywhere.)

    Tomorrow, I’m off to San Antonio! I’m excited. More from the road…


    February 6, 2005

    Grapevine, Texas: Day 1

    I’ve arrived, safe and sound, in Grapevine, Texas. Grapevine is a suburb of Dallas/Ft. Worth. (They tell me it’s a little closer to Ft. Worth.)

    I’ve come to Grapevine for a short residency with Grapevine High School, where Steve Andre is the head band conductor. Steve set up this residency as a big favor to me, as part of an ingenious solution to a problem I had. As I’ve mentioned in other entries, one of the Texas All-State bands is playing Redline Tango this week in San Antonio. Steve is the Vice President — and Band Division Chair — of TMEA. Steve knew that the All State band was doing Redline Tango, but that TMEA didn’t have funds to pay for my trip to the convention. As a solution, Steve scheduled a performance of Redline Tango at his own high school (Grapevine), just a few days prior to the start of TMEA, and asked me to come do a residency. This makes it affordable for me to attend the convention in San Antonio immediately following my residency in Grapevine.

    So, that’s the great part. Grapevine plays the piece, I come for the concert and a few days of residency activities (working with the music theory class at the high school, rehearsing with the band, plus trips to TCU and UNT, etc.), and the residency fee allows me to pay for my trip to TMEA. Simple. (Since we came up with this residency, TMEA has generously provided me with a hotel room in San Antonio, as an added bonus.)

    Here’s the snag, though. Grapevine is a high school — and no high school band has ever performed Redline Tango.

    Yes, two other high school bands have programmed it — Logan High School in California and Dobson High School in Mesa, Arizona — but they haven’t played it yet. I’ve heard that they’re doing great, and that the kids can totally play the piece, but until I hear it myself, I have no idea what it would sound like with a very young group. Redline Tango is mad hard. Good college bands find it challenging. How on earth could a high school band play it?!

    Um, okay, I was extremely naive. I had no idea what was happening with high school bands in this country — particularly in Texas! Holy sh*t.

    I got to the high school, said hi to the band — who had graciously agreed to rehearse with me on a Sunday afternoon! On their own time! — and took my seat in the hall, having no idea what to expect. Steve starts conducting, the piece starts, and…

    Okay, that sounds pretty good. This part coming up is hard, though, and I can’t imagine that they’ll… no, wait, they nailed it. Weird. Was that a fluke? Uh oh – here comes that first soprano sax solo; that’s usually pretty telling. Okay, that guy’s awesome. Hold on — is the hi-hat player really that good? Did he just nail that nearly-impossible lick? Yep, he did.

    These are high school kids?!?!

    They played through the first third, and Steve stopped, not knowing what I might have to say. I’m pretty sure that my mouth was hanging open. “Um, okay, um, that’s how it goes! I had no idea what to expect, but you guys are totally fantastic!” I think I blurted something like that. Whatever I said made the band laugh in appreciation. Or maybe they just thought I was a tool. I told them that it may have been a hair slow, and Steve tapped out a different tempo for them to try — much faster than they’d played the first time. To my surprise (and obvious glee), they played it at full tempo — and they played the hell out of it.

    We had a 90 minute rehearsal, but I had very little to tell them, other than a few minor interpretive things. (“This part should sound more like a fairy,” I think I told one percussionist about his glock solo. Good lord. I’m sure he was horrified.) Whereas I originally considering becoming completely drunk in preparation for tomorrow’s concert, I’m now sincerely excited to hear this group play.

    I’ve been extremely fortunate to have some great performances of this piece, and I’ve been excited about all of them, but there’s something amazing about hearing a group of high school kids — we’re talking 14-18 year olds — play something so difficult, and actually play it. It’s not like “oh, that’s kind of how it goes.” They were actually playing Redline Tango.

    These kids — and Steve Andre — have blown me away. And I’m a cynical New Yorker who hates everything.


    February 3, 2005

    Making the Cut

    I’m about half done with the orchestration on “Lone Star Polka.” I cut a big chunk out last night, and now I can’t tell if I made it a little too short. The piece was in a big A-B-A form — actually, sonata form, according to Newman — but now that I’ve cut so much from the end, the last “A” section is more of a coda. I’ve listened to it so many times both ways that it’s become the equivalent of repeating a word over and over again — it ends up sounding like gibberish both ways.

    The “A” section has two main tunes — an A and a B, we’ll call them. In the original version, the recap at the end presented the mini A-B-A one last time. (He was right. It really was Sonata Form.) In the edit, B is gone, so now it’s basically just A-A!!!! (That’s me shouting “A” one last time.) The new version has a lot more joementum, but I’m hoping it’s not too abrupt.

    PalmOne is now selling the GSM Treo 650. Cingular has a good price, but you have to sign a 2-year contract, and Cingular’s data plans are way overpriced. They’re so expensive – starting at $40/month – that I’d lose the benefit of their cheaper phone in less than a year. I’m considering buying the full-priced, unlocked phone, just to stick with T-Mobile because they’re cheap, but I’m torn. Thoughts? Any Cingular users out there who love their service? I sure wish Verizon would start carrying good phones…

    Yesterday, I got a recording of the Eastman Wind Ensemble’s performance of “Redline Tango” from last week. Man. I expected them to sound good, but wow. Saying they’re a hell of an ensemble is quite an understatement.

    That’s all for now. I need to head to the park for my run before I end up just crashing on the sofa in front of the TV.