2006 December at John Mackey's Blog



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  • December 30, 2006

    Midwest 06

    My flight from LA to Chicago for Midwest was delayed by nearly four hours. If you read this blog often, you’ll know that I’m afraid of flying to begin with, and delaying a flight twice for two separate mechanical problems doesn’t exactly put my mind at ease. It was one of those flights where it looks like you’ll be on time, and right before you pull away from the gate, the pilot says there’s a mechanical problem that needs to be fixed. An hour later, he says it’s fixed, the plane pushes back from the gate — and we sit there for five minutes before pulling back to the gate for a new problem. Over three hours after our scheduled departure, we taxi to take off, and I wonder, were those the only two problems, or is the pilot just thinking, aw, screw it; we’ll be fine. Regardless, we did make it safe and sound to Chicago — just really late. Also late: two other people on my flight — Tom Lee, Director of Bands at UCLA, and composer Frank Ticheli. Frank was in first class. Someday…

    I was supposed to go straight from the airport to a rehearsal with the Permian High School Symphonic Band, but by the time we landed, the rehearsal was basically over, so I headed straight to dinner. Jerry Junkin, Director of Bands at UT Austin and Music Director of the Dallas Wind Symphony, had graciously invited me to dinner with him, his wife Stephanie, my former teacher John Corigliano, and a gang of other fun folks. By the time I arrived, everybody had already warmed up with cocktails, but I was still buzzing from my Xanax, so all was well.

    Dinner was at an incredible restaurant called Ambria. Our “Tribute to Spain” tasting menu included some tasty caviar…

    … smoked salmon…

    … a melt-in-your-mouth crab cake topped with a quail egg…

    …and course…

    … after course…

    … after course…

    … and followed by… souffle’ ! There were 6 to choose from. I went with Grand Marnier.

    This place was incredible — and word seemed to get out. At the next table was another who’s-who of conductors: H. Robert Reynolds, Richard Floyd, Eugene Corporon, and Craig Kirchoff. At the table behind them was Adolph Herseth, who, for 50 years, was first trumpet in the Chicago Symphony. (Corigliano went over to say hi to Mr. Herseth and thank him for his playing on the first recording of Corigliano’s First Symphony. It was all a little surreal.)

    Dinner ended with pretty cookies.

    The next morning, I finally got a chance to hear the Permian High School Wind Ensemble perform “Turbine,” under the direction of Michael Watts.

    The band did a hell of a job. “Turbine” is awfully difficult, and no high school has ever performed it. They did the piece proud. Thanks to Mike and the gang!

    Lunch: a shrimp and citrus salad at the hotel restaurant.

    Tasty — and a light contrast to dinner the night before. The company was good once again, this time consisting of Newman, Steve Bryant, and Steve’s better half Verena. Oh, and Corigliano was there, too. It was like he was stalking me. He had a rare steak…

    … and his bad-ass mirrored Aviators.

    (Okay, the glasses might be mine, but they look better on him.)

    Wednesday’s dinner was with Rick Clary and Jonathan Newman in what is becoming an annual Midwest tradition. For the second straight year, we went to Wildfire. Rick apparently asked for “the biggest knife in all of Chicago.”

    We started with crab-stuffed mushroom caps. Mmm…

    I had pork loin as a main course.

    Newman had ribs, but by the time the camera had warmed up, he’d already devoured them all.

    We ordered one of each dessert — or wanted to.

    After dinner, I ran into Mamoru Nakata, one of the consortium members on my new work — “Kingfishers Catch Fire” — that premieres in Japan in March. As AEJ pointed out, I don’t normally give the “teeth smile” in a photo, but it was such a pleasure to meet such enthusiastic consortium members that I couldn’t contain myself.

    From there, it was off to the late-night performance of Corigliano’s masterpiece, Circus Maximus, performed by Jerry Junkin and the Dallas Wind Symphony.

    The next night, the Dallas Wind Symphony gave two knock-out performances of “Redline Tango” in front of two huge audiences.

    I’ve never heard such sultry performances of the piece. The program also included a cool fanfare by Frank Ticheli called “Nitro.” I’m sure that piece will be everywhere soon.

    The concerts concluded with the biggest band hit of all time, “The Stars and Stripes Forever.”

    Lunch the next day was some great sushi — by myself. Something kind of sad about eating alone during Midwest. The sushi was tasty, though.

    Of course, I followed up the semi-healthy lunch with a dinner consisting of a burger with grilled onions and cheese.

    Friday night included a performance of “Strange Humors” by the Friendswood High School Wind Ensemble, conducted by Gregory Dick. The performance was fun, and I’ve never heard it — particularly the saxes — with such clarity. A big ol’ thanks to Greg and his group! And this guy — Travis Urban — must be getting sick of me and my music. He played soprano sax not just in this performance, but also in the 4A Texas All-State band’s performance of “Redline Tango” in 2005! This guy rocks.

    And that was Midwest 2006. I had a wonderful — but exhausting — time. I can’t give enough thanks to the conductors and players who performed my music there this year, and made me look awfully good in the process. There was some damn tasty food, too. I’m looking
    forward to next year — when I’m sure things will be a lot more laid back, but hopefully no less delicious.

    Christmas was fun, as it always is with AEJ. My gifts to her included a vintage Lite Brite, circa 1968. (Thanks, Ebay.)

    Her gifts to me included this awesome watch from Hong Kong — the Casio Magic Watch, featuring tricks designed by Tomohiro Maeda. Yes, it’s a watch that does magic tricks. The only thing cooler than this watch is, well, AEJ.

    Happy New Year!


    December 18, 2006

    Best. Quiz. Ever.

    Some of these quizzes are slightly amusing, and most are dumb, but this one — finally — helps me answer the question I’ve wrestled with for far too long.

    Which Sisterhood from the Traveling Pants girl are you most like? **PICS**


    You are soft-spoken Lena! You are a gifted artist as beautiful as her drawings. You come upon unexpected romance in unlikely places. Lena is known as the beauty of the group-much to your own dismay. You’d prefer that people appreciate you for your art. If they have to notice her at all, that is.
    Take The Quiz Now!

    It’s so true. The quiz nailed me. I am so soft-spoken, and I want people to notice me for my art — my painting — instead of my body.

    It’s so hard for me to be Lena.


    December 17, 2006

    SNL – and Midwest 2006

    If you haven’t been watching this season, you may not believe this, but SNL is pretty damn funny right now — funnier than it has been for a few years. A great example is last night’s video short, a Christmas slow jam performed by Justin Timberlake and Andy Samberg (co-writer of last season’s excellent “Lazy Sunday”). I don’t want to give away the name of the song because the it’ll spoil the surprise when you hear it the first time.

    It’s up on YouTube right now, but NBC will certainly pull it. NBC does have the video on their own site for free — although you’ll have to sit through an annoying 15 second toilet paper commercial to see it. Believe me, it is absolutely worth it. The whole episode (except for maybe one skit) was damn funny, but this video is going to be a classic. Watch it now so you’ll know what all the cool kids are singing about — and what they’ll be giving this Christmas.

    [EDIT: The imbedded YouTube video is here — at least until NBC Universal removes it. It’s uncensored, so you’ve been warned…]

    I’m heading to the Midwest Clinic in Chicago on Tuesday morning. It’s going to be fun, I’m sure, but also busy. When I land on Tuesday afternoon, I’m taking a cab to Wheeling for a rehearsal of “Turbine” with the Permian High School Symphonic Band. That goes from 4-5, and then a cab will take me to the Hilton so I can change for dinner. Dinner the first night is with John Corigliano, Jerry and Stephanie Junkin, and some of Jerry’s posse. I guarantee a bunch of pictures, as we’re going to what sounds like a spectacular place.

    The next day (Wednesday), I have another rehearsal with Permian, followed by their performance at 1:00. After that, I’m free until I sneak into the Circus Maximus rehearsal later that afternoon. Then it’s the Musashino Academy concert at 6:30 for the premiere of Jennifer Higdon’s new work, “Kelly’s Field.” From there, it’s dinner number 2 — somewhere tasty with Newman and Rick Clary. After dinner, we’ll go (presumably tipsy) back to the Hilton for the Dallas Wind Symphony performance of Circus Maximus.

    Thursday morning is a rehearsal with the Friendswood High School Wind Ensemble on “Strange Humors.” At 12:30, I’ll go to hear Cheryl Floyd’s band from Hill Country Middle School (for whom I’m writing a piece in 2008). From there, I’ll squeeze in a lunch before the Dallas Wind Symphony’s rehearsals of “Redline Tango.” Their performances of the piece are at 6:15 and 8:15, and then after that — more drinks.

    Friendswood High School rehearses again at 9:30 on Friday morning (oh, I’ll be feeling great at 9:30), but their performance of “Strange Humors” isn’t until 9:00 that night, so I’ll actually have almost all of Friday free. My flight home is at something like 6:30am on Saturday. (If I thought 9:30 would feel early on Friday, 6:30 on Saturday will be damn near fatal.)

    Here’s my Midwest concert schedule. If you’re coming to the convention, I hope you can make it to one (or all!), and will find me to say hi!

    • Wednesday, December 20, 1PM: Permian High School Symphonic Band performs “Turbine,” conducted by Michael Watts
    • Thursday, December 21, 6:15PM and 8:15PM : Dallas Wind Symphony performs “Redline Tango,” conducted by Jerry Junkin
    • Friday, December 22, 9PM : Friendswood High School Wind Ensemble performs “Strange Humors,” conducted by Gregory Dick

    December 15, 2006

    More Christmas "Cheer"

    I know I posted this last year, but here again, because it’s just that good, is the MP3 of the Sugar Plum Fairy, courtesy of John Corigliano.A sincere thank you to Mr. Corigliano for sharing this with us — wherever it originally came from.


    Christmas Cheer '06

    I’ve complained about bad Christmas music, and raved about the awesome Nintendo Wii, but now it’s time for plain ol’, straight-up Christmas cheer.

    We had a real tree last year, and the year before in New York, but this year, we opted for not just artificial — but unabashedly artificial. This year, we went white.

    Because of all of my travel this fall — gone until the day before Thanksgiving, plus I’ll be at Midwest from this coming Tuesday until the day before Christmas Eve — we got the tree kind of early for maximum cheeriness. It arrived on November 27, just a few days after Thanksgiving. The box for this 7.5′ pre-lit tree was huge. Loki, true to form, was pretty psyched about the box.

    The stand, on its own, was not particularly cheery.

    And the bottom half of the tree, pre-shaping, was downright sad.

    But once the parts were assembled and the tree was plugged in, it started to cheer up.

    Once the tree was unboxed, we took the box to the storage space to drop it off, and picked up the boxes of Christmas decorations. Loki enjoyed these boxes, too.

    Prior to decorating, I took this picture of the tree, and I accidentally had the flash on. The result is that the tree looks insane — and the exposure allows us to see the somewhat foreboding clouds outside. It seems that Jesus doesn’t approve of white Christmas trees.

    Ah, that’s better. Much less scary.

    Now it’s time to hang the ornaments! We got a few new fun ones this year. Here’s Fat Santa.

    And here’s Mr. Snowman in his dapper purple scarf. Ned Rorem would be proud.

    Here’s a bear of some sort.

    And the bear’s friend, AEJ’s recurring favorite, the squirrel.

    My favorite, for three consecutive years, is this snowman.

    Loki just likes the protective tissue paper.

    Who’s hungry? This damn deer kept trying to eat the tree.

    I call this one “Self Portrait with Reindeer.”

    Again, the flash is not a good thing. Loki really isn’t quite this scary.

    See? He can be quite cute.

    I know there are a lot of shots of the cat, but come on — the cat is damn cute. Here he is posing next to his own image in wrapping paper. (Yes, AEJ had wrapping paper made last year with pictures of Loki.)

    See, I was serious about that wrapping paper.

    And here’s the tree, fully decorated, with AEJ enjoying its warm, cheerful glow.

    Happy holidays!

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