2007 April at John Mackey's Blog



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  • How I Spent My Teen Years
  • New stuff for Fall 2014!
  • UTWE Tour : Shenzhen
  • Wine-Dark Sea – the video
  • Wine-Dark Sea – recording and score
  • “Wine-Dark Sea” – the program note
  • We’re buying a house!
  • Symphony for Band – an update, with audio
  • Xerxes — for metal rock band
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  • Cats: LA Cat Show
  • Design: Cambridge Studio
  • Design: Dining Room
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  • Design: Kitchen, pt.3
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  • Design: Living Room
  • Design: The Austin House, part 1
  • Design: The Austin House, pro shots
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  • April 25, 2007

    The final toys

    Two new purchases this week — so now I’m done shopping. No, really. Well, at least until late June.

    Back in NYC, my setup looked like this:

    When I moved to LA, I got a fancy new desk (with drawers!), and that massive, weighted-88-key Korg digital piano didn’t fit. I switched to a 49-key MIDI controller, then to a two-octave controller. The desk looked nice, but writing music with a two-octave keyboard is a pain. Plus, it’s kind of fun to just be able to sit down and play a “piano.”

    A few days ago, I ordered an 88-key M-Audio ProKeys 88SX. This thing solves all of the problems I had. It’s lightweight (under 20 pounds!), thin and shallow enough to fit in front of my monitor but leave plenty of room for my computer keyboard, and black rather than ugly silver like my 49-key controller. The “ugly” issue is a real one, since my studio is actually the dining room in our house, so it has no doors to close it off and hide it from guests. It’s right next to the living room, not tucked away in a back corner of the house, so if you come over to visit, you’re gonna see it. (Why do so many large electronics have to be so ugly? Why can’t Jonathan Ive design everything?)

    In addition to the new keyboard, I bought one more lens for the new camera. It’s the Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM lens. This is an ultra wide angle lens, creating significant perspective distortion, but also allowing a huge amount of area to be shot in the frame. It’s already a lot of fun to play with. It allowed me to shoot the new keyboard, making it look huge

    … but at the same time, it’s not the most flattering portrait lens.

    Sorry, kitty.


    April 23, 2007


    My dad is hilarious. This is a guy who once fertilized a weed in his own yard just to piss off his neighbor. (Now you know where I get it.)

    He’s also far more supportive of my career than I deserve. I can’t count the times that he drove — drove! — from Ohio to New York City to see my performances. Then, last year, he drove — drove! — from northern Ohio to Nashville for the premiere of “Turbine.” Drive time, each way: about 8 hours. Length of “Turbine” : about 8 minutes.

    I mention this only because I received a great email from him today, and I wanted to share it because I think it’s so damn cool. The Navy Band in DC is doing “Strange Humors,” and back in the 60s, my dad played trumpet in one of the Navy Bands. (He’s still an active sax player.) I never was clear which band (or which bands) he played in, so I emailed him to ask him, definitively, which bands, and where, just so I could answer that question when people asked me. Here’s what he said.

    I had finished boot camp between grades eleven and twelve, then after I graduated, I left for the Navy Music School on June 20, 1960. I went to the Navy Music School in Anacostia when Chief Ned Muffley and Dr. Stauffer (phD in acoustics!) were there. This was soon after the Navy Band plane crash, and the Navy Band was still not up to full personnel levels. The students from the school spent a lot of time away from class playing funerals at Arlington.

    From the school I went to the Treasure Island band at San Francisco, which was led by Gerard Bowen. He wrote the White Hat March and did custom arrangements for the band including “Afternoon of a Faun” and Bartok’s “Bear Dance”. Mike Beegle played the opening of “Afternoon of a Faun” beautifully on clarinet. Mike later played with the Naval Academy band and the Navy Band and was director of the jazz group “Port Authority”. Later I played in unit bands out of Coronado under Dave Blair and Sam Patz.

    My dad has seen just about every jazz legend play — Miles Davis several times (reportedly, I was almost named Miles David Mackey — my dad’s name is David), the Brecker Brothers with Will Lee and Steve Gadd, Grover Washington, Stanley Turrentine, Ellington, and tons others. When I asked him for specifics, he said:

    I have been changed by every concert that I have been to but nothing like when I saw Louis Armstrong. I was in the ninth grade and I must have been the first to order my ticket because I sat in the middle of the front row. The first song was “The Star Spangled Banner”, and Louis started it with first valve, Bb. I know now that he was playing in the key of Eb, (Db concert). The band was made up of Trummy Young (who could probably peel paint from the walls with the sound he got from a trombone), Edmond Hall on clarinet, Billy Kyle on piano, Arvell Shaw on bass and Barrett Deems on drums. Velma Middleton sang several times and did some duets with Louis. That concert set the musical path that I have been following since then. It was maybe not a baptism, but certainly a confirmation.

    My dad knows that I’m working on a Sax Concerto, and today he offered this gem of a story from one of his very different concert-going experiences…

    Check out Roland Kirk on Wikipedia. [Seriously. You need to read about this guy.] He was a blind Columbus native who played three horns at once. [I checked. I thought, oh, he goes from instrument to instrument — maybe tenor sax, then bari, then alto. No. He plays all three at once.] Your mother and I saw him play in Cleveland, along with Thelonious Monk and Gloria Lynn. Kirk would direct the combo by stomping his foot. His instruments had to be in terrible shape because he was always clanking them together. The flute foot joint fell off and landed near his foot. He almost stomped it flat but never did. At the same concert, during Monk’s set, Monk was standing on stage shuffling about while Charlie Rouse played his solo. Monk took out a cigarette and flicked his lighter maybe ten times trying to light it. A man in front of us took out his lighter and was going to light it for Monk, but then Monk pulled another lighter out if his other pocket and lit it on the first try. Your mother later talked to Monk for a short while. But I digressed… I did not know this until I read the Wikipedia article. Kirk had a stroke in 1975, leaving him with only one usable hand, so continued to tour using only one hand to play two horns.

    I’m trying to imagine being at a concert where Thelonious Monk played, then had a conversation with my mother, and the opener was a guy who played three saxophones at the same time.

    The email also talks about the altissimo notes on each sax, alternate fingerings, and circular breathing techniques (my dad says that Roland Kirk could circular breathe on a flute (!), but “he was neither calm nor elegant. Spit would fly like crazy”).

    In another email today, my dad added this…

    Concerts can be more important to listeners than a composer or musician can ever expect. One time a man asked me to play Harbor lights on the harmonica. I laughed and suggested that it would go better on tenor sax. He wanted the song played for his dead brother who never came back from WW2. I was happy to play what he wanted. Another man wanted to play “When the Saints Go Marching In” on my horn but he couldn’t because he had a tracheotomy. He had been a sax player. He wanted to work the keys while I played the horn. I agreed, because this was probably the last time he would play a horn. I don’t know what it looked like, but I remember that it went well enough.

    My dad = awesome.


    April 22, 2007

    ASCAP Panel – and Silverlake meadow

    Saturday was a busy day, with both the two-hour opening of the Silverlake reservoir meadow (for a community meeting to discuss whether or not it should be opened to the public full-time), and a panel appearance at the ASCAP “I Create Music Expo.” First, the expo.

    The panel, part of the three-day ASCAP conference here in LA, was called “Composing Your Career.” Here’s the description from ASCAP: “John Corigliano has invited some of his former students to discuss their own careers, and the paths they have taken to achieve their goals. Check out these young composers who have had the good fortune to study with a master teacher.” The panelists were John Corigliano, Eric Whitacre, Andrew Norman, Mason Bates, and I.

    Before the panel, AEJ and I met up with John Corigliano, Mark Adamo, and Mason Bates at the pool at Corigliano’s hotel. We had cocktails and mini-hamburgers, pool-side. It was sunny, and the weather, the pool, and the completely over-the-top breast implants surrounding the pool made the whole experience feel exceptionally L.A. The implants were considerably more round (and large) than these buns.

    Within a minute of getting out the camera to get this picture, security ran over and threatened to confiscate my camera. It seems that the fancy Hollywood hotels don’t like uninvited cameras at their pool.

    The panel was fun. Eric (far left) spent some of the panel preaching to the composers in the audience to self-publish and keep their copyrights. He also had invaluable advice about how to get your music “out there.” I talked about setting rates and why rental makes more sense in my case, and Eric and I tag-teamed to discuss how consortia work. Mason (next to Corigliano) talked about incorporating electronics into concert music (of which he is the master). Andrew (between me and Eric) talked a little about the Rome Prize. (Andrew is currently living in Rome.) We all just tried to sound worthy of sharing a stage with our former teacher. (It’s tough, when you have to follow sentences that start, “when I won the Oscar…”)

    Apparently when I speak, I use my hands a lot. Either that, or I’m doing a magic trick.

    Here, Whitacre gets the crowd laughing.

    After the panel, I met one of my favorite film composers, Patrick Doyle (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and almost every Kenneth Branagh film), who happened to have been in the audience for the discussion. We chatted for quite a while after the panel. What a kind, funny guy.

    Earlier that day, AEJ and I had a very different experience — in a very different part of LA. We live right on the Silverlake reservoir, an active reservoir here in LA. There is a jogging/bike path around the reservoir, and it appears that the path will soon be separated from the road to make it safer. Part of that plan might include opening up a currently fenced meadow that is right on the water. Here’s a shot of that meadow, as seen from the current jogging path.

    Yesterday morning, the city opened up the meadow to the public and held a public hearing to discuss the pros and cons of opening the meadow to the public full-time. Lots of people came to hear the comments, which was encouraging to see.

    Anybody was permitted an opportunity to speak, and to be heard by the area congressmen. The speakers included AEJ (who hadn’t planned to speak when we arrived, but soon changed her mind), and the renowned architecture photographer Julius Shulman.

    It was nice to see the water from this new angle, and unobstructed by a fence.

    Here’s a picture of our dream house, John Lautner’s Silvertop, as seen from the water’s edge. (It’s the awesome house at the top of the hill with the rounded concrete roof.)

    The meeting was interesting to hear, but personally, I’m against opening the meadow to the public. As it currently exists, it’s the home for wildlife like nesting blue heron and a family of coyotes (which we see — and hear! — frequently). There’s already green space at the bottom of the reservoir (which goes largely unused), in addition to the large dog park (which was once nice, but is now uncared for and has become a nasty dust/shitbowl area). With the new jogging path, people will be able to jog right next to the meadow and the lake, without disturbing the grass itself. If the meadow is opened, the grass will be killed, the wildlife will be killed or driven out (and I think most people would prefer the coyotes be in the fenced meadow rather than on the streets), traffic will get worse (if that’s even possible), and parking will be a nightmare. I’m all for improving the jogging path — it’s where I run every day — but opening the meadow is short-sighted. Nobody even takes care of the dog park. Who’s going to pay to care for the lawn and pay for the re-seeding that will be necessary every year? Central Park has the Central Park Conservancy to maintain the Great Lawn and the Sheep’s Meadow. Silverlake, even with its million dollar-plus homes around the perimeter, has no such thing.

    And did I mention that I love that I live across the street from a den of coyotes — and I’d like them to remain there? Six months ago, I wanted the meadow opened. I thought it would be fun to have lunch on the lawn by the water (while trying to avoid getting hit in the head by Frisbees). Now, I think it’s a terrible idea. If you were a rabbit, a bird, or a coyote, would you prefer this…

    Or this?


    April 19, 2007

    Greatest instrument ever?

    I was looking for some music by Jean Francaix today, and I found one of the weirdest album ever: Paris Mecanique (iTunes link) — an album of performances by 3 clarinets and barrel organ.

    Even if you don’t buy the album (although I enthusiastically recommend that you buy the full version of Francaix’s “Pambiche”), you should check out the 30-second previews on iTunes. This stuff is fantastic. The Francaix pieces alone are worth the $9.99 album price, but you really haven’t lived until you’ve heard these Leroy Anderson tunes — both The Typewriter and The Syncopated Clock — arranged for this wonderfully horrible instrumentation.

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    April 18, 2007

    Procrastination? I think not!

    On our walk last night, we took the camera and the new lens — the EF 24-105mm f4 L. I couldn’t quite get the best angle, but we saw this sweet pickup with an even sweeter sofa in back:

    And a few minutes later, we saw this great blue heron up in a tree. We just got the 105mm zoom lens yesterday, but it has already come in handy.

    I took this picture from the deck a few nights ago.

    Full disclosure : it’s not an entirely un-doctored photo. It’s taken using a trick called HDR, which, in short, is combining three separate photos of the same thing, all taken at different exposures. The different exposures each pick up different things that a single exposure couldn’t capture, particularly in high-contrast shots. The standard exposure looked like this:

    Pretty dramatic difference. It’s a fun technique.

    And since Newman questioned my procrastination, I’ll say that I am, in fact, working on the Saxophone Concerto. I’ve determined the scoring for each of the four movements and the approximate length of each. I know pretty specifically what the 2nd and 3rd movements do, including the “tunes” of both. I just need a good sax fingering book in order to write one of the movements. The last movement will have to come last, as it’s based solely on material from the first three movements. The first movement has a primary idea, but no music yet. Still, I think I’m making some good progress. This second movement, if it turns out like I hope it will, should be pretty cool.

    The big idea with the piece is a good one — and one that AEJ thought of, as usual — but I don’t want to share it quite yet. It’s like telling somebody what you’re thinking of naming your baby, only to get comments like, “nah, that’s dumb.” It’s better to just keep it to yourself until it’s too late for anybody to influence you. Besides, everybody knows that Clarinet Sparkle Schlachtmeyer Newman is the prettiest name any girl (or boy) could have.