2007 September at John Mackey's Blog



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  • How I Spent My Teen Years
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  • September 30, 2007

    Kingfishers Catch Fire : just posted

    Back in March, I had possibly the best premiere performance I’ve ever had — and it was by a group of high school musicians. The recording of the premiere, of a new piece called “Kingfishers Catch Fire,” is now available on this page.

    The work is two movements, lasting around 12 minutes. From the (current – but likely to be revised) program note:
    A “kingfisher” is a bird with beautiful, brilliantly colored feathers that look in sunlight as if they are on fire. Kingfishers are extremely shy birds and are rarely seen, but when they are seen, they are undeniably beautiful.
    The first movement, “Following falls and falls of rain,” is suspended in tone, but with hope, depicting the kingfisher slowly emerging from its nest in the early morning stillness, just after a heavy rain storm. The second movement, “Kingfishers catch fire,” imagines the bird flying out into the sunlight.
    The work features optional antiphonal trumpets placed behind the audience. The trumpet solo in the first movement is played from the back of the hall, and the trumpet flourishes in the second movement are played by the antiphonal trumpet choir. You may catch the reference to Stravinsky’s “Firebird” at the end of the piece.

    Ha! Get it? A kingfisher is a bird that looks like it’s catching fire – so I referenced (but didn’t quote) Firebird. What’s more brilliant than a musical pun?! Okay, it’s not especially clever, but it works well in the context of the piece, I think. Or at least I hope.

    The slow movement is unusual for me because — well, it’s slow. Not a lot of Mackey slow music out there. The fast movement is unusual — again, for me — because it’s not driven by percussion, the meter changes are relatively straight-forward, and it’s really, really happy. And not the kind of happy where I get all cynical about how happy the piece is. No, it’s just happy.

    I posted the recording (have you ever heard a high school group sound like this?! Japan is something else) as well as the PDF of the score. Enjoy!

    Oh, and if you want to hear the piece live and you live in Texas — big news! The Texas 5A All-State Symphonic Band (that’s the top group!) is performing the piece, under the baton of Thomas Lee, at TMEA in February. Until then, though, this recording will do just fine.

    (Don’t worry; that’s not a kingfisher. It’s a chicken at the LA County Fair. There’s a picture of a kingfisher on the Kingfishers Catch Fire page, but I didn’t take the photo, and what’s a blog entry without an original photo?! And there will be plenty more LA County Fair pictures to come…)

    (Maybe I should do a series of bird pieces. Kingfishers Catch FireChickens Catch Salmonella… I can practically smell the dollar signs.)


    More of the Best Sushi in LA

    I still have one more Michigan State blog entry to post, but I wanted to give it a few days to let people get through the first two entries. The final post will probably go up tomorrow (Monday).In music-related news, I just signed a deal with Brain Music in Japan for exclusive distribution of my music in that territory. My rental requests from Japan have increased steadily for the past year, and that was only from conductors who were confident enough with English to feel comfortable making rental arrangements. Brain Music is the largest wind band music rental agency in Japan, and I’m excited (and relieved) that they’ll be handling this for me from now on. If you’re in Japan, performing my music just got a whole lot easier, so have at it.

    Last night, we took our friend (and composer — and my orchestration guru) Wataru to dinner for his (belated) birthday. We took him out for the best sushi in LA (which I’ve mentioned before), Jinpachi.

    As soon as I finished the Sax Concerto last week, I bought myself a treat — a new camera body. The new body, the Canon 40D, is capable of shooting at extremely high ISO (3200!) with only minimal noise, meaning (in the simplest terms) that I can shoot stuff in the dark and have it more likely to turn out well. This will be great for concert photography and — that’s right — pictures of food in dimly-lit restaurants. I took the camera (and my other treat, a new lens) to the LA County Fair on Friday (more on that later this week), and how could I leave the 40D at home when there was sushi to photograph? I mean, I had to try shooting food with it eventually…

    I kind of goofed on the exposure with this shot, but the color of the tuna is pretty nice.

    You ever have sushi that is either too firm — either because it’s too cold or because it just isn’t tender — or, worse, has those nasty stringy things that make it impossible to bite in half? Those things never happen at Jinpachi. We’ve been there a half-dozen times now, and I’ve never had a piece of sushi that wasn’t perfect.

    All of the sushi at Jinpachi is incredible and just melts in your mouth. My favorite may be the comparatively inexpensive ($2.50 a piece) albacore. The attention to detail is amazing, with each piece of sushi hand-brushed with soy sauce by the chef, Taka (at least if you sit at the sushi bar), with the most thinly-sliced Japanese scallions on top. The cool, delicate fish on top of the still-warm rice is just about the tastiest food ever.

    Wataru loves sea urchin, so we got two pieces for him — and one for me, since I’d never tried it. I figured if I was ever going to like it, I’d like it at this place. It was sweet, and I kind of loved the flavor, but the texture was a little… challenging for me. I love sushi that melts in your mouth, but sea urchin is so soft that it kind of immediately turns to liquid as soon as it hits your tongue. The super-soft urchin with the less-soft rice and still less-soft seaweed was too much for my simple brain to process.

    This is the spicy tuna on top of crispy toasted rice with jalapeno and sweet soy sauce. De. Lish. Us.

    I tend to gorge at Jinpachi, since it’s my favorite food, and I think my favorite restaurant in LA, and I always think it’ll be ages before I return. (I always think that, but we’re there about once every 3 weeks.) Since I still had the strength to chew, we ordered another of Taka’s special sashimi creations — the halibut carpaccio, served with ginger, shitake mushrooms (I think), chive, yuzu, olive oil, and fresh yuzu juice. We’d never tried this one, and it was incredible, so we’ll definitely get this one again.

    Here, Taka trims more sushi.

    AEJ is allergic to shellfish, so we never order it, but Jinpachi has it — if you’re feeling adventurous.

    Seconds earlier, those prawns had been alive, but before you knew it, Taka and his assistant had broken off the heads, cleaned the bodies and presented them as sushi, and took the heads back to the kitchen to be presented later — deep fried.

    Do you prefer your sushi lightly seared? No problem.

    Dinner ended with Wataru’s dessert plate, prepared by Taka’s wife, Chef Tomo (who trained at Spago).

    Delicious, as usual. And happy birthday, Wataru!


    September 28, 2007

    Christmastown… in September

    This is part two about my trip to Michigan State University. Part one is right here, in case you missed it.

    After spending the early part of Saturday hanging out with MSU’s sax teacher, Joe Lulloff, several students from his sax studio picked me up for our drive to Frankenmuth, MI. Never heard of Frankenmuth? Well, then you must hate 1) America 2) Christmas 3) Jesus 4) Beer and 5) Fried chicken. In that order.

    Frankenmuth is about 90 minutes from MSU. We were heading there for Octoberfest (granted, a bit early, but it is Michigan, and it might be too cold by the time October actually rolls around) and Christmastown. First stop: Christmastown. (I keep calling it that, but it’s really “Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland.” If you don’t put “CHRIST” in all caps, you’re missing the point of CHRISTmas (and you’re going to hell). Remember: you can’t spell Christmas without Christ, people.)

    Bronner’s is an enormous Christmas store, open 361 days a year (It’s best not to ask, but I suspect they’re closed on Christmas, Easter, New Year’s Day, and, judging from the Americana everywhere, July 4th.) The place is the size of a large grocery store on the inside, and the property spans several acres on the outside (all decorated with Christmas lights), and there’s a hotel attached to the whole thing. Believe it or not, just because you’re there, CHRISTmas / America may not be the most important thing in your life. Being Saturday, it’s okay to put college football first. Fortunately, Bronner’s beautiful lobby is there to serve you.

    Past the football viewing room, you enter the Festive Chaos.

    Why hello, Sexy Santa.

    What are you into? I mean… you know what I mean. (Perv.) What I’m asking is do you like cars? Princesses? Monkeys? Soccer? No matter what you like, Bronner’s has a CHRISTmas ornament for you. Me, I think cats are cool. I was awfully tempted by this one, so tacky it’s almost cool (but really, just tacky) — until I saw the “Made in China” label. Do not lick this cat.

    I was walking along, and there was this crazy frog who flipped onto his back and made this gesture right before I stepped on him. Silly frog.

    I think my favorite section of the store was the Hunting section. No joke. Michiganders love their hunting. It all made me want to get a gun, put on my super macho safety orange, and shoot something.

    What’s better? The snowman with a gun…

    … or the deer with a gun? (AEJ thought the deer would be better with the head of a human hunter tucked under his arm.)

    Famous people love to visit Bronners. I mean, they even got Marie Osmond! (in, like, 1986 — in case you can’t read the year, or tell by her hair / outfit).

    And everybody’s favorite first lady, Laura Bush. (Wow, I never, in a million years, would think that my blog would include a picture of Laura Bush’s beautiful, sincere smile.)

    I love this picture primarily for the caption: “Ralph and Charlotte Albrough love America, Christmas and the Lord and Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland.” In that order? Yeah, I guess in that order. But they forgot “hunting.” I’m bummed I can’t read their matching shirts. I can only make out “America” and “his grace.” I’m not sure what’s on that dude’s hat, but I reckon it’s a big, fat American steak.

    Seeing that picture makes me want to write a family bible, too. Chapter 1, verse 1. “In the beginning, Loki said, ‘Let there be yogurt…’ and there was yogurt. And he licked it, and it was good. Then Loki said, ‘let there be fingers to chew.’ ”

    You know what I love at Christmas? Creepy children.

    This tree was pretty sweet. It’s decorated entirely with Big 10 Football ornaments. Oh, and American flags. Go Buckeyes! And America! (In that order.)

    After Bronner’s, we headed to dinner at Zehnder’s.

    This enormous German restaurant serves enormous quantities of… fried chicken. What? You thought, being a German restaurant, they’d serve something German? Clearly, you don’t understand the USA. We’ll give you German beer in a German restaurant, but that’s all you’re gettin’. Besides, if they served sausages rather than chicken, this guy’s outfit would be a lot more obscene.

    The food was pretty tasty, I have to say. Fried chicken, yams, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy. Yes, it’s all beige, and it’s basically Thanksgiving dinner without turkey, but turkey makes me sleepy anyway, so this was perfect. Seriously — very good stuff. It was “all you can eat,” but we didn’t do so well on that. They made a killing off of our skinny table.

    Dessert — soft serve ice cream — was yummy. Mine, inexplicably, had a plastic monkey on top. Another serving had a mermaid. Another, an elephant. While I was enjoying my after-dinner beer, the three of them got a little… frisky.

    From dinner — stuffed as we were — we all headed to Octoberfest, probably a 10 minute walk. We kind of needed the exercise, especially if we were hoping to make room for more beer. Octoberfest welcomed us — and also seemed to be telling us to come in and get out at the same time.

    The thing was held in this enormous airplane hangar-like structure. Plenty of room for drinkin’!

    And dancin’! (Can you make out what’s happening there? Those crazy Germans and their crazy ass-slapping dances!)

    It was a pretty spectacular evening. Bronner’s was hilarious, the dinner was funny but completely delicious, and Octoberfest was drunken (and inherently fun). I had to pace myself somewhat, though, because the next morning, I had a dress rehearsal at 10am. More on that… next.


    September 27, 2007

    Michigan State Welcomes You

    It’s kind of silly how much was squeezed into my 3 days at Michigan State, and it’ll be even sillier to try to summarize it without producing a photo novella (as opposed to a telenovela), but let’s see how we do. Where to start? Why not start with packing?

    I recently discovered H&M, the insanely cheap but hip Swedish clothing chain. (Think the Ikea of clothes.) AEJ and I checked out the Beverly Center store a few weeks ago, and I spent less on 10 shirts than I’d spent on one the day before at a somewhat more snooty-toots store. I also bought a newly essential (and so lame that it’s cool) travel tool at H&M: socks, labeled with each day of the week! Now I just need to pull out a pair for each day I’ll be away, then complete each outfit! Think of the time savings — and organizational benefits!

    I packed, slept, and got up at (if I remember correctly) 4am in order to catch my 7am flight. The flight wasn’t so bad. I split the time between sleeping (a shout-out to Xanax), watching season 1 of “Arrested Development” on the iPhone (first time watching video on it — pretty nice! — and I love that show, RIP), and listening to tunes on the new 160 GB iPod Classic. (They seem to have changed the sound codec in it in this generation, and the sound is… different. Definitely not as good, and that was obvious even on an airplane, at least using Shure earphones. The difference is much less noticeable with other less-fancy-pants headphones.)

    Upon my arrival at MSU (thanks for the ride, Doug), I checked into my room, then met up with Kevin Sedatole (the Director of Bands at MSU) and a few of his students for dinner. As per usual on these trips, the appetizer was a Dirty Goose.

    Dinner was great, and included this fried tuna roll. (It wouldn’t be the only fried sushi I’d have that weekend, as you’ll see.) Sorry for the bad framing…

    After dinner, we had to have dessert, right? I always love the presentation of the dessert tray.

    I went with one of my favorite desserts : carrot cake.

    The next morning, Kevin picked me up for the conductors’ seminar — which started at 10am. Eastern. That’s, like, 7am Pacific — and I don’t get up at 7am Pacific. Needless to say, coffee was in order (or, more specifically, a triple-shot cinnamon dolce latte).

    Here, by the way, from left to right, is Kevin Sedatole, John T. Madden (MSU’s marching band director), and Isaiah Odajima (MSU’s assistant director of bands). Great guys.

    There were two rehearsals that afternoon — and they were pretty fantastic. MSU has an awesome wind symphony. William Staub, one of Kevin’s students (and a former student of Gary Hill, whom I’ve raved about here in the past), conducted “Turning,” and I loved what he did with the piece. Pacing, dynamic control, and emotional impact were maybe the best I’ve heard. It’s a terribly difficult piece — and it’s sometimes difficult for me to listen to — but William nailed it.

    Between rehearsals, I checked out the MSU marching band. They were rehearsing their James Bond show, which they were going to perform the next day at the Notre Dame game. The show was great (and it seemed to help team with the win the next day).

    The rehearsal that evening was even better than in the afternoon. I love what Kevin does with “Redline Tango,” and Laura McLaughlin on Eb clarinet may have been the best player I’ve ever heard on the part — and that counts performances with the Dallas Symphony and Minnesota Orchestra. She was Krazy with Klezmer, if I may say so. After rehearsal, it was time to eat again. And what better to eat in the middle of Michigan than… sushi! We went to Sansu.

    That was Isaiah’s sashimi. I decided that what would be more midwest-appropriate is if I ordered all of my sushi deep fried. I give you: deep fried eel and avocado roll, and on the right, something called the “Maki Maki” (not Mackey-Mackey) — spicy tuna, avocado, wasabi mayo, spicy mayo, and eel sauce, all deep fried. What I can’t convey is the truly massive size of these rolls — more Texas-size than midwest-size. You’d need to blow this picture up on a 30″ monitor to get the actual scale. It was mighty yummy — if a bit filling for sushi.

    The next day was a free day, so I started it with… food! Joseph Lulloff, the sax teacher at MSU, picked me up and took me to breakfast at a great diner called Jukebox Grill. Yeah, after eating fried sushi the night before, I decided to go lighter for breakfast — so I had hash browns with sausage, onions, peppers, and cheese.

    Oh, and a side of cinnamon chip French toast.

    Joe had an omelet with broccoli and chili in it — and plenty of ketchup.

    After brunch, Joe took me by his place to hang out a bit. In front of his house was this scary bug.

    Joe has a beautiful house, and a stunning music room with loads of windows. It would be a great place to work; I was jealous. Joe also has this hand-crafted game table that he commissioned, carved and painted with music that he loves from all different styles.

    In the center of the table is a chess board with handmade chess pieces. One side is the jazz musicians…

    … and the other is the classical musicians.

    It was a great afternoon. Joe showed me some cool sax tricks, which I kind of wish I’d known when I was writing my concerto. I don’t know, though; there may not be too many players who can do what Joe can do. (You’ve never heard sax altissimo like this.)

    That night, I headed with the sax studio to Frankenmuth, Michigan, for Octoberfest — and a visit to Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland. That, though, will have to wait until tomorrow. Let’s just say, Ho, ho, ho…


    September 26, 2007

    Go Spartans

    I’m back from a great trip to Michigan State where I had first-rate performances of two pieces, visited Christmastown, attended Octoberfest, ate fried sushi, drank tasty beverages, watched an MSU marching band rehearsal, ate a hash bash with a side of cinnamon-chip French toast (or was it Freedom Toast?), saw somebody finish the World Beer Tour, and hung out with some great people. I also took over 300 pictures, which will need to be somewhat reduced before I can post the blog entry about the trip. It might end up being multiple entries… How can I post one entry about all of that stuff?!

    I’m off to teach, but I’m hoping to post a big MSU entry tomorrow (Thursday). Until then, Go Spartans. (Well, at least until they play the Buckeyes.)