2009 May at John Mackey's Blog



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  • May 28, 2009

    Kitchen remodel – update 4: Close, but no cigar

    The kitchen is moving along at a good clip, particularly considering that we were out of town for 4 days last week, followed immediately by a holiday weekend.  Even losing 6 days for that, we’re in good shape for only 4 weeks since demolition.  If we hadn’t left town, we’d be damn near done now.  But we aren’t.  You’ll see…

    At the time of our last update, we were about to get floors. Our house is on a slab, so underneath the old ugly tile, there was just concrete. We couldn’t walk on that, because we’d be tracking dust all over the rest of the house. We had the entire kitchen blocked with tarp, primarily to keep Loki out of the kitchen and getting construction dust on his paws (and then eating it). Floor installation was pretty friggin’ exciting.

    It took two days, but eventually… floors!

    Next up: the countertop installation. I won’t say much about these guys, except that they were f-ing idiots. We got double-thick squared-edge quartz countertops, and they’d never installed those before. The installation took 8 hours, they never glued down the counter on the island, they damaged one of our new drawers, they damaged one of our newly-installed thresholds, the didn’t seal the sink, and they banged a wall so hard trying to get their countertop to fit that they knocked one of our new doors — the door to the garage — out of square, so that will have to be rehung. And did I mention that the countertop still doesn’t fit perfectly? Absolute crap, these guys at Renaissance Stoneworks in Austin. If you ever get a chance to use them, run. That was a shitty day.

    Then we left town. When we got back, I spent a few days sick. (Are we getting too old for marathon NYC trips? Maybe.) But then, on Tuesday morning, the appliances arrived! Here’s the new refrigerator, boxed, in front of our old refrigerator.

    Appliance day was a fun day. They delivered the appliances at 8am, but the installation didn’t start until around 3:30, so that gave me lots of time to look at the big boxes.

    The Prius seemed to be a little jealous of the new refrigerator. Stop trying to sneak up on the fridge, Prius. Japanese cars and German refrigerators should be allies! Just think what Germany and Japan can accomplish when you work together!

    The installers — who were great — worked straight until 10pm. They encountered some problems along the way, but for the most part, they made things work. Unfortunately, we received the wrong trim kit for the coffee machine, so that’s not fully installed yet, and we didn’t receive the trim kit that goes above the range hood, so that couldn’t be installed at all. As a result, the kitchen is in this very weird state, where it almost looks great — until you look closely. It’s sooooo not done yet. Here are some examples…
    The refrigerator (minus the not-yet-installed wood trim piece that goes at the top) looks pretty great, and it’s awfully nice to have a working refrigerator inside the house again.

    But make your way down that same wall, and you come to the coffee maker. Looks pretty nice from one angle…

    … but not so much from another angle. That trim kit will help quite a bit.

    The range in sweet. 36-inch dual fuel with 18000 BTU burners. I don’t know what that means, but whatever — it sounds fancy.  Totally the real deal, and it looks fantastic.  From this angle.

    Step back a bit, though, and you see the truth. It’s on sheets of masonite because they’re going to have to pull it away from the wall again when they install the hood vent, which they can’t do until that piece of trim arrives. That means we also currently have a big electrical wire sticking out of the wall for the vent, and a 10″ vent duct covered with a piece of plastic.

    The super deep sink and faucet are definitely pretty, and they work great. But there’s no backsplash yet…

    … and if you step 4 feet to the left, you see this. Exposed wiring, and the inside of a wall where there will eventually be a door.

    The island is looking pretty great…

    … but we haven’t finished the stools that go underneath. AEJ found a place in Pflugerville that will sandblast these and then we’ll have them powdercoated in a custom, shiny color. She thought that industrial stools, painted in a custom gloss would look pretty cool. I’m positive she’s right (good lord, look at what she’s done with the rest of the kitchen, and the rest of the house), but it’s another small detail that isn’t quite there yet.

    The kitchen already has some spectacular lighting…

    … but it isn’t all in yet.

    Eventually, all of the cabinets and drawers will match…

    … but we don’t have the custom panel for the dishwasher yet, so it looks instead like we made the very edgy decision to have a solid black dishwasher in an otherwise completely white kitchen.  At least we have a working dishwasher, although opening it without a true handle is kind of a bitch.  We have to put on rubber gloves to get enough friction.

    I hope I don’t sound like I’m complaining, because I couldn’t be more excited about the state of the kitchen right now. It’s infinitely nicer than any kitchen I’ve ever used, even with all of these things left to do. Now the frustration is just being sooooo close to being completely done. I’m sure it makes AEJ crazy when people see it right now. It’s like when I play somebody a not-quite-final draft of a piece, and the whole time I’m saying, “oh, that’ll change… and that’ll be like that… and I’m totally going to fix that part, too.” The kitchen works now, so it’s kind of like there’s something happening in every measure, but there’s still some pretty rockin’ orchestration yet to come.  (I realized that’s lame, but this is supposed to be a music blog, after all.)  I mean, in 4 weeks, we’ve gone from this…

    … to this.

    But I think the next update will be worth the wait.


    May 19, 2009

    Heading to NYC

    I’m off to New York tomorrow morning.  On Friday night, the International Honors Wind Symphony will perform “Kingfishers Catch Fire” at Avery Fisher Hall (home of the NY Philharmonic) at Lincoln Center.  Then, on Sunday at 2pm, the National Collegiate Wind Ensemble, under the direction of H. Robert Reynolds, will ALSO perform “Kingfishers Catch Fire” — this time at Carnegie Hall.  So in the craziest act of scheduling ever, and something that can only happen once in my lifetime, I will have performances of the same piece of music on the same weekend at both Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall.  This, plus the best wife in the world, and what is turning out to be the sweetest kitchen I’ve ever stepped foot into…  I’m one lucky S-O-B.

    Speaking of the kitchen, it’s amazing how far it’s come in only three weeks. A full demolition down to the studs, new walls, repositioning of doorways, electrical, paint, floors, cabinets, countertops, and plumbing, plus the previously unplanned full gut renovation of the laundry room — all in three weeks. Today, our cabinets were adjusted, the cabinet hardware installed, and our contractor installed our sink and garbage disposal. We now have a functional sink in our kitchen! Seriously — life is good.

    See you in NYC!


    May 14, 2009

    Kitchen remodel – update 3

    Demo on the old kitchen was just over two weeks ago, and my last update was over a week ago.  At that time, the contractor had just started mudding and taping. Here’s the space once that was finished.

    Over the course of the next week, they dug a 4″ deep trench through the concrete slab and buried electrical wiring that would eventually be installed in the new island. I was lucky enough to be in Virginia during the jackhammering (I was there for the premiere of Aurora Awakes), but poor AEJ and Loki were stuck in the house for two solid days of noise and dust. Oh, and lots of plastic tenting, because the contractor was also painting the ceiling and the walls. (Steve Bryant described the house, wrapped in plastic, as looking like the end of E.T.) When the plastic came down, the kitchen looked like this.

    The wire on the left is a 240 volt cable for the Advantium combination convection oven/microwave/warming drawer/toaster/Peking duck oven. I’m kidding about the Peking duck oven, but when I told my dad that we were re-doing the kitchen, he said, “oh, you guys should put in a Peking duck oven.” “Why, Dad?” “I think that would be a really unique selling feature when you sell the house. People would refer to your house as ‘that one with the Peking duck oven.’ ” The Advantium has a setting for everything from “corn dogs (frozen)” to “cobbler (fresh 7×11)” to “hashbrown patties” (yum!) “chicken, bone-in” (that’s what she said!), but I need to petition GE Monogram to add a Peking duck setting.

    So the kitchen was looking pretty good with the can lights and the fresh walls, but on Monday, Brian came and installed our cabinets. By himself.

    There was still plastic tarp blocking several rooms. We were trying to keep Loki out of the dust, but plastic tarp is like catnip to Loki.

    So we decided we’d distract Loki with a new scratcher — covered in actual catnip.

    Nothing beats a stoned kitty. Who’s hungry? Sorry, dude, the kitchen isn’t ready yet.

    It took Brian two solid days, but the cabinets are in. We went from this, the day before demolition…

    … to this on Wednesday.

    From this…

    … to this.

    Then yesterday, the electrician came back and messed it all up again. They installed wiring for the over-the-island pendant, the wall sconces, and a few other things — but not enough for me to know where the six hours of labor went.

    Yesterday, they measured for the new countertops. Today and tomorrow, the wood floors are going in. On Monday, they’ll install the countertops. I have never heard of countertops being ready two days after measurement, but supposedly they will be. (They can’t install them tomorrow because the floors won’t be ready.) On Tuesday, the plumber will come and hook up our new sink. I’m pretty friggin’ excited to have a functional sink again. Also on Tuesday, Brian will come back to adjust the cabinets (so they’ll be perfectly square) and install the hardware (we’re all for clean lines, but we do actually have cabinet pulls).  We’re going out of town on Wednesday, so everything will go on hold for a few days, but the appliance install is scheduled for Tuesday, May 26. I think there’ll be more pictures comin’…


    May 13, 2009

    Aurora Awakes – the premiere!

    Last week, I had the pleasure of traveling to Falls Church, Virginia, for the world premiere of Aurora Awakes. I wrote about the piece quite a bit while I was working on it, so there isn’t much more to tell you about the tune itself. Briefly, it’s an 11-minute mega-pretty, mega-sparkly piece, about the arrival of dawn, drawing heavily on a motive from the U2 song, “Where the Streets Have No Name.”

    Aurora is the goddess of dawn, and the title comes from AEJ’s brain, as usual. Please don’t email me and tell me that it’s grammatically incorrect because it’s not, smart ass. “Awakes” is the alternate form of “awakens.” It’s correct — unless everybody makes the same error, from H. G. Wells to The New York Times to CBS News to the BBC. (Can you tell I’m getting a little tired of arguing that point? Sorry — the kitchen remodel is making me cranky.)

    But let’s move on to the trip! It was a good one. The Stuart High School Band put me up at Hotel Monaco in Old Town Alexandria.

    The neighborhood was great — amazing restaurants within walking distance of the front door — and the inside was pretty swanky-swank, too, from the provided toiletries…

    … to the fancy-pants lobby. This was, to my memory, the nicest high school-provided hotel I’ve ever stayed in, and there haven’t been many colleges that have topped it, either.

    Doug Martin, the Director of Bands at Stuart High School, first asked me about the commission at Midwest more than two years ago. When he initially approached me about the piece — commissioned to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the high school — I told Doug that I appreciated the offer, but I wasn’t sure that a single high school band could afford a new piece, particularly one of this size. (Almost all of my pieces are commissioned by consortia of many organizations, and each group chips in an equal share of the fee. The result is that each school pays just a little, but the commission fee is much higher than it would be if a school tried to pay it single-handedly.) Doug assured me that his parent booster organization was incredible, and he wasn’t exaggerating. Just to put this commission in perspective, my Soprano Sax Concerto was funded by 27 colleges plus the United States Navy Band. The parents at J.E.B. Stuart High School funded Aurora Awakes entirely on their own. As I told them at the concert, these parents accomplished what in the past has taken the work of TWENTY-SEVEN COLLEGES AND A BRANCH OF THE UNITED STATES MILITARY.

    Happy 50th Anniversary, J.E.B. Stuart High School!

    The premiere performance went really well. Aurora Awakes is tough. It doesn’t have the crazy meter changes like my other pieces, but it still requires tremendous rhythmic clarity, and there are a lot of tough intonation challenges. Plus, it’s a pretty piece, so it needs beautiful sounds from every player, all the time. As I do with every commission, I overwrote the piece, and I made it harder than a “high school” level piece. (As I said to the band, “er, my bad.”)  Doug Martin and the band were awesome, though, and they did the piece proud. And really, they couldn’t have been any lovelier to work with.

    I had a great time in rehearsals and at the performance.  Of course, it wasn’t all music…

    No, of course with these incredible parents, there was an incredible dinner. Like, an incredible dinner. We went to a tapas place called Zaytinya in Washington DC, and it was fun and delicious. It was Mediterranean-themed, which I’d normally avoid, since I hate lamb and I hate hate HATE cucumber, but I needn’t have worried. Doug and his wife are vegetarians, and Doug, weirdly, also hate hate HATES cucumber. Finally! Somebody else who understand that cucumbers are nasty unless you pickle them. So if Doug wasn’t going to eat lamb, and he hated cucumber, but this was his favorite restaurant in DC, how bad could it be?

    Uh, not bad at all.

    Fried squash blossoms!

    It was even better than it looked — and it looked pretty good.

    This was a special trip. My dad and stepmom drove from Ohio to hear the premiere, and I even got to spend a little time with them in DC before the concert. Here, my dad touches the spot on the ground at the Lincoln Memorial where Martin Luther King, Jr. stood and gave his famous “I Have A Dream” speech.

    I really can’t say enough to thank Doug Martin, his lovely wife, the officers of his band, the parents, and most of all, the students at J.E.B. High School. I had a wonderful time, and I hope the students and parents enjoyed Aurora Awakes as much as I enjoyed meeting and working with them. Plus, on the last night, there was BREAD PUDDING!

    I don’t have a recording of “Aurora Awakes” — not with humans, at least — but in (nearly) a first, I figured I’d share the recording of the MIDI. It’s not perfect, and it will always sound infinitely better with people, but it’s a decent representation of what the piece sounds like. It’s “performed” by Vienna Symphonic samples (winds and saxes, with some percussion, particularly mallets) and Project SAM samples (most of the low brass and percussion), and they’re played by Kontakt 3, driven by Finale. There’s no real sequencer here, just a boat-load of patch, dynamic, and volume changes, sent as staff expressions on a score that I use only for playback. I hope that if you listen to it, you’ll also listen to a real recording when I post one in the future. I promise it’ll be better…


    May 4, 2009

    Sax Concerto on Naxos

    The first recording of my Concerto for Soprano Sax & Wind Ensemble is now available on the Naxos label. Vince Gnojek was the soprano sax soloist, and Scott Weiss conducted. Here is the link to the iTunes recording.

    Timothy McAllister is recording the concerto with Gary Hill and the Arizona State University Wind Symphony in June (and performing it at Disney Hall two days later!), and Timothy Roberts is recording the concerto with the U.S. Navy Band this summer. That should be enough to get your sax on (whatever that means).