My last in-person performance was a year ago today. Oof. Are YOU as excited as I am to have full bands again? YES YOU ARE. Do YOU want to commission a new “grade 4” band piece in anticipation of that amazing experience??? YES YOU DO!

Last summer, deep in a “who am I anymore if I can’t hear live music” COVID funk, I started to emerge from that funk by writing a short piece for adaptable/flexible instrumentation. I was trying to write genuinely upbeat music with a catchy tune, and the result immediately sounded like a big ol’ Frank Ticheli ripoff because of COURSE it did because Frank is the MASTER of that. My piece was so Ticheliesque that I sent Frank the first 30 seconds that I had written and asked him if he wrote it first. He was kind and gracious, as Frank always is, and said, “No, my friend. This is all yours!” I am sure he knew he could have written it. I just got lucky by writing it first. I moved forward with the piece, dedicated it to Frank, and titled it “Let Me Be Frank With You.”

I’d never written for adaptable instrumentation before, and it was tricky for me to remove color choices from the composition process, so I kind of… didn’t? I limited it to 4 parts, but assigned those parts to instruments in my sample library full-concert-band template so I could hear it as a full band piece before I created the published 4-part fully-adaptable version. (The MIDI demo recording is made from that “pretend” band template.) Now I am going to create a new version for standard concert band, in celebration (and anticipation) of having full-size bands again this fall! WOOOO!!!

I’m organizing a consortium to fund the new version, and YOU can join! The “official” world premiere will be at the Midwest Clinic with the Vandegrift High School Wind Ensemble, but every consortium member’s first performance is considered a premiere. Plus, the director’s name and school will be printed in every score for EVER AND EVER. And what a great way to make NEW FRIENDS by having your name printed next to theirs on the cover of a shiny new piece! (sorry – I don’t see a lot of humans in person anymore…)

If you’re interested, visit this page!

And this score cover could be a reality!

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Clarinet Concerto details

Here is the text of the email that Jerry Junkin sent to the CBDNA email list-serve about joining the consortium for my new clarinet concerto. If you are interested in joining this consortium after reading this, please contact Claire Long who will be handling all of the administrative work. (If you have a question about anything else, you can email me.)

Dear colleagues:

I write to tell you about an exciting consortium commissioning opportunity that I hope you will find to be of interest.

John Mackey has agreed to write an approximately twenty minute Clarinet Concerto for the renowned soloist, Julian Bliss. The buy-in will be $2,000 per organization with $1000 due by April 15, 2021, and the balance due by September 15, 2022. Vandoren and the USAF Band will be joining in the sponsorship.

CBDNA (Doug Stotter) will handle the accounting, as payments will be made to them and the point of contact will be Mr. Bliss’s manager, Claire Long (claire@musicprods.co.uk). If you are interested in joining the consortium, please let Ms. Long know at the email above.

A few points:

– the concerto will be delivered late summer 2022, in anticipation of the world premiere with Julian Bliss and the Dallas Winds in Fall 2022

– the piece will be written for Julian Bliss, and schools are encouraged to have him as a guest to play the piece, but that is not a requirement of joining the consortium

– the buy-in for the piece is $2000/organization, with $1000 due by April 15, 2021, and the balance due by June 30, 2022

– consortium members will have 1 year of performance exclusivity from the time of the premiere

– once again, Claire Long (claire@musicprods.co.uk) will be handling all of the administrative part, and all emails and questions should be directed to her.

Thank you for your consideration of what will undoubtedly be a very exciting collaboration!

Jerry Junkin, Head
Division of Conducting and Ensembles
Vincent R. DiNino Chair for the Director of Bands
University Distinguished Teaching Professor
The University of Texas at Austin
Artistic Director and Conductor, The Dallas Winds
Music Director and Conductor, Hong Kong Wind Philharmonia
Visiting Professor, Senzoku Gakuen College of Music

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The Clarinet Concerto

I’m going to tackle one of my fears: I’m going to write a clarinet concerto.

You probably think I’m kidding about it being a fear, but it’s true. Way back when I was in college, I worked in the classical department of a record store (!) during the summers. I bought just about every contemporary CD (!!) that came in, and the one that struck me more than any other was John Corigliano’s Clarinet Concerto. (Yes, even more than that ridiculous “CHANT!” album.)

During my junior year of college, Corigliano visited Cleveland for a performance of his concerto with the Cleveland Orchestra. And I sort of lost my mind. I attended all of the rehearsals, sitting behind him so I could look at the score over his shoulder in what I now know had to have been the creepiest way possible. He spoke to our composition studio where he presented that clarinet concerto, and I sat front row center. Hearing him talk about how he constructed it made me love the piece even more, and I became convinced that it is among the best wind concertos ever written. I continued stalking Corigliano after that visit, and he eventually relented and invited me to study with him at Juilliard. But my obsession with him and his music started with that clarinet concerto.

When I wrote my first wind concerto – for soprano saxophone – I kept thinking about Corigliano’s clarinet concerto, and tried to figure out why anyone would write a wind concerto in the same world where they could just listen to his piece. To get myself past that, I quoted his concerto in the final movement of my sax concerto (with permission, duh). It was my way of saying, “I can’t write anything as good as his piece, so here – I’ll just give you a little of his piece as an homage to what a concerto SHOULD sound like.”

When I wrote “Wine-Dark Sea,” I conceived the second movement, “Immortal thread, so weak,” as the slow movement of a clarinet concerto. The voice of Kalypso, the immortal goddess banished to spend all of eternity without companionship or love, was represented by a single clarinet. Unfortunately (sort of), my little experiment of “what would it be like to write a clarinet concerto” resulted in the best thing I’d written, and it was NOT part of a concerto, so I felt like – “well, I wrote a nice thing for clarinet, and I can’t top THAT, so, no concerto for me.” (Rule #1 for being a composer: you must be neurotic.)

I’ve been asked several times over the years if I’d consider writing a clarinet concerto. But I always felt like – why? I can never write anything as good as the Corigliano – my favorite piece by my favorite living composer, AND he was my mentor – and I sort tried it once with WDS, and I can’t top THAT result I’m sure, so I would say no. Until now.

A while back, Julian Bliss contacted me and asked if I’d consider writing a concerto for him. If you’re a clarinetist, you know his playing. The guy is unbefrigglievable. Not only a phenomenal technician, but a real *performer* on stage. Incredible charisma. Also, I later learned, fun to drink with!

The opportunity to write a concerto for somebody in Julian’s league is not the kind of thing even a neurotic composer says no to. So… I said yes. I came to peace with the fact there is NO way I can write anything better than Corigliano’s concerto. But I can write something *different*, something that sounds like me. I mean, the world is a better place with 18-year scotch, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t also room for White Claw.

So the piece is going to happen. Julian will premiere it with Jerry Junkin conducting the Dallas Winds in Fall 2022.

I promise not to name the piece “White Claw.” (OR DO I?)

And here’s a picture of the clarinet pencils that my grandfather had made decades ago as a promotional thing for his music store.

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Quan Hoang says

Dear Mr. Mackey, thank you for sharing with us this beautiful and inspiring story.

As a professional clarinetist myself, who got the chance-of-a-life-time to play The Wine-Dark Sea as the concertmaster during my final year of Master study... I can't express enough how much I love the piece, and how excited I am to know that you are (finally) going to write a Clarinet Concerto!

Is there also going to be a transcription for symphony orchestra, later on? I would be very interested in ordering it!

I look forward very much to 2022...!
My warmest regards,
Quan Hoang.

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