A deep reverberation fills with stars


Last night, I delivered the score, parts, and demo recording of “A deep reverberation fills with stars,” which I wrote in honor of Jonathan Grantham’s 20th anniversary at Amador Valley High School.

This is the biggest piece I’ve written since being medicated for ADHD (I was diagnosed in mid-2020), and it’s the most substantial piece I’ve written since the start of the pandemic. (I’ve written very little; it was basically impossible for me to motivate myself when concerts grinded to a halt. Things feel much more normal – and creative – again.)

So the idea with this one, partially by design, but largely just because it happened to turn out this way once I started writing, is that of emerging from darkness, “a deep reverberation,” with the return of some sense of normalcy, coinciding with, at least for me, some hope of an improvement of mental health.
That said, none of this piece is sorrowful. It starts with handbells! (Thank you, Larry Livingston, for your help with that!) But it does spend 8 minutes pulling back and forth between levels of tension before finally “filling with stars.”

It took way too long to write it. I get slower with every piece, but this was sort of ridiculous. I started it January 1, but it wasn’t until January 21st that I wrote something that would remain in the piece. It was all due March 1 – a date I missed by 24 days. All that, and it’s barely over 8 minutes long. I figured being medicated for ADHD would make me SUPER PRODUCTIVE but it doesn’t at all; it makes me SUPER METICULOUS, which, it turns out, is not a speedy trait. This is the piece that I spent over a week writing 30 seconds of music. (That 30 seconds starts on page 33 – 6:46 into the piece. Yeah, I started writing at measure 170. 🤷‍♂️ )

You can view the perusal score here. And here’s the audio.

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Joan says

Pleasantly waiting, tickled by the chimes, or bells, I drifted off, oops, swayed back in, my ears on point, to the harmonious appropriate use of my trumpets, longing for their beauty and not brawn to be embraced, then off to the part where I must sit up as I listen, after cradling my closed eyes in my hands and head down were too reverent for the pull into the sky, the stars twinkling as I faced my self, my self, and my self begged me to be my best self, and I agreed we were friends, and the discordant note to warm me up into the imperfectness that is everything, (so well placed!), and I opened my eyes to see that the minutes of my life I had spent in audio had flown by and tripped me into a space I've not been to in a while. Thanks, Joan.

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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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