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.)


Alex says

I am afraid of horn players who can play in this register for this long.

Cathy says

Happy birthday, John!

Kevin Howlett says

Yes, Happy Birthday. I make you a delicious caek, which you must eat.

YXZ says

The funny thing is that there is already a popular series of band music out there in which all the titles are bird-inspired. It's by Kris Berg and includes priceless hits such as "Fowl Play" and "Poultry in Motion." That's a good indicator that "Chickens Catch Salmonella" has a lot of potential.

Ray says

I love that the horns get to basically wail above the staff for most of the second movement.

Nice piece.

Travis Taylor says

Wow, this is amazing John! I've been waiting for this for the longest time, the wait has been worth it.

I'll write back later about my impressions of the work once I listen to it several times. First impression: Wow.


Charles Penird says

One word summation...Grr!

Fosco! says

You've done it again, John Mackey. This is amazing.

Russell says

Holy crap. Kingfishers is incredible. I play horn and made all-state down in Texas and 2 of the chair audition excerpts are from it. Of course, the parts with the crazy high C's. :) It's fun to play and I hope I get to play this at the convention.

Alex H. says

Hi Mr. Mackey-
i dont know if you still check this page or not, but i wanted to express my gratitude to you for writing this fabulous piece. I played it in the University of Miami Wind Ensemble a few weeks ago (vibes, marimba, and triangle) and i must say that its grown to be one of my favorite pieces. I have the recording of the UM wind ensemble playing it and i listen to it every morning. Anyways, i just wanted to say thanks for putting together this amazing piece. I especially like the slower section with the timpani rolls and the huge crescendos before it goes back to a quicker pace and then into the finale. I also appreiciate your incorporation of the loud chords at the end and the triangle roll as a tribute to the Firebird Suite, which i also had the privledge of playing this year in an orchestra in Indianapolis. Once again, great work and i hope that you keep composing great pieces such as this one.


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