Midwest – and Christmas!

Well, this was definitely the most surreal Midwest convention yet. Some things I shouldn’t get into — both to protect myself and the innocent — but a good time was had by many. A few very exciting things happened, and there will be more about those in the months to come. In the meantime, here are — that’s right — pictures!

I flew in on Tuesday — a day earlier than usual — because the Chicago Youth Symphony, under the direction of Allen Tinkham, was giving a performance of Jonathan Newman’s orchestra piece, “Metropolitan.” After a rather turbulence-filled flight to Chicago, I arrived at the hotel to find Newman setting up the BCM booth.

After a quick dinner, I accompanied Newman to the dress rehearsal of his piece. Newman seemed excited, score-in-hand. Newm, what’s with the meter-changes in every friggin’ bar?! 😉

The orchestra sounded great. Pretty hard to believe this is a youth orchestra. I’ve worked with lots of youth orchestras, and I don’t think I’ve heard a better one than CYSO. Tinkham’s awesome. Here’s Newman, giving a few quick notes to the group. I doubt he was correcting anything; I can’t imagine the piece getting a better performance!

It’s just too bad they were playing in a ballroom at a hotel. The acoustics were somewhat lacking this time around, but they performed the piece at Orchestra Hall in Chicago a few weeks ago, and that recording, available on Newman’s site, sounded fantastic. But really — is a ballroom the place for an orchestra performance? Let’s play Count The Chairs.

I think the ballroom seats 3000 or so. It’s absolutely massive. Newman had a huge crowd for his performance, and his piece was deservedly well-received. Go, Newm!

The next day, I had my first rehearsal with the Atlanta Youth Wind Symphony, who was performing “Sasparilla” at the convention. Here are some of my friends who graciously stuck around for the rehearsal — counterclockwise from lower-left: Sarah (Montoya’s gal), Rick Clary (FSU), John Lynch (U. Kansas), unknown background lady, Newman, Amy Knopps, Steve Bryant, and Daniel Montoya.

The AYSO was also rehearsing Steve’s gorgeous piece, “Dusk,” that evening. Here’s Steve listening to the group as Scott Stewart runs the piece for him.

After rehearsal, Newman and I joined Rick Clary for dinner, which is becoming an annual Midwest tradition. After some tasty drinks at the bar (the lemon drop may not be the most masculine martini, but it’s fun & tasty and will knock you on your ass), we were seated and ordered appetizers. First up, one of my favorites: shrimp cocktail!

Newman opted for spinach & artichoke dip. Also very tasty.

For dinner, I had the three filet mignon medallions, each with a different crust. Holy crap, this was yummy. Crust choices: Parmesan, bordelaise, and cracked pepper.

Newman had the biggest plate of ribs I’ve ever seen.

Rick went simple with a ribeye steak. Damn, what’s up with that steak? Seems happy to see me.

Rick doesn’t do carbs, so while I had the most delicious plate of potatoes au gratin, he had steamed broccoli. I’m sure it was tasty for broccoli, but for me, it was lacking the all-important cheese factor.

Did somebody say dessert? Hooray! Dessert’s here! Oh, wait — that’s the dessert tray. Guess I should pick one.

I picked what I normally call a “Cookie Monster.” It’s a hot cookie in a tray, topped with a sundae. Mmmm….

Dinner was fun, as it always is with these guys, but wow — we were stuffed.

The next day, I was approached by several players from the Atlanta Youth Wind Symphony. They wanted a photo of me, and I insisted that I get a photo of them, too.

So there I was, chatting with Ryan Nelson (of the Northwestern wind ensemble) when we saw a crazy elf-like guy walk by. Nelson insisted that I needed a picture with him, so we followed him back to his booth. When we got there, we saw that the Elf Man wasn’t alone, but had a parter in Elfdom, and it suddenly felt a little weird to go ask if I could pose in a picture with them. Nelson’s solution was to just have me take a picture of Dr. Elf, but try to do it subtly so the Elf wouldn’t chase me away. Ryan slowly walked past the Elf Display so that I could take a picture of the elf incognito. Here’s our first try.

Fun, sure, but I managed to sneak one more picture of the two magical elves, and this shot allows you to really see their slippers. WTF. And look! They also have Noveltysickles! I love those.

That night I had dinner with Nelson in the hotel. My main course: pan-fried risotto cakes. Very tasty.

At the final dress rehearsal for the AYWS’s concert, I got a picture of Kunal, the group’s awesome pianist. You should have heard this guy. At one point during rehearsal, I asked the entire group to “just play like that guy.”

The AYWS played some great pieces that evening, including Richard Prior’s Icarus (a great piece) and Steve’s Dusk. Dusk is just a lovely piece. If you don’t know it, visit Steve’s site and check it out. The program ended with “Sasparilla,” and the crowd gave a very nice ovation.

Great job, gang!

At dinner the next day, Montoya seemed to eat something that didn’t agree with him.

(Actually, he’s just trying to look surprised.) So, that was basically it for Midwest. Awesome time — probably too much fun for a band conference. It was great to finally meet a lot of people with whom I’d only had email correspondence in the past, and I feel like I made some new friends. But really, does Chicago need to be so damn cold?! Can’t we have the Midwest convention in, say, Southern California next year?

Next up… Christmas!

Upon the return to LA from Chicago, it was time to get all Christmassy. Loki wanted to help us unpack the o

Once the tree was up and the skirt was down, Loki came over to, um, greet the snowman skirt.

Kitties like lights. I tasted one, too, and really, they’re not so good. I mean, not compared to Parmesan-crusted filet mignon medallions.

Here I am, putting on the lights. In the background through the window, you can see our outdoor tree — which AEJ calls the Snoopy Tree (because of the huge multi-colored lights) — out on the deck.

Loki says “Merry Christmas” (which he pronounces as “Meaaaahhhhh.”)

And here are the trees — indoor and out — all decorated and festive.

Here’s AEJ and Loki, relaxing on the sofa in the newly-cozified and Christmasted living room.

So, Happy December. Midwest was great, but it’s even better to be home.


Lissajeen says

Why, oh why, do I follow your random links??

Andy Hudson says

Hello Mr. Mackey! My name is Andy, and I just played Sasparilla in the AYWS at Midwest... I played E-Flat Clarinet. Just wanted to say thank you for a great piece and for all you did for us!

Sarah Stern says

your cat is ADORABLE. i love him.

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