Texas A+M Commerce

I’m back from my trip to Texas A+M Commerce. Arrived there on Sunday around noon, so Jeff Gershman took me to lunch in Dallas. Great Tex-Mex place (what else?) that started with fresh and spicy salsa.

Although there was nothing to indicate the place might be otherwise germ-contaminated, there was this incredibly reassuring wrapper holding the silverware. Sanitized! Whew!

On the flip-side of the silverware wrapper was printed the following helpful prayer guide. Otherwise, how would I know what to do? And who printed the Jewish prayer upside down? Hmm…

Once the prayer decision was out of the way (I’ll never tell what I chose), our food arrived. I had this very tasty chimichanga. A bit heavy for lunch (and I had just come from the west coast, so it felt like 10:30am to me), but no complaints here.

After lunch, Jeff drove me the 75-ish minutes to Commerce. After a quick tour of campus, he dropped me off at my hotel. Here’s the view from my window. North Texas is flat. The view to the other side was of the WalMart.

See, I told you.

Jeff picked me up after 45 minutes of downtime and took me to campus for a sort of meet-and-greet q+a with the music students. It was a Sunday afternoon at 4pm, so I expected all of zero people to show up, but there were actually quite a few students there, and they had great questions. Next up: a two-hour rehearsal with the percussion ensemble on “Mass.”

The now obligatory picture of a page of the score, with one of the players in the background.

Rehearsal went really well. I hadn’t heard “Mass” since the premiere performances at Juilliard back in 2004, and it was exciting to hear it again, especially played so well. The group plays the piece the way I originally conceived it, with “antiphonal” marimbas — one on the far left, one on the right. Hearing it live this way for the first time (Juilliard cheated it and put the marimbas side-by-side for ensemble reasons) was very cool.

After rehearsal, we all headed to dinner at a Chinese place called Panda. The appetizer at the table was these little shiny fried things. (I never know what they’re called, but always think they’re fun.)

My entree was the kung pao chicken, often one of my favorite Chinese dishes. I mean, who doesn’t love spicy peanut chicken?! (Well, besides people with deadly peanut allergies. Yes, I’m looking at you, Damien Bassman.)

Somebody else at the table had beef with broccoli, which was very pretty.

Here’s the entire gang — the percussion ensemble, me, Brian Zator (their conductor), and at the head of the table, composer Christopher Tucker and his wife, Kim. The picture is in black-and-white because everybody had some crazy-ass red eye, and I couldn’t get it to go away. Just pretend we’re oldie-time.

The next day, first up, we headed to lunch. I had a meatball sub which was far too large for lunch.

After lunch, another q+a with different music students, and then it was off to rehearsal with the wind ensemble for “Sasparilla.”

Wow, what a nice group — and they play just great. Here’s Jeff Gershman going through the piece with Jessica Faltot who graciously agreed to play the solo accordion part with the group.

Rehearsal was a blast. They sounded really, really good, and they couldn’t have been a more pleasant group to work with. After rehearsal, we drove to Dallas for dinner at a Japanese restaurant called Fusion. I hadn’t had sushi for ages, so I was awfully excited about this. I started with the miso soup, of course.

Next up, sushi. Pretty standard choices here — eel, salmon, and tuna.

The eel was good and the tuna so-so, but the salmon was spectacular. Brian Zator had this crazy roll — was it a dragon roll? — that was eel-based, but had this spicy red sauce on top. It was really, really good.

It also looked really cool up close.

My own crazy roll was this thing. I forget what they called it — yellowtail poppers, I think? — and it had spicy yellowtail, chopped jalapeno, and cream cheese (!), and the whole thing was deep-fried. It also had that same spicy red sauce that Brian had on his roll. WOW it was delicious. Wow, wow, wow.

For dessert, I had the tempura bananas. Yes, in keeping with the theme, deep fried bananas served with vanilla ice cream. Again, delicious.

The next day, I hung out a bit with Christopher Tucker. We took his dog, Dottie, for a walk before lunch. Awesome dog. Oh, and if you’re and band director, and you’re looking for a Grade 1 piece, check out Christopher Tucker’s piece, Journey Down Niagara. I dug it.

For lunch, Chris took me to Culver’s. I ate at one of these in Kansas, and remembered loving it. They make those super-tasty thin burgers that get crispy around the edges. Mmm…

On the way to the concert hall, somebody pulled up beside us and told Chris that one of his tires was low. Sure enough, it was. Fortunately, it wasn’t too bad, and Chris put more air in the tire at the nearest gas station, and we continued on our way. Good thing I was with Chris. Had I been alone and learned that my tire was low, I would probably just pull the car over and crawl into the back seat, assume the fetal position, and wait for somebody to come rescue me from the physical labor that putting air in a tire requires.

The dress rehearsal went swimmingly. Here’s a shot of the group working on “Mass.”

Back stage at the Eisemann, there was this description posted of How to Display the Flag. This was all so helpful. In two days, I had not only learned how to pray correctly, I learned how to display the flag. Somewhere, George Bush is smiling.

After rehearsal, we went to my favorite Dallas fast-food p
lace, Taco Cabana.

While we were eating, this crazy person — I’m told he’s either homeless, or one of the band directors at Commerce — looked in the window and watched me eat. I, of course, had him arrested.

Before the concert, there was a reception at the hall. Here are a few of the students playing a little reception music. I dig the bass player — and his white socks.

Here’s the percussion ensemble performing “Mass” at the concert. Great performance.

And here’s a (not very good) shot of some of “Sasparilla” — complete with steel drums and accordion, the way it’s meant to be heard!

After the concert, I got some photos with some really fun people. Here I am with Jessica Faltot, the accordion soloist. (If you only click one of these links today, click that one.) She’s a hoot. I really hope another group does “Sasparilla” in Texas and that I’m able to get her a gig as the soloist. She was awesome.

Here I am with Tracy. When I met Tracy at the reception, she was like, “hey, can I get a picture with you?” and I was like, “sure! Umm… Where’s your camera?” “Oh, I don’t have a camera. I was thinking you’d take a picture of us with your camera. You do want a picture with me, right?” Of course! I don’t know why I even hesitated! She’s hilarious.

Finally (and again, please disregard the awful redeye), here’s my favorite shot from the trip. From left to right, it’s Jeff Gershman, me, and Brian Zator. What I think this photo really portrays, though, is, “Your action news team. Jeff Gershman with storm-tracker weather, Brian Zator – sports! – and your anchor, John John Mackey. The news team to trust.

It was an awesome three days in Commerce. Jeff and Brian led fantastic performances, and the players were really cool to chat with. I hope I can hang out with them again sometime. Maybe next year’s TMEA?


Sarah says

I am seriously in awe of your blog. It's like every entry is funnier and better than the last!

Also, you should email me your mailing address so I can send you some Houston Ballet stuff.

Daniel Montoya, Jr. says

Action News, huh? Will you introduce the ladies to James Westfall and Dr. Kenneth Noisewater?

Tracy says

Hey John, (I hope that we are on a first name basis now, but anyway)
Dear Mr. Mackey,
Thank you for the shout-out on your blog. I thought that you would forget with your illustrious career and all. I've been looking at your websites and you are a really awesome, funny guy. You should really write a book or something. Thanks again, and if you ever need anything (though I highly doubt you will), I'm there for you.

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