I’ve posted my newest piece, “Xerxes,” a concert march.  (The title is, as usual, courtesy of AEJ, who called it Xerxes within 30 seconds of hearing the piece the first time.  Xerxes, for those who haven’t seen “300,” was King of Persia from 485 BC until his assassination by stabbing in 465 BC.)  Midlothian High School, here in Texas, commissioned the piece.  I’d originally thought I’d write a march along the lines of the Ives Country Band March, but the more I worked on that idea, the more I felt like I was just trying to reinvent the Ives March, which is already a sort of reinvention of a march.  My version sounded like bad Ives, and although it’s a great, crazy piece, I wouldn’t describe the Ives as sounding “good” to begin with.

With that idea out the window, I talked with AEJ about other possibilities. So many concert marches blur together in my head, all of them in some peppy major key, falling into either the chipper patriotic American sound or the more prim British sound. (I’m a huge fan of William Walton’s music — his Partita for Orchestra (iTunes link) is one of my favorite pieces ever, and if you listen to it, you’ll hear where I first discovered the Vulgar Trombone Glissando ® — but his marches are pretty decidedly prim and recognizably British.) Since I don’t really do prim, or patriotic, I went with… angry. The plan was, “this is going to be a march about somebody who is bad news.” That gave me the idea for the tune in the A section. Somehow, the heavily Persian middle section (which my friend Michael Markowski described as sounding like a “topless Vegas Persian-themed classic MGM showgirls show”) just sort of happened, and I worked that material into the recap of the A section at the end to tie it all together with one big nasty pissed off Persian bow.

Structurally, even though I wanted the tone to be pretty different from a traditional march, I wanted the structure to be basically “correct,” so it’s in A-B-A form, with that B “trio-like” section in the subdominant.  It also stays in 4/4 the entire time — making it my only piece in the past 15+ years that has stayed entirely in 4/4.  That was a sort of fun limitation.

The premiere is in February.  I can’t wait to hear how it sounds with real players.  (The MIDI makes the piece sound even more like a video game than it will “for real.”  At least I hope so…)

Give it a look/listen.  It’s just a fairly straightforward concert march, only a little nastier.  I don’t expect it’ll be played at a lot of July 4th parades.  (Well, maybe somewhere like NYC.)


Robyn says

That's surprisingly cool in midi. It's a march I'd enjoy playing for sure. I love the Persian feel.

carey says

OMG i lurve it!!!!

Cathy says

I can't wait to hear what it sounds like for real, either. Instead of a video game soundtrack, the opening sounds like a soundtrack for an action adventure movie!

DEFINITELY not parade music...

I'm curious, though - why do you beam your single eighth notes to eighth rests? I don't know that I see that regularly when something is syncopated. I usually see the rest then the eighth note with its flag.

Richard Krishnan says

This is a great song and people need to put it on the marching field.

I was going through the score and noticed that the tenor sax part had a LOT of low A's below the staff and I was wondering if that was on accident or you want the player to cover half his/her bell like middle school and high school students enjoy doing.


Kyle Kelly says

John Mackey you are my hero. I first heard your Asphalt Cocktail when one of my best friend's bands played it and I absolutely loved your style. I then decided I would have to play one of your pieces at my winter concert so I added Turbine to the program. I can't wait until I get a chance to play Xerxes, which is not the typial march. Thanks so much for your music!

John says

Richard - Thank you for catching that! I somehow missed all of those errors. That's the problem with writing in concert pitch and not checking the transposed parts closely enough before printing!

Eric Scott says

This is a great piece...would love to perform this with my band at State Festival this year. Do you know when the piece will be edited and available to the public?

Susan says

Good Morning,
My HS band is playing Xerxes and the low A's are in the tenor sax. part. What is the solution?

Morgan says

Its sound needed to be put on Itunes

Alan says

Just performed this piece with our local college/community symphonic band. This is a great piece and an absolute blast to play. Kinda gets you in the mood to sack a city-state or something :)


Corvus says

This piece rocks! I love the mp3 of the Coast Guard, but I'd love to hear the midi version, too. Could you post that please, at least for a little while? Thanks!

Elden Seta says

Aloha! My name is Elden Seta from Moanalua High School in Honolulu. We have just recently returned from an amazing tour of the National Festival in Indiana. there we heard some amazing groups performing terrific pieces. I especially enjoyed the works composed by you. Very exciting and colorful.

I have recently put in an order fro your Xerxes to be performed in our May Concert. We look forward to learning this work. Would it be possible to find out when it will arrive here in Hawaii. We would like to get to working on it right away.

Mahalo Nui Loa!!! (thank you very much)

- Elden T. Seta
Moanalua High School
Honolulu, Hawaii

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