Strange Humors (sax ensemble)

Chamber Music, Percussion, Sax/5'/Difficulty - Medium/2022

for 8-9 part saxophone ensemble with djembe

Also available for wind ensemble; strings and djembe; clarinet quartet and djembe; saxophone quartet and djembe, and adaptable instrumentation

PDF Full Set (digital)




PDF Score (digital)





Performed by the Cedar Ridge High School Saxophone Choir
Arminda M. Velasquez, director

View the score

Video of original version for string quartet.
Music by John Mackey, choreography by Robert Battle.
Dancers: Samuel Roberts and George Smallwood.

The first version of “Strange Humors” was a student piece for string quartet and djembe that Mackey wrote while pursuing his graduate degree at The Juilliard School. It was later adapted for use by the Parsons Dance Company, with choreography by Robert Battle. The piece represents a merging of musical cultures — the modal melodies and syncopated rhythms of middle Eastern music with the percussive accompaniment of African drumming, all – to quote Mackey – “passed lovingly through the brain of a very white kid from Ohio.”

At the heart of the work lies the pulse of the djembe, which remains from the original version. The djembe, an hourglass-shaped drum played with bare hands, is a major part of the customs of west African countries such as Mali and Guinea, where djembe ensembles accompany many functional celebrations of society.

The piece opens with a sultry soprano saxophone solo, a line laced with Phrygian influence representing the “typical” melodies of the most northeastern parts of the African continent — most notably Egypt, but also parts of the Arabian peninsula. Later, the other saxophones emulate the snaking lines of the soprano. The groove of the djembe combined with the quirky rhythms throughout leave an impression that lingers in the listener’s mind long after its conclusion.
Program note by Jake Wallace
Please credit Jake Wallace when reproducing or excerpting this program note


Cedar Ridge High School Saxophone Choir, Arminda M. Velasquez, director

The Midwest Clinic, December 16, 2021

Commissioned by

Cedar Ridge High School Saxophone Choir, Arminda M. Velasquez, director