Composer commends music students during visit

John Mackey

World renowned composer John Mackey is spending the week attending Baylor music students’ rehearsals and concerts.
Corpus Christi sophomore Andres Camarillo said working with Mackey is almost like working with Mozart or Beethoven for these music students.
“He’s very popular,” Houston sophomore Julie Yu said. “Probably every band student in the nation has played his music before.”
Not every student has had the opportunity to collaborate with him, like these Baylor students have this week. Mackey has worked with both the Baylor Symphonic Band and the Baylor Wind Ensemble.
His time with the wind ensemble has been a group effort, said Sugar Land senior Sam Asthana.
“You can look at the music and play it, but only the composer knows how it’s supposed to sound,” Asthana said.
He said Mackey was very complimentary after they played his pieces for him, but that he gave some good feedback too.
“He’s very energetic, lively, and very nice,” Yu said. “But he knows what he wants.”
Asthana said rehearsals were a two way street, however, and that Mackey even noticed some techniques the wind ensemble was using that he told them he hadn’t thought of.
Baylor’s symphonic band played Mackey’s piece “Kingfishers Catch Fire” at its concert on Monday. The wind ensemble will play “Sheltering Sky” and “Wine Dark Sea” during its 7:30 p.m. concert on Thursday in Jones Concert Hall.
Yu said that at first glance, “Wine Dark Sea” was very scary, but after listening to it and working through it, it isn’t so difficult now.
“With a good director like [Baylor director of bands] Dr. Eric Wilson, you get the hang of it,” she said.
On his Facebook page, Mackey said the wind ensemble’s performance of “Wine Dark Sea” will blow the roof off of the music hall. He said their performance of “Sheltering Sky” will be jaw-dropping.
“I have truly never heard it sound better – Eric Wilson and his students take incredible risks in pulling every nuance – things I didn’t even know were there – out of those 11 pages of music,” Mackey posted on Facebook Monday.
Mackey’s pieces have been performed in the Sydney Opera House; the Brooklyn Academy of Music; Carnegie Hall; the Kennedy Center; Weill Recital Hall; Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival; Italy’s Spoleto Festival; Alice Tully Hall; the Joyce Theater; Dance Theater Workshop; and throughout Italy, Chile, Japan, China, Norway, Spain, Colombia, Austria, Brazil, Germany, England, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States, according to his website.
“He’s obviously one of the foremost wind-band composers of our time,” Camarillo said. “The fact that we’re playing with him just sitting feet away from the stage is incredible.”
Asthana said it is because of Wilson and Dr. Gary Mortenson, the dean of the School of Music, that Baylor students get so many opportunities to work in close quarters with composers. He said these are definitely special experiences and that Mackey is a true composer and an overall fun and energetic person to spend time with.
“I think we should all aspire to be like that,” Asthana said.