Aurora Awakes – A Journey

Sometimes you have had a long week, perhaps a tiring day to cap it all off, and all you want to do is just come home, let all your worries go for an hour or two, and just do something that relaxes you. That’s exactly what I did this evening – come back home, throw down my backpack, and just put on some good old Aurora Awakes.

But this time, it was a little different. A few days ago, I’d learned to my great surprise that the full score of John Mackey’s Aurora Awakes had been added to the Northwestern music library’s collection! I had been wanting to see a paper copy of this score for quite a long time now and I immediately raced to the library to check it out. I hadn’t had the time to really open it up and dig into it until today, but man, am I glad that I went and got that score.

When I started the recording, I expected a few things as I often do when I listen to a piece with the score in front of me. I expected to find some things that I would never have noticed had I not been looking at the score, some things that I would not have expected to be notated as such, and some things that make me go “Ah, so that’s how you write that sound.” These are all reasons why I try to listen to my favorite wind ensemble scores with the score: it teaches me quite a lot. But this time, it was more than just the pockets on knowledge here and there. Aurora Awakes has always been one of those listening experiences that had a noticeable affect on me – sometimes calming me, sometimes exciting me, and sometimes instilling in me a sense of “man, I wish I could write like this.” This time, in a special way that I can’t quite describe, the listening experience was more of a journey than anything else. I felt like I was truly being enveloped by the music, and that I could begin to see glimpses of Mackey’s thoughts and intentions throughout the piece. Familiar melodies, motifs, and sections leaped out at me in a whole new light, and it was as if the score was speaking to me, saying “look at all these wonderful ways in which he has orchestrated us.”

I’ve never had a score listening experienced feel quite like that before. Perhaps it’s the relief after a long week, perhaps it’s because I just love this piece so damn much, I don’t really know. But it definitely felt special enough for me to have to sit down and write about it. I’m not sure if that’ll ever happen again, and that’s okay. Whatever the case, I’ll still keep on learning more and more every time I go through that piece. What I do know for sure is that these are the moments that make us say “this is why we do music.”

John Mackey, thank you for bringing this incredibly majestic work of art into the world. I wish I could write half as well as you do one day.

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