Aurora Awakes

From Wind Repertory Project
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John Mackey

John Mackey

General Info

Year: 2009
Duration: c. 11:20
Difficulty: V (see Ratings for explanation)
Publisher: Osti Music
Cost: Score and Parts - $425.00 (Rental)   |   Score Only - $65.00


Full Score
Bassoon I-II
E-flat Soprano Clarinet
B-flat Soprano Clarinet I-II-III-IV
B-flat Bass Clarinet I-II
B-flat Contrabass Clarinet
E-flat Alto Saxophone I-II
B-flat Tenor Saxophone
E-flat Baritone Saxophone
B-flat Trumpet I-II-III-IV
Horn in F I-II-III-IV
Trombone I-II-III
Bass Trombone
String Bass
Percussion I-II-III-IV-V-VI, including:

  • Bass Drum
  • China Cymbals
  • Crash Cymbals
  • Crotales
  • Glockenspiel
  • Hi-Hat
  • Marimba
  • Sand Blocks
  • Splash Cymbals
  • Suspended Cymbals
  • Tambourine
  • Tam-Tam
  • Triangle
  • Vibraphone
  • Xylophone


  • Piano m.147, b.2-1/2: A4 may be meant to be a Bb4, based on the piano part's use of the ostinato and doubling of other parts for the rest of the section.

Program Notes

Aurora now had left her saffron bed,
And beams of early light the heav'ns o'erspread,
When, from a tow'r, the queen, with wakeful eyes,
Saw day point upward from the rosy skies.

- Virgil, The Aeneid, Book IV, Lines 584-587

Aurora – the Roman goddess of the dawn – is a mythological figure frequently associated with beauty and light. Also known as Eos (her Greek analogue), Aurora would rise each morning and stream across the sky, heralding the coming of her brother Sol, the sun. Though she is herself among the lesser deities of Roman and Greek mythologies, her cultural influence has persevered, most notably in the naming of the vibrant flashes of light that occur in Arctic and Antarctic regions – the Aurora Borealis and Aurora Australis.

John Mackey’s Aurora Awakes is, thus, a piece about the heralding of the coming of light. Built in two substantial sections, the piece moves over the course of eleven minutes from a place of remarkable stillness to an unbridled explosion of energy – from darkness to light, placid grey to startling rainbows of color. The work is almost entirely in the key of E-flat major (a choice made to create a unique effect at the work’s conclusion, as mentioned below), although it journeys through G-flat and F as the work progresses. Despite the harmonic shifts, however, the piece always maintains a – pun intended – bright optimism.

Though Mackey is known to use stylistic imitation, it is less common for him to utilize outright quotation. As such, the presence of two more-or-less direct quotations of other musical compositions is particularly noteworthy in Aurora Awakes. The first, which appears at the beginning of the second section, is an ostinato based on the familiar guitar introduction to U2’s Where The Streets Have No Name. Though the strains of The Edge’s guitar have been metamorphosed into the insistent repetitions of keyboard percussion, the aesthetic is similar – a distant proclamation that grows steadily in fervor. The difference between U2’s presentation and Mackey’s, however, is that the guitar riff disappears for the majority of the song, while in Aurora Awakes, the motive persists for nearly the entirety of the remainder of the piece:

“When I heard that song on the radio last winter, I thought it was kind of a shame that he only uses that little motive almost as a throwaway bookend. That's my favorite part of the song, so why not try to write an entire piece that uses that little hint of minimalism as its basis?”

The other quotation is a sly reference to Gustav Holst’s First Suite in E-flat for Military Band. The brilliant E-flat chord that closes the Chaconne of that work is orchestrated (nearly) identically as the final sonority of Aurora Awakes – producing an unmistakably vibrant timbre that won’t be missed by aficionados of the repertoire. This same effect was, somewhat ironically, suggested by Mackey for the ending of composer Jonathan Newman’s My Hands Are a City. Mackey adds an even brighter element, however, by including instruments not in Holst’s original.

“That has always been one of my favorite chords because it's just so damn bright. In a piece that's about the awaking of the goddess of dawn, you need a damn bright ending -- and there was no topping Holst. Well... except to add crotales.”

- Program Note by Jake Wallace



State Ratings

  • Georgia: VI
  • Louisiana: V
  • Michigan: Senior High AA
  • North Carolina: Masterworks
  • Tennessee: V
  • Texas: V. Complete


To submit a performance please join The Wind Repertory Project

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  • Argyle (Tx.) High School Wind Ensemble (Jason Bird, conductor) – 10 February 2023 (2023 TMEA Conference, San Antonio)
  • University of Illinois (Champaign) Wind Orchestra (Barry L. Houser, conductor) - 16 November 2022
  • The University of Texas at El Paso Wind Symphony (Andrew Hunter, conductor) - 15 November 2022
  • California All-State High School Concert Band (Vu Nguyen, conductor) – 20 February 2022 (2022 CASMEC Conference, Fresno)
  • University of Nebraska-Lincoln Symphonic Band (Scott Walker, conductor) – 30 November 2021
  • Elmhurst (Ill.) College Wind Ensemble (James Hile, conductor) – 15 March 2020
  • Eastman School of Music (Rochester, N.Y.) Wind Orchestra (Mark Scatterday, conductor) – 17 February 2020
  • Illinois State University (Normal) Symphonic Winds (Anthony Marinello, III, conductor) – 16 February 2020
  • Baldwin-Wallace University (Berea, Ohio) Symphonic Wind Ensemble (Dwight Oltman, conductor) – 14 February 2020
  • University of Toronto (Ont., Can.) Wind Ensemble (Gillian MacKay, conductor) - 2 February 2019
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  • Temple University (Philadelphia, Penn.) Concert Band (Patricia Cornet, conductor) – 21 November 2019
  • Oregon State University (Corvallis) Wind Symphony (Olin Hannum, conductor) – 21 November 2019
  • University of California (Berkeley) Wind Ensemble (Matthew Sadowski, conductor) - 25 October 2019

Works for Winds by This Composer

Adaptable Music

All Wind Works


  • Mackey, J. (2009). Aurora Awakes [score]. Osti Music: [Los Angeles].
  • Perusal score