Frozen Cathedral, The

From Wind Repertory Project
John Mackey

John Mackey

General Info

Year: 2012
Duration: c. 14:00
Difficulty: V (see Ratings for explanation)
Publisher: Osti Music
Cost: Score and Parts (print) - Rental ($475.00)   |   Score Only (print) - $75.00


Full Score
C Piccolo
Flute I-II-III-IV (I doubling Bass Flute; II doubling Alto Flute)
Oboe I-II
English Horn
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
B-flat Soprano Saxophone
E-flat Alto Saxophone
B-flat Tenor Saxophone
E-flat Baritone Saxophone
Trumpet in C I-II-III-IV
Horn in F I-II-III-IV
Trombone I-II-III
Bass Trombone
String bass
Piano (doubling Celesta)
Antiphonal Percussion I-II-III, including:

  • Crystal glasses (high Db and F, bowed)
  • Glockenspiel (2)
  • Triangles (one medium small, one small)
  • Waterphone

Percussion I-II-III-IV-V-VI-VII, including:

  • Bass Drum
  • Crotales (2-octave set for Percussion IV. Low C#, D#, and E are removed from set and assigned to Percussion I.)
  • China Cymbals (2)
  • Crash Cymbals (3: 2 suspended, 1 concert pair)
  • Glockenspiel
  • Marimba
  • Mark Tree
  • Splash Cymbal
  • Tam-tam
  • Tambourine
  • Timpani
  • Triangles (medium small and small)
  • Vibraphone (2)


None discovered thus far.

Program Notes

The Koyukon call it Denali, meaning “the great one,” and it is great. It stands at more than twenty thousand feet above sea level, a towering mass over the Alaskan wilderness. Measured from its base to its peak, it is the tallest mountain on land in the world, a full two thousand feet taller than Mount Everest. It is Mount McKinley, and it is an awesome spectacle. And it is the inspiration behind John Mackey’s The Frozen Cathedral.

The piece was born of the collaboration between Mackey and John Locke, Director of Bands at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Locke asked Mackey if he would dedicate the piece to the memory of his late son, J.P., who had a particular fascination with Alaska and the scenery of Denali National Park. Mackey agreed, and immediately found himself grappling with a problem: He had never been to Alaska.

How could I tie the piece to Alaska, a place I'd never seen in person? I kept thinking about it in literal terms, and I just wasn’t getting anywhere. My wife, who titles all of my pieces, said I should focus on what it is that draws people to these places. People go to the mountains -- these monumental, remote, ethereal and awesome parts of the world -- as a kind of pilgrimage. It’s a search for the sublime, for transcendence. A great mountain is like a church. “Call it The Frozen Cathedral,” she said.

I clearly married up.

The most immediately distinct aural feature of the work is the quality (and geographic location) of intriguing instrumental colors. The stark, glacial opening is colored almost exclusively by a crystalline twinkling of metallic percussion that surrounds the audience. Although the percussion orchestration carries a number of traditional sounds, there are a host of unconventional timbres as well, such as crystal glasses, crotales on timpani, tam-tam resonated with superball mallets, and the waterphone, an instrument used by Mackey to great effect on his earlier work Turning. The initial sonic environment is an icy and alien one, a cold and distant landscape whose mystery is only heightened by a longing, modal solo for bass flute, made dissonant by a contrasting key, and more insistent by the eventual addition of alto flute, English horn, and bassoon. This collection expands to encompass more of the winds, slowly and surely, with their chorale building in intensity and rage. Just as it seems their wailing despair can drive no further, however, it shatters like glass, dissipating once again into the timbres of the introductory percussion.

The second half of the piece begins in a manner that sounds remarkably similar to the first. In reality, it has been transposed into a new key and this time, when the bass flute takes up the long solo again, it resonates with far more compatible consonance. The only momentary clash is a Lydian influence in the melody, which brings a brightness to the tune that will remain until the end. Now, instead of anger and bitter conflict, the melody projects an aura of warmth, nostalgia, and even joy. This bright spirit pervades the ensemble, and the twinkling colors of the metallic percussion inspire a similar percolation through the upper woodwinds as the remaining winds and brass present various fragmented motives based on the bass flute’s melody. This new chorale, led in particular by the trombones, is a statement of catharsis, at once banishing the earlier darkness in a moment of spiritual transcendence and celebrating the grandeur of the surroundings. A triumphant conclusion in E-flat major is made all the more jubilant by the ecstatic clattering of the antiphonal percussion, which ring into the silence like voices across the ice.

The Frozen Cathedral was commissioned by The University of North Carolina, Greensboro; The University of Michigan; Michigan State University; University of Florida; Florida State University; University of Georgia; University of Oklahoma; The Ohio State University; University of Kentucky; Arizona State University; and Metro State College. The work received its world premiere on March 22, 2013, with the University of North Carolina Greensboro Wind Ensemble, conducted by John Locke.

- Program note by Jake Wallace


State Ratings

  • North Carolina: Grade VI/Masterworks


To submit a performance please join The Wind Repertory Project

  • University of Michigan (Ann Arbor) Symphony Band (Richard Fryer, conductor) – 26 October 2023
  • CBDNA Small College Intercollegiate Band (Athens, Ga.) (John R. Locke, conductor) – 18 February 2023 (CBDNA 2023 National Conference, Athens, Ga.)
  • Oregon State University (Corvallis) Wind Ensemble (Erik Kar Jun Leung, conductor) - 15 November 2022
  • Southeast Missouri State University (Cape Girardeau) Wind Symphony (Jim Daughters, conductor) - 25 October 2022
  • University of Southern Mississippi (Hattiesburg) Wind Ensemble (Catherine Rand, conductor) - 15 November 2021
  • University of Miami (Coral Gables) Frost Wind Ensemble (Robert Carnochan, conductor) – 1 March 2020
  • Colorado Wind Ensemble (Lakewood) (Richard Mayne, conductor) – 29 February 2020
  • Texas All-State Symphonic Band (Frank Ticheli, conductor) - 15 February 2020 (2020 TMEA Conference, San Antonio)
  • Queen's University (Kingston, Ont., Can.) Wind Ensemble and the Central Band of the Canadian Armed Forces (John Fullerton, conductor) - 2 February 2020
  • Truman State University (Kirksville, Mo.) Wind Symphony I (Curran Prendergast, conductor) - 18 November 2019
  • University of Florida (Gainesville) Wind Symphony (David Waybright, conductor) – 29 October 2019
  • Concordia College (Moorhead, Minn.) Band (Peter Haberman, conductor) – 12 October 2019
  • University of California Berkeley Wind Ensemble I (Matthew Sadowski, conductor) – 17 March 2019
  • University of Michigan (Ann Arbor) Symphony Band (Michael Haithcock, conductor) – 15 March 2019
  • University of North Carolina, Greensboro, Alumni Band (John R. Locke, conductor) – 18 November 2018
  • Eastman School of Music (Rochester, N.Y.) Wind Orchestra (Mark Scatterday, conductor) – 7 November 2018
  • University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire Wind Symphony (John R. Stewart, conductor) - 12 October 2018
  • James Madison University (Harrisonburg, Va.) Wind Symphony (Stephen Bolstad, conductor) – 3 October 2018
  • University Of North Carolina at Greensboro Wind Ensemble (John R. Locke, conductor) – 22 March 2013 (CBDNA 2013 National Conference, Greensboro, N.C.) *Premiere Performance*

Works for Winds by This Composer

Adaptable Music

All Wind Works


  • Osti Music
  • Perusal score
  • Talanca, Dominic. "The Frozen Cathedral." In Teaching Music through Performance in Band. Volume 10, Compiled and edited by Richard Miles, 838-853. Chicago: GIA Publications, 2015.