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High Wire

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John Mackey

John Mackey

General Info

Year: 2012
Duration: c. 4:05
Difficulty: V (see Ratings for explanation)
Publisher: Osti Music
Cost: Score and Parts - Rental   |   Score Only - $60.00


Full Score
Oboe I-II
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
Eb Baritone Saxophone
Trumpet in Bb I-II-III-IV
Horn in F I-II-III-IV
Trombone I-II-III
Bass Trombone
Euphonium I-II
Tuba I-II
Percussion I-II-III-IV-V-VI-VII, including:

  • Bass Drum
  • Cabasa
  • Crash cymbals
  • Crotales
  • Hi-hat
  • Snare Drum
  • Suspended cymbals (crash, splash, and China)
  • Tam-tam
  • Tambourine (2)
  • Tom-toms (4)
  • Vibraphone
  • Xylophone


None discovered thus far.

Program Notes

Commissioned by the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee, the piece was premiered in spring of 2012 at UW-Milwaukee by the University Youth Wind Ensembles (UYWE) for a concert honoring the life and achievements of Thomas Dvorak (recently retired conductor/director of bands at UWM and founder of the UWYE program over 25 years ago). John Mackey was honored and recognized at the premiere, as the concert was an all-Mackey concert.

The high wire is a visceral, acrobatic stunt: a tightrope is suspended at enormous height, often swaying above some deadly hazard, and one of the Flying Wallendas dares to traverse it, dazzling the captivated onlookers with death-defying courage and precision. Any errant step brings a gasp of panic from the audience, who dread what they may see yet cannot look away.

John Mackey’s High Wire captures that electric sensation, presented without a net above a three-ring heavy-metal circus. This explosive fanfare courses with dizzying virtuosity -- pure kinetic energy released from a compression-loaded spring.

The commission, put together by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Youth Wind Ensembles in honor of their founder, Thomas L. Dvorak, was simply for a concert opener. However, as Mackey relates, other factors contributed to the eventual composition:

“I was itching to write something fun and flashy and yes — I suppose — virtuosic for the ensemble. I had been writing slow, simple music just before starting High Wire, and my brain felt like a hyperactive dog that’s been locked up indoors for days. I needed to sprint around the yard, musically speaking. From the outset, I was just thinking "flashy fanfare." To me a fanfare is a grand, brass-flourish-loaded opening gesture for a concert, but they’re usually very short. How could I create one that was four minutes long, keeping it exciting while not making it aurally exhausting? I was going for "razzmatazz" and I wanted lots of polychords, plus a largely octatonic scale, but it seems that if I combine those ideas — fanfare plus polychords plus octatonic — we get ... circus.”

- Program note by Jake Wallace


Reference recording. Florida State University Wind Orchestra (Richard Clary, conductor)

State Ratings

None discovered thus far.


To submit a performance please join The Wind Repertory Project

  • Texas Youth Wind Symphony (Austin) (Bradley Kent, conductor) – 9 March 2020
  • Dordt University (Sioux Center, Iowa) Wind Symphony (Onsby Rose, conductor) – 11 October 2019
  • McGill University (Montreal, Que.) Wind Orchestra (Vincent Roy, conductor) – 27 September 2019
  • Texas Tech University (Lubbock) Symphonic Band (Joe Pagan, conductor) – 23 September 2019
  • Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School (Parkland, Fla.) Wind Symphony (Alex Kaminsky, conductor) - 20 December 2018 (2018 Midwest Clinic)
  • Arkansas State University (Jonesboro) Wind Ensemble (Timothy Oliver, conductor) – 8 November 2018
  • Texas Lutheran University (Seguin) Wind Ensemble (Beth Bronk, conductor) - 27 April 2018
  • Texas Christian University (Fort Worth) Symphonic Band (Brian Youngblood, conductor) – 1 March 2018
  • Dallas (Tex.) Winds (Jerry Junkin, conductor) – 11 April 2017
  • Carl Sandburg High School (Orlando Park, Ill.) (Stewart Bailey, conductor) – 28 April 2016
  • University of Texas Wind Ensemble (Ryan S. Kelly, conductor) – 14 October 2015
  • Michigan State University Concert Band (David Thornton, conductor) – 6 October 2015
  • 2014 Texas Music Educators Association (TMEA) All-State 5A Symphonic Band (Frank Ticheli, conductor) - 15 February 2014
  • The Woodlands High School (Tex.) Wind Ensemble (Ivan de la Cruz, conductor) – 21 December 2012 (2012 Midwest Clinic)
  • University of Wisconsin Milwaukee Wind Ensemble - 5 October 2012
  • University Youth Wind Ensemble - Spring 2012 (Premiere)

Works for Winds by This Composer

Adaptable Music

All Wind Works


  • Perusal score
  • Phillips, Chester B. "High Wire." In Teaching Music through Performance in Band. Volume 10, Compiled and edited by Richard Miles, 592-601. Chicago: GIA Publications, 2015.