Sheltering Sky

From Wind Repertory Project
Composer Name

John Mackey

General Info

Year: 2012
Duration: c. 4:45
Difficulty: III (see Ratings for explanation)
Publisher: Osti Music
Cost: Score and Parts - $120.00   |   Score Only - $20.00


Full Score
Flute I-II
B-flat Soprano Clarinet I-II-III
B-flat Bass Clarinet
E-flat Contra Alto Clarinet (optional)
B-flat Contrabass Clarinet (optional)
E-flat Alto Saxophone I-II
B-flat Tenor Saxophone
E-flat Baritone Saxophone
B-flat Trumpet I-II-III
Horn in F
Trombone I-II-III
String Bass
Percussion, including:

  • Bass Drum
  • Marimba (two players)
  • Suspended Cymbal
  • Vibraphone


None discovered thus far.

Program Notes

The wind band medium has, in the twenty-first century, a host of disparate styles that dominate its texture. At the core of its contemporary development exists a group of composers who dazzle with scintillating and frightening virtuosity. As such, at first listening one might experience John Mackey’s Sheltering Sky as a striking departure. Its serene and simple presentation is a throwback of sorts –- a nostalgic portrait of time suspended.

The work itself has a folksong-like quality –- intended by the composer –- and through this an immediate sense of familiarity emerges. Certainly the repertoire has a long and proud tradition of weaving folksongs into its identity, from the days of Holst and Vaughan Williams to modern treatments by such figures as Donald Grantham and Frank Ticheli. Whereas these composers incorporated extant melodies into their works, however, Mackey takes a play from Percy Grainger. Grainger’s Colonial Song seemingly sets a beautiful folksong melody in an enchanting way (so enchanting, in fact, that he reworked the tune into two other pieces: Australian Up-Country Tune and The Gum-Suckers March). In reality, however, Grainger’s melody was entirely original –- his own concoction to express how he felt about his native Australia. Likewise, although the melodies of Sheltering Sky have a recognizable quality (hints of the contours and colors of Danny Boy and Shenandoah are perceptible), the tunes themselves are original to the work, imparting a sense of hazy distance as though they were from a half-remembered dream.

The work unfolds in a sweeping arch structure, with cascading phrases that elide effortlessly. The introduction presents softly articulated harmonies stacking through a surrounding placidity. From there emerge statements of each of the two folksong-like melodies –- the call as a sighing descent in solo oboe, and its answer as a hopeful rising line in trumpet. Though the composer’s trademark virtuosity is absent, his harmonic language remains. Mackey avoids traditional triadic sonorities almost exclusively, instead choosing more indistinct chords with diatonic extensions (particularly seventh and ninth chords) that facilitate the hazy sonic world that the piece inhabits. Near cadences, chromatic dissonances fill the narrow spaces in these harmonies, creating an even greater pull toward wistful nostalgia. Each new phrase begins over the resolution of the previous one, creating a sense of motion that never completely stops. The melodies themselves unfold and eventually dissipate until at last the serene introductory material returns –- the opening chords finally coming to rest.

- Program Note by Jake Wallace

Sheltering Sky, premiered on April 21, 2012, was jointly commissioned by the directors of the Traughber and Thompson Junior High School Bands in Oswego, Ill.

- Program Note by Technical Sgts. David Balandrin and Ricky Parrell.


State Ratings

  • Florida: FBA Band Grade 4
  • Georgia: GA Band 13-14 Additions GR 4
  • Texas: IV. Complete


To submit a performance please join The Wind Repertory Project

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Works for Winds by This Composer

Adaptable Music

All Wind Works