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Some treasures are heavy with human tears

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John Mackey

John Mackey

General Info

Year: 2021
Duration: c. 6:40
Difficulty: IV (see Ratings for explanation)
Publisher: Osti Music
Cost: Score and Parts (print) - $195.00   |   Score Only (print) - $25.00


Full Score
Flute I-II
Oboe (or E-flat Soprano Saxophone)
B-flat Soprano Clarinet I-II-III
B-flat Bass Clarinet I-II
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 I-II (doubling encouraged)
Trombone I-II
Bass Trombone
Percussion (7 players), including:

  • Bass Drum
  • Crotales
  • Crystal Glasses (2: pitched D5 and G5)
  • Suspended Cymbal
  • Vibraphone (with motor)
  • Whirlies (2: pitched D5 and G5)


None discovered thus far.

Program Notes

(CONTENT WARNING: This program note describes an act of public mass violence and may be traumatic or uncomfortable to some readers. Discretion is advised.)

At 1:05 a.m. on Sunday, August 4, 2019, in the Oregon Historic District of Dayton, Ohio, a man armed with a semiautomatic AM-15 approached a crowded neighborhood bar and opened fire. In under 30 seconds, he fired 41 rounds, killing nine people and injuring another 17. That’s where the story of John Mackey’s Some treasures are heavy with human tears begins.

One of the victims of the shooting was Megan Betts, a 22-year-old woman who had played trumpet in her high school band in nearby Bellbrook. The Bellbrook program reached out to Mackey to commission a work that would commemorate the tragedy, a task he approached with some reluctance:

"I’ve been asked on several occasions to write pieces in response to tragedies, but I’ve rarely felt like it was appropriate. Something about this, though -- happening in Dayton, where I’ve been many times, and so close to Columbus, where I grew up -- that I felt like I wanted to try to say something musically, even though I was at a loss for what I could say verbally. Fortunately, Abby (my spouse) found this incredible title, which says so much before the music even starts. The last thing the community needed was a piece of music that relived the event. The piece isn’t trying to sound like WHAT happened; it’s trying to convey what it feels like to KNOW that it happened."

The piece is not programmatic. Rather, it exists in abstraction: a meditation on grief. In framing the work in this way, Mackey’s music transcends elegizing a singular horrific event and instead provides an artistic representation of how we cope with all tragedies, both those that are intensely personal and the ones that are communal. It explores a wide range of emotions, from denial through shock, fury, and anguish before finally finding an incomplete peace.

Some treasures are heavy with human tears begins with a simple motivic gesture: a rocking oscillation between flute and vibraphone that sounds akin to a lullaby. This principal motive carries throughout the piece, acting as the listener’s avatar through the emotional journey. A melody spins out from it, accompanied by ethereal ringing provided by crystal glasses and whirly tubes, and although the overall mood is one of melancholy, the atmosphere is also peaceful until a disorienting fog of trombone glissandi passes over. The songlike melody continues, at times abruptly shifting from the resigned mood of the home key of G minor to the distantly bright C major, evoking a fleeting remembrance of a more hopeful spirit, before just as quickly dissipating back. The simplicity of the opening returns, but this time fuller, with more voices joining before the glissando cloud returns (this time augmented by timpani), ushering in a new mood: confusion. The opening gesture reemerges, ceaselessly rocking in a rhythmic nature, oblivious to a building torment in the surrounding harmonies which become brasher and angrier as the piece approaches its dramatic climax. The apex of the piece is a wail, acknowledging the reality of the trauma in a moment of agony bordering on rage. This too, however, subsides, and the peacefulness of the beginning of the work returns to stay with one exception: as the final phrase of the work cadences and the last tones decay, a single muted trumpet rises from the silence in a bright flash and is suddenly extinguished.

- Program Note by Jacob Wallace

Commissioned by a consortium led by Bellbrook High School, Barbara Siler, director of bands, Andrew Soloman, associate director of bands.

- Program Note from score


  • NBA/William D. Revelli Memorial Band Competition Contest, 2021, runner-up


State Ratings

None discovered thus far.


To submit a performance please join The Wind Repertory Project

  • Florida State University (Tallahassee) Wind Ensemble (Ashley Deane, conductor) - 19 April 2023
  • Connecticut (Hartford) All-State Band (T. André Feagin, conductor) - 1 April 2023
  • Appalachian State University (Boone, N.C.) Wind Ensemble (T.j. Anderson, conductor) - 26 March 2023
  • North Dakota (Bismarck) All-State Band (T. André Feagin, conductor) - 25 March 2023
  • San Luis Obispo County (Calif.) Senior Honor Band (Gary Hill, conductor) – 22 February 2023
  • University of West Alabama (Livingston) Wind Ensemble (Tyler Strickland, conductor) – 16 February 2023
  • OMEA Districts 4 & 7 Sun Devil Band (Gary Hill, conductor) – 19 November 2022 (Cleveland State University)
  • Sinclair Community College (Dayton, Ohio) Wind Symphony (Michael Berning, conductor) - 13 November 2022
  • Central Washington University (Ellensburg) Wind Ensemble (T. André Feagin, conductor) - 27 October 2022
  • Hartwick College (Oneonta, N.Y.) Wind Ensemble (Andrew Pease, conductor) - 6 October 2022
  • University of North Texas (Denton) Wind Orchestra (Jerianne Larson, conductor) – 22 September 2022
  • University of Arkansas (Fayetteville) Wind Ensemble (Christopher Knighten, conductor) - 29 April 2022
  • Baylor University (Waco, Tx.) Wind Ensemble (J. Eric Wilson, conductor) – 31 March 2022 (CBDNA 2022 Southwestern Conference, Waco, Tx.)
  • Sonoma State University (Rohnert Park, Calif.) Wind Ensemble (Andy Collinsworth, conductor) - 11 March 2022
  • University of California, Los Angeles, (UCLA) Wind Ensemble (Travis J. Cross, conductor) – 2 March 2022
  • Texas Community College Band Directors Association (TCCBDA) Symphonic Band (Eric Wilson, conductor) - 12 February 2022 (2022 TMEA Conference, San Antonio)
  • Tarleton State University (Stephenville, Tx.) Wind Ensemble (David Robinson, conductor) – 10 February 2022 (2022 TMEA Conference, San Antonio)
  • Texas Christian University (Fort Worth) Wind Symphony (Bobby Francis, conductor) - 7 February 2022
  • Kentucky Intercollegiate Band (Gary Hill, conductor) – 3 February 2022 (2022 KMEA Conference, Louisville)
  • Leander (Tx.) High School Wind Ensemble (Jerry Junkin, conductor) - 16 December 2021 (2021 Midwest Clinic)
  • Bellbrook (Ohio) High School Bands (Barbara Siler, conductor) - 21 October 2021 *Premiere Performance*

Works for Winds by This Composer

Adaptable Music

All Wind Works