In 2002 Dr. John Locke’s oldest son, J.P., died at age 23.
“I’d thought about having a piece written for ten years,” the UNCG director of bands reflected, earlier this week. He got to know composer John Mackey over the past couple of years. Mackey is the most prominent wind band composer in the world. “I talked with him about it. We talked it over.” It seemed to Locke that the time was right to honor his son through a composition.
The piece, composed by Mackey and dedicated to the late son, reflects J.P.’s time in Alaska, where he worked in fishing boats and explored the vast Denali National Park. JP enjoyed playing trombone. At the end of Mackey’s piece, Locke notes, trombones take the lead.
Mackey’s wife suggested he focus on what draws you to great Alaskan mountains such as Denali. “It’s a search for the sublime, for transcendence. A great mountain is like a church.”
She suggested the title: “The Frozen Cathedral.”
The UNCG Wind Ensemble under the direction of Locke recorded the composition in December, with Mackey in attendance.
But it was officially premiered by the ensemble Friday, March 22, at a full Aycock Auditorium – part of a special musical gathering. The 2013 College Band Directors National Association conference, which Locke and Dr. Kevin Geraldi hosted, was “literally the most high-profile music event in the history of this campus,” said Locke. About 375 band conductors and composers came to Greensboro from throughout the world, from Australia to Japan to Europe. Eleven groups performed during the week – a total of 650 performers.
And Friday night’s concert featured four works commissioned by UNCG. The evening’s finale was the new work inspired by Locke’s son. The composer was on hand for this world premier of “The Frozen Cathedral.” He tweeted about it – as did others – and by the next morning it was the number one song on the iTunes Classical chart – a place it held all weekend.
One person after the concert tweeted, “’Triumph’ is a word that gets used a lot, but it’s the only word that I have for UNCG’s “The Frozen Cathedral.” Another: “Last night’s UNCG concert was probably one of the most memorable musical experiences of all time. Sounds cliche, but you HAD to be there!”
And another said: “Tonight was a life altering night.”
The program said simply under the final title: “for J.P.”
By Mike Harris
Photograph of the UNCG Wind Ensemble, with Locke conducting, by Brad McMillan