Composer John Mackey may never have had any grand athletic ambitions, but he’s made it to the Olympics anyway. Later today he’ll be checking in on the Games in Athens to cheer the United States Synchronized Swim Team as they perform their routine to his Damn for clarinet and percussion. The score will accompany the team’s duet technical event. It will air on the cable channel Bravo on Monday at 5 p.m. EST.
In advance of event, Mackey let us in on how he came to be involved in the U.S. Team’s quest for gold.
NMBx: So, how did you end up being selected as an official soundtrack composer for the United States Synchronized Swim Team?
John Mackey: It was just a lucky series of events—it’s not like I had the foresight to send a demo CD to the team! A member of the US synchronized swim team—a swimmer named Bill May—attended a performance of choreographer Robert Battle’s dance company a few years ago. That performance included several collaborations between me and Robert, and Bill liked my music enough to track me down online. He emailed me and asked for a CD. At some point, the CD made it into the hands of the coach of the US Synchronized Swim Team. Bill, as a male, is not allowed to perform with the team in the Olympics. It’s just like that old Saturday Night Live skit with Martin Short hoping to become the first male on an Olympic synchronized swim team. Bill, though, is for real.
I ran into Bill several months ago, and he told me that the team would be performing with my music at the Olympics. He said that somebody would contact me to make the arrangements. Of course, nobody ever did, so the first I learned about it officially was the day before the competition in Athens!
NMBx: What is it about Damn that makes it good to swim to?
John Mackey: I don’t know about swimming specifically, but the piece is meant to be danced to—on land. It was originally commissioned by Robert Battle. It was our first collaboration. It’s very loud—which probably helps underwater—and drummy, and mixed-metered. Of course, since I haven’t heard what they’ve done with the recording, it’s possible they’ve edited out all of the meter changes and added synth drum loops.
NMBx: Do you swim well yourself?
John Mackey: To quote Martin Short from the formerly mentioned SNL skit, “I’m not that strong a swimmer.” In fact, I can’t swim at all. I don’t like getting water in my ears. I’m a wuss. Who would have thought, watching me in gym class in high school, that I could ever make it to the Olympics? Well, take that, Westerville South football players who always picked on me!