top of page

Heart Music (grade 4)

When Alan Mills approached me about composing a work for the Rocky Mountain Commission Project, I was both honored and excited. However, the project gained even more personal importance when Dr. Mills asked if the piece might be composed in memory of Dr. John Wacker, noted Director of Bands at Western Colorado State University, who had tragically perished in a car accident on May 11, 2014. I had the honor to meet John and work with him for a few days as a guest conductor and knew from just that short visit that he was a tremendous musician, a devoted father and husband, and a wonderful human being. It was a privilege to have met him and an honor to write something in his memory.


As I prepared to compose the piece, I read all of the entries in an incredibly long and touching tribute page. Person after person described how John had changed their lives, not only through his passion for music, but for through his passion for life. It struck me that he was a pied piper of sorts, helping to lead others to find their path in life through his own love of music. This became the concept for the second movement of the piece, Pied Piper, which begins with a trumpet call that is echoed by the ensemble. These call and response figures lay conceptually at the heart of the piece. The melodic material for the movement is based on the name JOHN, created by using the musical alphabet and then continuing to assign note names to letters (H becomes A, I becomes B, J becomes C, etc.). Thus, JOHN becomes the notes C, A, A, G. These four notes are the main melodic cell in the work, the first four notes the solo trumpet plays in movement II, and even underlying the movement as the main key areas for each section. Overall, the movement is intended to be positive, spirited, and enthusiastic.


As I wrote the second movement, a new theme emerged partway through the process, and this material eventually also became the melodic material for the first movement. That movement, entitled The Space Between, takes its inspiration from one of his former students, who stated on the tribute page that her favorite words of John’s were about silence; that “the space between the notes is where the music actually happens.” This idea seemed important to me on two levels. First, it suggested a certain kind of music to me, so the movement features several moments of “space” between musical ideas, moments of reflection which are as important as any notes that the ensemble plays. More important, though, it suggested the space that is now left in all of our lives by John’s passing.


The title for the work is taken from a quote from John in a 2008 interview with the Wyoming/Tribune Eagle in which he said, “Music speaks to the heart, not the head.” Hopefully my piece reflects these eloquent words. 


Heart Music was commissioned by Alan Mills and the Rocky Mountain Commission Project, a consortium including the following schools and conductors:



Arvada West High School, Craig Melhorn

Colorado Bandmasters Association

Colorado State University-Pueblo, Alan W. Mills

Denver School of the Arts, Dave Hammond

Doherty High School, David Williams

Fort Collins Wind Symphony, Scott Schlup

Fort Lewis College, Marc Reed

Fruita Monument High School, Ryan Crabtree

Legacy High School, J. Clayton Stansberry

Lewis-Palmer School District 38: Michael Mozingo, Lewis-Palmer 

  Middle School; Butch Eversole, Palmer Ridge High School; Kevin 

  Whitelaw, Lewis-Palmer High School

Metropolitan State University, David Kish

Prairie View High School, Greg Haan

University of Northern Colorado, Richard Mayne and Ken Singleton

Widefield High School, Eric Colgrove

Heart Music I. The Space Between.mp3
00:00 / 05:12
Heart Music II. Pied Piper.mp3
00:00 / 05:00
bottom of page