Monday, March 10, 2014

Patrick's Masters Recital

My son is nearing the end of his 6 and a half year musical education journey that has taken him through Nashville, Tennessee’s Belmont University to Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey. This weekend was the culmination of all of that high-brow training. As a composition student, his Master’s Thesis consisted of 45 minutes of his own works performed in concert under his direction. Pam, Kaitlin, Nana and I were on the third row. We had actually been on the front row for a time, but five minutes before the concert began, a frantic, wild-eyed young man rushed out to inform us that we couldn’t possibly sit on the front row, because it would be much too close to the conductor and might possibly freak him out. This wild-eyed young man was our son!

We had met him for dinner earlier in the evening and had noticed how agitated he was. He was non-stop chatter and spoke of the cat-herding quality of getting 20 other highly talented musicians to understand the subtleties and textures of music that had sprouted to life in the fertile soil of his own imagination. They knew the notes, but could they come to feel and comprehend the music as he did? Patrick wasn’t interested in having a good concert; he wanted it to be rapturous.

Sitting there at dinner, I couldn’t help but think back to the day we dropped him off as a lowly freshman at Belmont. In my heart I was convinced that he wouldn’t make it to his sophomore year. Patrick was a gifted musical freak, yes. But he only graduated from high school because of his mother’s constant assistance. He has the attention span and organizational skills of an under-achieving fruit fly. If it hadn’t been for his mother’s vigilance, her frantic trips to Godwin to bring him something he had forgotten, her last minute runs to Walmart to buy something that he had known he needed for two months but had neglected to mention until the night before the drop dead date, he never would have made it. And now we were leaving him to his own scatterbrained devices, 600 miles from home. The over/under for his college survival stood at one semester as we watched him disappear in the rear view mirror that hot August afternoon, six and a half years ago.

Now, at dinner, he kept using the name Sarah-Mae, as in “Sarah-Mae will help you with the reception. Sarah-Mae will meet you outside of Bristol at 7:45 to tell you where to unload the food”..etc.. We soon met the Filipino fireball who was Sarah-Mae, and immediately realized that for the past three or four weeks it had been this charismatic young woman who had served as his organizational director. This adorable girl began telling stories of the days leading up to the concert and each of them rang true. She definitely knew our son and his idiosyncrasies, and assured us that the concert was going to be amazing simply because his music was amazing.

I won’t do a musical critique because I don’t feel musically qualified to do so, plus I am impossibly biased. Suffice it to see that I loved ALL of the choral pieces because of the harmonies and the powerful emotions that beautifully performed, expertly written music produces in me. I could take or leave the solo stuff. Meh.

What moved me the most had nothing to do with the inspiring music or the beautiful words of Carl Sandburg. After it was over everyone crammed into the student center for the reception. I was approached by at least a dozen strangers, some fellow graduate students, some of Patrick’s professors. The words that they spoke to me were the sort of thing that we parents never forget:

“Everyone knows how talented your son is, but the best thing about Patrick is the fact that he’s just a wonderful person…”

“Thank you so much for sending Patrick to us. We are so lucky to have him on this campus.

“Patrick brings a passion to music that few people have.”

“I have a feeling that your son just might change the world with his music.”

“As good a musician as he is, he’s an even better person.”


The business of being a parent is a brutal thing. From the minute they are born, we never have another stress-free moment. Anxiety becomes our hand maiden. How will they get along in the world? But, when you are afforded the privilege of watching your child doing what they truly love to do, what they were born to do, just for a fleeting moment, the thought enters your mind that everything is going to be alright.

This picture was taken at the end of the performance. Patrick had turned around to take his bows. He stood there for a second with his hands together looking out at the audience, an expression partly of relief, but mostly of joy at what he had just done.