My day began with hailstones thundering down from the Absaroka mountains. Strange and agitating dreams dissolved as I watched the icy spheres bounce off the garden beds outside my window. Once the hail turned to rain, I made a dash from my cabin to the main house. While a pot of coffee was brewing, I thumbed through a well-worn copy of Ed Abbey’s Down the River. In the book, Abbey describes Henry David Thoreau on his death-bed being asked if he’d made his peace with God. Thoreau responded: “I’m not aware that we had ever quarreled.” His final words apparently were: “moose … Indians.”
Back in my cabin with a steaming mug, I checked my e-mail, and saw a message that I was now MySpace friends with the Saginaw Bay Symphony Orchestra. When I lived in Saginaw, the symphony concerts were among the greatest events I had witnessed. Hearing the superb live performances of Mozart’s Piano Concerto #23 in A Major, Bolling’s Suite for Chamber Orchestra and Jazz Piano Trio, and Beethoven’s Third Symphony, are moments that I will never forget. I was lucky enough to be able to use selections of SBSO recordings in my production of Amadeus at Pit and Balcony – the music easily stood alongside recordings by some of the world’s most famous orchestras.
I navigated to the SBSO website and watched videos of Patrick Flynn conducting and being interviewed, and thought about what an amazing talent he is and what a great thing for the symphony and for Saginaw to have him as conductor. Patrick and I spent many hours over the last few years at the Red Eye discussing music, politics, theatre, poetry, and a hundred other topics. A conversation with him was like an entire college humanities course condensed into minutes, mixed with an acid-witted, irreverent stand-up routine that could rival Bill Hicks or Lenny Bruce. I remembered the two of us vaguely discussing a nebulous idea of a performance combining poetry with symphonic music. Or maybe it was an idea I had always meant to bring up, but never had the chance – I don’t now fully remember which: we talked about so many things; jumping around topics as excitedly as the hail had been earlier in the garden. I thought maybe I’d give him a call today, catch up with each other, and see if the idea of a collaboration might someday go somewhere.
When I turned on my phone, there was a text message waiting: “Patrick Flynn died this AM in CA!” I had to reread it several times before I could believe it. Even now, after most of the day has passed, after discussing it over the phone with a couple friends and reading two news articles online about it, it still seems impossible that a man with such energy and passion, with a larger-than-life presence and boundless soul could be gone. That a person filled with such music could be silenced.
The skies here are still moody and rain drips erratically from the roof. I’ve been listening to my SBSO CD’s all day – at the moment Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade. Hal Grossman’s violin moves in the same way that these clouds flow down the mountainsides like grey rivers in slow motion. I can picture Patrick drawing out this music, almost painting it across a living canvas. The question Thoreau was asked on his death-bed about making peace with God, doesn’t even make sense in Patrick’s case – whenever Patrick stepped onto the podium, God stopped what he was doing to listen peacefully to what would follow. He was never disappointed.
Neither were we.