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.
Originally published in The Saginaw News
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