In honor of my voice teacher and mentor, Julian Patrick, on what would have been his 93th birthday.
I had just finished my audition for graduate school at the University of Washington in the spring of 1994, when out of the darkness of the auditorium I heard this remarkable baritone voice say, “I want to speak to that young lady.” Little did I know that those words would forever change my life for the better.
That extraordinary voice belonged to Julian Patrick, an American opera singer with an international career. I did not speak to him that day, but when the school called to tell me I had been accepted, they also informed me that Mr. Patrick wanted me to study with him. I was extremely flattered for it is very heady stuff to be wanted, but also a little trepidatious to study with a man since I had always heard that it was better for a singer to study with their same gender. I now know this is UTTER NONSENSE. The voice is the voice. If you understand the mechanism, which Julian most certainly did, you can teach anyone, any voice type, any gender. But I digress.
And so I became Julian’s voice student. He was my voice teacher for my four years of graduate school. But he was so much more than that. He was my friend and mentor for fifteen years until his death at 81 in 2009.
Everything about Julian’s teaching and manner was a revelation; my musical and vocal salvation. I no longer dreaded my voice lessons. Lessons with Julian were always the best and most fulfilling part of my week.
Julian was the first person of my adult life to truly believe in me and my talent. I believe that if I had studied with any other voice teacher in grad school, I would have eventually quit singing altogether. Not only did he offer me praise and confidence in what I already had to offer, he opened the door to a totally different approach to singing and teaching that was my saving grace both personally and professionally. I had always felt I was a trial and a tribulation to my voice teachers in college; Julian made me feel like a valuable, talented, intelligent singer and performer. I clearly remember those first few weeks of working with him- my voice improved immediately, my confidence soared; singing was a pleasure again. His passion for our art, his sense of fun… it was a balm for my soul and the most important learning experience of my life up to that point. Those years studying with Julian were full of joy and purpose, promise and accomplishment.
Julian Patrick was a brilliant singing artist and actor, a true Man of the Stage. Just watching him perform was an education. He lived and breathed musicality and theatricality. I had the great pleasure to see him on stage many times, but the greatest honor was singing on the same stage with him: in a few quartet concerts we gave for special events, when UW did Falstaff, and when I played Lauretta in Gianni Schicchi at the Lake Chelan Bach Festival; Julian of course played both title characters. As a teacher, and if I may be so bold as to say, a sort of colleague, he was the epitome of professional, as well as exceedingly kind, generous, incredibly supportive, and loads of fun.
But the one thing you would never have known working with him as either a student or a performer, was how storied his career actually was! He was unbelievably modest. Since my early time with Julian was pre-Google, most of the skinny about his amazing career and the fabulous stories about it came from his partner, Donn, who had no problem spilling the good stuff!
A 50 year career:
- Let’s start with the jaw dropping fact that Julian was in the Original Broadway Casts of The Golden Apple (1954), Bells are Ringing (1956), Fiorello! (1959), Juno (1959), and Once Upon a Mattress (1959). (You can actually hear him on one solo line in particular in “Hello, Hello There” in Bells are Ringing– unmistakably Julian’s incredible baritone!)
- And then there was his operatic career which included, just to name a few: originating the role of George in the premiere of Of Mice and Men by Carlisle Floyd, Alberich in Wagner’s Ring Cycle at both the Metropolitan Opera and Seattle Opera, Sharpless in Madama Butterfly with Renata Scotto and Jose Carreras at San Francisco Opera , Lescaut in Manon Lescaut with Leontyne Price also at SFO, Marcello in La bohème with Pavarotti at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, and the filmed production of Trouble in Tahiti conducted by Leonard Bernstein himself.
Um, hello?! Wow. !
Julian taught me to sing, to make music, to act, that it was ok to love Opera and Musical Theatre equally. He helped me become a better and stronger person, to take risks on stage and off. And, even though I didn’t realize it at the time, he taught me how to be a voice teacher. He was always professional but so personable. He shared his gifts as an artist and as a human being freely, with love and generosity. He somehow always made me feel like I was his colleague as well as his student; such a gift to a young aspiring singer.
Julian was an amazing, wonderful, loving human being and a truly great artist. But honestly, his gifts as a person are what I will always cherish most. (That, and the introduction to Cornelius.) He was always so kind, sincere, direct, passionate, funny, and real. Even though he had sung all over the world with the most famous collaborators, he was simply a good human from Meridian, Mississippi. He was and will always remain my mentor, my friend, and my role model for how to be a person, a singer, and a teacher. I pray that I can always honor his name and his teaching in my life and work. He is forever in my heart.