Donald Patriquin

 Donald PatriquinThe Algarve is well known for its superb climate, wonderful beaches, dozens of golf courses and of course the fast disappearing traditional way of life.  The Câmaras of the Algarve are at last beginning to market their patrimony and cultural life is beginning to blossom.

Peter and I came to Portugal 11 years ago and while he has spent much of his time researching and lecturing on Portuguese history, I used my professional training and experience to establish the Amigos do Museu in São Brás.  When Amigos was able to continue independently I left, and began to write articles on Portuguese history for the e-newspaper Get Real . 

Visiting the Algarve for the eighth time this year is Canadian composer Donald Patriquin and his French Canadian wife Louise (whom in conversation he often calls Louisa).  One of Canada´s foremost composers according to Wikipedia, Donald is a regular prizewinner in the musical world and his latest triumph was his Canada We Love You! sung on site by 3500 children as a prelude to the 2010 Winter Olympics.  His Scottish Contrasts, which won the 2009 Association of Canadian Choral Conductors prize for new choral music, will be premiered by Canada’s National Youth Choir in May of this year.

Born in 1938 into a musical family in Sherbrooke, Quebec, Donald often heard his mother playing the violin and piano and his father singing.  He was brought up in the countryside with few other childhood friends and, left to his own devices, learned early to tune into the musical milieu of his home as well as the plants and animals around him.  Until 1946 the remote countryside of southern Quebec was the location of one of Canada´s 26 wartime internment camps.  Canadian government policy was to make life so relatively luxurious within these camps that the internees were less inclined to attempt to escape and conditions often seemed better than those enjoyed by Canadian troops.

On the outside looking in, Donald saw two German internees who were to have an immense influence on his life, Fritz Bender and Helmut Blume.  Bender, a violinist and founder of the camp orchestra, was later to become chief of the Ottawa forestry laboratory where Donald worked for several summers.  During his last summer there, the kindly Bender told Donald he would more likely be succesful as a musician than a biologist!  Donald took his advice seriously and entered McGill’s Faculty of Music where, it turned out, internment camp pianist Blume was now Dean, and where Donald was later professor for some thirty years, many of them under Helmut Blume.

Fate has played a hand many a time in Donald´s past:  just as he was about to give up on his music lessons at the English style boarding school he attended, the school organist left.  Young Patriquin was catapulted into the position, fortunately for the world of music, and he began to consider that music might offer him a career.  Donald played at school assemblies and later, as an undergraduate studying biology at Bishop´s University, he became University Organist.  Leaving biology behind, he began his formal music training at McGill University (B Mus in 1964) under István Anhalt and at the University of Toronto (MA in 1970) under John Weinzweig.  He also holds an A Mus degree in organ performance from McGill and an RCCO (Royal Canadian College of Organists) licentiate.

Donald had started composing at the age of 11 and before university studied with Jean Papineau-Coutures at CAMMAC´s (Canadian Amateur Musicians) summer sessions, winning several awards from them. His first university teacher, István Anhalt, was himself taught by Béla Bartok and Zoltán Koldály, and passed on their love of Hungarian folk music which has infiltrated Donald’s work; he has also incorporated elements of traditional music from all over the world into his music.  Benjamin Britten and his tenor, Peter Pears, performed at McGill University and provided encouragement to the tyro composer, and he admits to major inspiration provided by both Hindemith and Stravinsk.

Donald is especially well known for his arrangements of choral works and one of his most popular pieces (A Child´s Carol ) was conceived when he was 11 years old.  Over the years he has continued to refine and add to it and when his daughter began to learn the flute, he added a flute descant.  Besides the many works he has composed for choir, Donald also has under his belt a piano concerto, works for voice and piano, music for theatre, ballet and mixed media.  He has written two musicals (both begun in Portugal) – Louisa, and Chickasaw and is now working on a third piece Homo Erectus - a ‘sexy, light-hearted musical about an artist who challenges the notion that men and women have evolved at the same rate´.  I can´t wait to hear how Donald interprets this idea in a musical format!

Donald and Louise often stay in the Algarve for 2-3 months to avoid the worst of the Canadian winter.  They appreciate the peaceful sounds of the Alportel river flowing through the valley, the croaking of the frogs, the song of the nightingale, the wild flowers and, of course, the weather. It is not at all surprising that his love of nature has had a major influence on Donald´s work and after 30 years of city life in Toronto and Montreal, Donald has returned to his rural roots in the Eastern Townships of southern Quebec.

His Reflections on Walden Pond, on a text by American naturalist Henry David Thoreau,  is an example of how he has been influenced by nature while creating music.  He began working on Djembe drumming here in the Algarve and has picked up interesting percussion instruments from local dealers.  He describes one of these instruments as a ´squidgy fish´- you hold the tail, shake it and some wonderful sounds come out.  The ´squidgy fish´ from Boliqueime will soon be appearing on stage as Donald is including the popular Fado Corrido into his World Music Suite Three begun in the Algarve.

My centenarian Whitfields (of Huddersfield and Heckmondwike) upright piano is one of the other reasons Donald chooses to spend time in the Algarve because, even on holiday, he spends an hour or two on most days working on his music for which he requires a piano.  Three years ago, for a challenge, he composed for me the "Boa Esperança Tango".  A very special gift.   In films we see the action and hear music in the background and life is rarely like that.  But being in the next room while the work of composition goes ahead at the piano, our lives are a little like being in a film - it even makes dusting quite a special activity!  It is a great pleasure to us that the serra north of Tavira offers so much rural inspiration and that much of Donald Patriquin´s music reflects the emotion, ´Portugal We Love You!´.

For more information:  www.donaldpatriquin.com


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