Patrick David Clark became a musician early in life, but he's held other titles, including bike mechanic and student. Now, the graduate is being recognized for his work in another role that has reconnected him with his musical roots: composer.
"I vicariously live, in many respects, as a composer," said Clark, who is studying orchestral conducting at the University of Missouri (MU) in Columbia. His is one of eight musicians to have been selected for the prestigious distinction of resident composer for the Mizzou New Music Summer Festival, now in its second year.
The event featuring rehearsals, a workshop and concerts begins Monday and runs through July 16. It will include a performance of an original Clark composition by the 20-piece New York ensemble Alarm Will Sound.
Clark had roughly two months to write the piece, and he said it won't be complete until he collaborates with the group during rehearsals. While writing music is tedious, he said, rehearsing it produces the delight that a kid experiences when playing in a sandbox. He downplayed the honor, describing it as the "luck of the draw" and contingent on whether the selection committee likes what a composer has written.
He talks enthusiastically about the opportunity and speaks glowingly of the university's music school. Clark aspires to be a music teacher and credits Rex and Jeanne Sinquefield, among the school's benefactors, with emphasizing what he calls the often marginalized study of composition—"the sun around which the solar system of all the other (music) departments revolve."
Born in 1967, Clark grew up in Normandy, MO, and took piano lessons as a child.
"I didn't like to practice, but I enjoyed figuring stuff out on the piano," he said. "It's a little different than composing."
In fourth grade, he began playing violin. He continued with the instrument until his senior year of high school. But he said he didn't take music seriously until he picked up the guitar. He discovered rock 'n' roll and thought it was cool.
As a freshman journalism major at MU, Clark noticed another student who lived in his dormitory carrying a funny-looking suitcase. He asked the student, a physics major, what he held.
"'It's a french horn,'" the student replied, explaining that non-music majors could participate in orchestra.
Clark auditioned as a violinist but learned that he wasn't playing at the level of other orchestra members. He began studying violin as a sophomore and later joined the group.
Then, an unaccompanied solo changed everything.
As Clark sat in class one day, a peer played a Bach fugue in G minor.
"I had never in my life heard anything so amazing. I mean, I really hadn't," Clark said. "This was the great epiphany, and at that point it seemed to replace Led Zeppelin for me. I really couldn't believe what I heard."
There, in his junior year, he decided to become a music major. He tried to focus on violin but ended up becoming a composition major. Dr. Thomas McKenney instructed him.
"I learned a tremendous amount from him," Clark said.
After finishing at MU, Clark said, he still wasn't planning for the future. He moved to Albuquerque, NM, and started working at a desert bicycle shop called Bike World. After a year, he realized that he would have a career as a bike mechanic if he didn't act.
He decided to return to school, this time the University of Arizona in Tucson, to get a master's degree in composition. He studied with Dan Asia, a composer of multiple symphonies. From him, he learned how to put music together.
His ear began to mature.
But a composition master's degree isn't very useful, Clark said. Orchestras generally perform from a repertoire of old standards, not new works.
"It's really a museum," Clark said.
He then pursued a doctorate of musical arts at Rice University in Houston, TX. There, he learned how to write music and orchestrate for large ensembles.
After getting his degree, Clark studied music with composer Christopher Rouse and learned of Louis Andriessen, a composer in Holland. He applied for and received The Netherland America Foundation grant. For three years, he studied music with Andriessen at the Royal Conservatory in the Hague.
He found himself homesick and returned to the U.S. Clark decided to move to Los Angeles to become a film composer. But he soon discovered the pop-infused culture, one filled with people of limited in-depth music expertise, wasn't for him.
"Everybody I met would hand me their card and tell me they were an actor or composer," Clark said.
After about two years in L.A., he again moved to Albuquerque and returned to work at Bike World. He kept in touch with music, working with conductor Alastair Willis.
In the years that preceded his most recent return to music, two of Clark's original compositions were performed by major orchestras—the Seattle Symphony, the San Antonio Symphony and the Nashville Symphony.
He played rock 'n' roll with his friends in Albuquerque and learned about harmony by writing music. He directed a nonprofit program involving strings instruction at four Albuquerque schools. Another supporter, musician Israel Sharon, performed Clark's pieces with his group, Kaprizma, in Israel.
"But again I wasn't writing anything for any classical musicians," Clark said.
Then, about a year ago, he contacted McKenney at MU. Clark expressed fear about finding acceptance after several years with limited connection to the orchestral world.
McKenney advised Clark to speak with the school's conducting teacher, Edward Dolbashian. Dolbashian is conductor and musical director for the St. Louis Civic Orchestra, formerly known as the Clayton Symphony. Clark came in for an audition and was accepted to the program beginning in fall 2010.
While he is 20 years older than many of his colleagues, McKenney said his current studies have made him remember how much he loves music. He counts himself fortunate that MU accepted him to another course of study.
"I feel reconnected, I have to say, and I'm ready to start again," Clark said.
McKenney describes Clark as a composer of creative fine art who can take a piece of music by a composer such as Mussorgsky or Tchaikovsky and reformulate it into his own style.
He references a composition that Clark was commissioned to write as the recipient of the 2011 Sinquefield Prize. Called "A Fantasy on Themes of Mussorgsky," it draws on that composer's "Pictures at an Exhibition."
"You hear these little bits and snatches of that piece come and go, but it's not like the well has run dry for Patrick," McKenney said, "and so therefore he's recomposing what other people have done. These are original works."
It is a tradition that composers such as Stravinsky and Brahms engaged in, he said. And Clark is not like some people who get caught up in their art and forget about other human beings.
"Not only is he a gifted composer, but he's a very, very warm and sensitive human being," McKenney said. "He's caring, he's friendly, he's open. I mean, he's just a genuinely nice person."
Clark advises students interested in pursuing music to not spend years away from the art. He quickly point out that he makes no pretense to be a model to follow. They should also realize that music is a full-time job that "is really never done."
For him, the arts are a window to the divine. And music holds a particularly special place.
"It is the only thing in the world worth doing," Clark said.
Editor's note: Clark's music may be heard by going to his music website at soundcloud.com.