By Phillip Ratliff
It was in the sweltering month of May that I arrived in Tallahassee. I had left the slightly cooler environs of Birmingham and what I considered at the time a great job waiting tables at the now defunct Galleria Grady’s, seeking conquest of a place I’d imagined at the time as a great artistic center.
Greeting me upon arrival in Tallahassee was a singer, a baritone, from Center Point, Alabama, by the name of Patrick Evans. I had already known Patrick for three or four years, through our undergraduate school days. Patrick and I were in Tallahassee because we’d both gained acceptance to the Florida State University School of Music, a highly regarded program that has cranked out a steady supply of top-notch opera singers and pianists and composers over the years. Admittance to FSU was an honor. It thrilled us both.
Our new living conditions were an embarrassing nod to La Boheme. I’m not sure how to describe our apartment without listing out hackneyed adjectives (grimy, tawdry, roach-infested) or exotic comparisons (halfway house, drug den, Thai brothel). And I’m not sure if our new residence originally was an apartment. In retrospect, it may have been a repurposed postwar-era Florida hotel. Its fantastically cheap rent—about $150 a month each, I recall—and location across the street from the music school made it a much-desired (though exceedingly cramped) place to lay one’s head, even if we mostly avoided going inside otherwise.
Patrick took a job waiting tables at a Red Lobster on Tennessee Street, about a mile off the I-10 exit. When he wasn’t waiting tables, Patrick studied voice, taught sight-singing (something every music student, regardless of specialization, has to master), and sang in FSU’s opera productions. I remember vividly his finely wrought portrayal of Ramiro in Ravel’s opera L’heure espagnole. As Patrick burrowed deeper into the demands of his studies and I into mine, we drifted into separate social spheres. Eventually, Patrick moved to an apartment across Monroe Street, Tallahassee’s main East/West thoroughfare, but I would see him occasionally around the music building and I even managed to stop by his new pad once, to find him dealing with a particularly slithery domestic crisis—a neighbor’s escaped pet boa constrictor that had taken up residence in his air conditioning unit.
After graduating from FSU, Patrick headed up the Atlantic Seaboard to the University of Delaware. There, he directed the school’s opera program for about a decade, earning promotion and tenure. Then, he was offered a three-year leave of absence to take a visiting professorship in the Yale Institute of Sacred Music. After that term, Yale invited him to stay for five more years, and, in a risky move, he gave up his tenured position for a limited-term appointment—something most professors are counseled to never do.
About three years ago, Patrick’s eight years at Yale ran their course. I can’t comment on his state of mind, but I would have been anxiously wondering if I could build a bridge back to Delaware. Patrick spent a year directing a national LGBT nonprofit, then found a job at DePauw University in Indiana, recruiting majors for its fine music school. I kept up with these more recent milestones via Facebook. Reports rolled in of him scouring the Midwestern countryside in search of trumpeters, violinists, pianists. Recruits turned to enrollees, I learned, and DePauw enrollment prospered.
It was through Facebook that I got a personal message from Patrick. Patrick wanted to discuss a job opening he’d heard about in his hometown—chairing the music department at UAB. Patrick knew I had taught off and on as an adjunct for the program for several years. I hardly boasted an insider’s vantage point, but I knew many on the faculty and gave him my take: barely on the scene when he and I were considering our own undergraduate music studies, UAB’s program now is one of the best in the Southeast.
Patrick landed the job and immediately stepped into a perceived crisis: how to keep the department’s momentum going now that the marching band is without a football team to play for. (Patrick is quick to point out, modestly, that this issue is largely being solved, through others’ efforts.) All indications are that UAB, under Dr. Patrick Evans, will continue to prosper. The pieces are all there, he says: a hard working faculty, a great piano program, well-run marching and concert bands, an award-winning opera studio, strong music technology and education programs, concert and gospel choirs, and solid offerings in the brainier areas of music, subjects like music history, composition, and theory.
And there are UAB’s 100 or so music majors, most but certainly not all of them mere kids, on the same path Patrick was on some three decades ago. It’s their sacrifice and dedication that has Patrick “blown away,” he says. “Many are living on campus in dorms and having the full college experience at 18, but many others are working two or three jobs, raising families, returning to school after years working in other fields, or otherwise what some would call ‘non-traditional’ students. They are so committed to excellence in music making, and to getting every possible benefit from the education they’re receiving. It really inspires me to try to work as hard as they are,” Patrick says.