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'Friend' award goes to impactful musician

BEMIDJI - Patricia (Pat) Mason has been selected to be honored as the 24th annual Friend of the Arts, a recognition enthusiastically supported by those who wrote letters of recommendation in support of her nomination.

The award was started by Margaret and Dave Tiffany to honor those who have significantly contributed to the arts in Bemidji and environs. Helen Gill was the first to be recognized, and the list of honorees includes Wayne Hoff, Beverly Everett, Ann Hayes and Marie Luoma.

Pat Mason said she can remember playing her first trumpet solo, "Silent Night" at church, at age 5 because her father taught her how to play while she still had her baby teeth. Her mother and father were both musicians, albeit self-taught, so they made sure their children had the advantage of proper music lessons.

Back in the small town where she grew up, Mizpah, Pat remembers how she loved to sing any kind of music and knew the lyrics to most Broadway musicals, country-western music and whatever else caught her young fancy. Pat has come a long way from singing at weddings and funerals as a child, playing trumpet in the Bemidji State University band while still in high school, a teaching career in the Cass Lake Public School System and then retirement.

But like others who find excitement in the fabric and serendipity of life, Pat then turned her interests toward her first love, choral music.

"When you direct a chorus, it is like painting lines," Pat said. "I love it. I always loved the students I taught and am so happy when I see one who has succeeded because of my teaching. My first band teacher was Edgar B. Gangware and my chorale director was Carl O. Thompson, both teachers at Bemidji State University where I started my college career.

"I transferred to Mankato State and stayed there a few years to start my teaching career."

Pat is one of the founding members of the Bemidji Chorale, a group started 30 years ago by Lyle Jewel and a small group of area music educators who recognized a need in the community.

Although a charter member who first sang with the chorus, Pat has been the conductor since 1997 and recognized as the person who continued the tradition of a vibrant and thriving chorale, which also participates in collaborative projects.

"Under her leadership, we have performed with the Bemidji Symphony Orchestra, including the profound and moving 'Defiant Requiem' with Murry Sidlin," said Leanne Jaskowiak, a chorale member. "We were so proud to represent Bemidji in a production that included over 300 singers from across the state. (The Minnesota Voices Sesquicentennial Celebration at the Minnesota State Fair, 2008.)"

But it is in the letter from Wayne Hoff, a former winner of the award that most tells Pat's story.

"Pat encouraged me all the way, never letting me allow a down day to destroy my hopes and dreams (as a young freelance musician," Hoff wrote.

Pat is still in the dream-making mode for hundreds of youngsters from around the state. She coaches and judges each year through her association with the Minnesota Music Educators Association, the American Choral Directors Association and as an adjudicator for the Minnesota State High School League.

For fun, Pat plays trumpet for "Swing Delivery," a 15-piece group recreating the big band sound of the 30's and 40's.

The 24th annual Friend of the Arts Celebration is May 25 at the Sanford Center. Call BCAC at 444-7570 for ticket information.