I’m not looking for sympathy because it’s been well worth it, but I did suffer some slight embarrassment when, a few weeks ago, I finally interviewed my subject and I had to acknowledge my ignorance. You see, a year ago when first expressed interest in doing a column on her, I didn’t know who Pat O’Scannell was.
All I knew on that Saturday in October during the morning service at Temple Emek Shalom is that a fifty-something woman with Irish eyes to match her name, was celebrating her bat mitzvah, a rite of passage typically undertaken by 12-year-old Jewish girls. But wait, there’s more: Pat, a recent convert, not only recited flawlessly in Hebrew, but she sang each and every prayer, accompanying herself on a startling array of instruments. And that’s not all. Pat, I learned, had composed all of the music.
There’s a word for this in Hebrew: Dayenu. It means enough. Knowing only that much, I had enough reason to want to hear her story, first-hand.
What I didn’t know—and this I was embarrassed by—is that Pat stands among a pantheon of players who comprise the musical soul of the Rogue Valley. (I expect that when Pat reads this, it will be her turn to blush; well, turnabout is fair play.) From 1990 until a few years ago, Pat served as the musical director of the Green Show for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival; for 25 years, she arranged and performed in the Show.
With Sue Carney, she founded the terra Nova Consort, OSF’s resident group that gained international prominence and a recording contract for its renditions of Early Music. That’s hardly all of it. To do her career justice, I have to direct you to Pat’s web site: www.4pato.com/index.shtml. But even that compendium hasn’t caught up with her latest venture as the lead singer in her new rock and roll band called “Cover Art.” The band, which covers classic and progressive artists from the 70s through the present is playing its second gig Saturday night, December 17 at the Avalon Bar and Grill. (When you see me there you can tell me what else I may have left out!) Hearing her sing Procol Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale” during a basement rehearsal in her home was a revelation. (It wasn’t a bat mitzvah, but it was still pretty swell.)
While the new band digs into the past for material, be warned: If you ask Pat to sing an “oldie,” don’t be surprised if she bypasses the Beach Boys and even Bessie Smith to regale you with some ecclesiastical ditty fresh from the 12th Century. Not only does this woman boast a vocal range that belies categorization, she’s a musical chameleon; the variety of styles and genres she’s mastered is breathtaking.
Depending on the venue, you might see her performing traditional Irish tunes one night and the music of Edith Piaf the next, in French of course. (I saw her do this at the Green Show this past summer.) And, for four to six concerts a year, she sings with the Jefferson Baroque Orchestra. While I still have quite a bit of catching up to do, I feel blessed to have witnessed her prayerful performance at the Temple. It was, at once, striking, soul-stirring and spiritually uplifting. It was also one heck of a free concert that I’ll never forget.
“Yes, dear,” she intones with mock theatrical pretension chased by a contagious cackle, “When the service began, I was a mere child of 12.”
For Pat, this Temple “gig” wasn’t a concert. It was the culmination of a lifelong spiritual quest she began when she left the Catholic church at sweet sixteen, a move that didn’t go over well with her devout Irish parents. “I’m afraid their hopes were dashed,” she says.
As the catalyst for her conversion, Pat cites her husband Phil, a Jewish man she met on-line, long-distance; he lived in London. By then, in her search, she had nibbled from a pu-pu platter of spiritual paths, including Buddhism, Taoism, Wiccan and Pantheism.
Motivated to learn more about her beloved’s tradition, Pat approached the Temple’s rabbi, Marc Sirinsky, a former vocal student of hers, for instruction. “What resonated for me was the sense of service,” says Pat, “and the idea that our lives aren’t about the other world; they’re about what we do in this one.” What appealed too, she adds, is Judaism’s “respect for the intellectual.”
In part, as a way of thanking him for his inspiration and his efforts—Sirinsky, who recently retired, shepherded her through conversion and presided over the wedding—Pat decided to set “one or two” of the prayers to music. But once she started, she couldn’t stop, notating and arranging nearly the entire morning service liturgy. With the help of many, she created a gorgeous book and produced a CD so the congregation might learn her original tunes. A year or so later, the bat mitzvah created a context for Pat to share her work, drawing upon the entire panoply of her skills as a composer, producer, music director, singer, instrumentalist, linguist and an actor. For he record, during the service, she played the viola da gamba, recorder, penny whistle, a kalimba, a jaw harp and the shawm, a Renaissance version of an oboe. “I was 100 percent on a high that day,” Pat recalls. “If I’d smiled any wider, the top of my head would have fallen off.”
An only child, Pat grew up in Queens, New York before moving with her parents to Riverside, Calif. At age six. Her mom was a singer, doing torch song ballads and pop and serving as a soloist in the choir. And Pat, who quickly picked up the keyboards, became her regular accompanist. Though she possessed a “Joni Mitchell voice,” and enjoyed writing her own songs, Pat was intimidated by her vocalist Mom and though she never really stopped singing, she concentrated instead on mastering a variety of instruments.
It wasn’t until the mid-1980s, a few years after she arrived in Ashland, that she became more serious as a vocalist. Pat says it shouldn’t be surprising that she’s enjoying her recent rebirth as a rock n’ roller. “Back in college, I was disturbed the small-minded myopia of the music department which wrote off anything but classical music,” she says.
“Singing,” says Pat, is a lot like channeling for me.” Very much in the way an actor gets deeply into her character, Pat sees her relationship with a song as making an almost mystical connection. “When I step into a song, I’m there and IT takes over. I feel as though I’m inside the song and the song has its own life. I’m just there to give it expression.”
It was then, when Pat expressed her sentiments about singing rock from such a spiritual place, that I began to wonder. Maybe, just maybe, having witnessed Pat’s coming-of-age concert in the Temple, I already knew all I really needed to know about her. Perhaps then, I’d had no good reason to be embarrassed.
…and thanks in advance for introducing me to the people you care about who are considering buying–or selling–a home in Ashland and Southern Oregon! Just pick up your phone and give me a call so we can figure out how you can best make that introduction: 541-778-8949