Patricia Young, anyone who knows her will be able to tell you, has tried many times to retire — it just never seems to work out for her.
It could be her love of what she does or the insistence of those who just can’t do without her that keeps bringing her back, or maybe a bit of both. In any case, at 80, Young can be found playing the organ for any number of churches around St. John’s when needed.
A native of Oxford, England, Young studied organ and piano at London’s Royal College of Music (and represented the Royal College of Organists at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II), before eventually moving to Schefferville, on the Quebec/Labrador border, with her husband, Peter, in 1957.
There, she was responsible for music and the choir at St. Paul’s United Church, directed the Schefferville Choral Society and taught school.
With a growing family that included children Robert, Andrew, Jennifer and Rosalind, Young moved from Schefferville to Labrador City to Sept-Iles, before coming to St. John’s in August 1968.
Young spent eight years as organist and choir director at the Anglican Cathedral and other St. John’s churches, and served 16 years at Cochrane Street United Church before “retiring” at the end of 2008, although she still acts as the church’s minister of music.
Over the years, Young has trained many children and youth in music, and one of them, in collaboration with Cochrane Street United Church, has organized a concert in Young’s honour, set to happen later this week.
“I thought to myself, so many people know her and have worked with her and she’s done so much all across Newfoundland and Labrador, we should do something to thank and honour her,” explained Gillian Sheppard, a professional flutist who credits Young with giving her a musical upbringing.
Young recruited Sheppard and her sister, Ashley, to sing in the church youth choir at ages six and eight, then later in a youth band called the BeBops, playing flute and clarinet.
“Patricia actually started my sister off as a conductor — that’s where she got her first conducting experience and she now has a master’s in conducting from McGill University,” Sheppard said. “As I got older, Patricia and I started playing in church services together. I’ve known her since I was about six and I’m about to turn 26. Basically, she has raised me as a musician.”
Young also inspired Sheppard to turn her love of music into a career, and encouraged her to apply to the Royal College of Music, just as she had done five decades earlier. Sheppard graduated with an artist diploma earlier this year.
“I’d email her pictures from London, like, ‘Look, here’s your old residence,’” Sheppard said. “When I came home, Patricia and I had lunch and she had me draw the whole map of the school and she went through and told me all the stories of her time there. We really bonded over that.”
Listening to Young play the organ at Cochrane Street at Christmas, Sheppard came up with the idea of a concert in her music mentor’s honour. She and Rev. Miriam Bowlby began contacting colleagues and former students of Young, and booked them for the event, then took Young out to lunch to tell her the plan.
“Patricia’s not one to be lost for words, ever, but she was so overwhelmed by it, she was speechless,” Sheppard said. “I think she’s pretty excited.”
Photographer Robert Young says his mom can’t quite understand the fuss being made over her.
“She’s very humble about her own contributions,” he said. “But she’s been so encouraging to so many people. I just had an email from a guy I’d never heard of before, saying, ‘Your mother taught me piano in Lab City when I was eight years old and I’m still a piano player.’ This is 50 years later. Her contribution to kids learning to love music is almost universal.”
“All Things Bright and Beautiful” will be a celebration of Young’s life and work across the province, featuring performances by Sheppard on flute, Shelley Neville and Peter Halley, Basilica organist Patty Fowler, The Kirk organist Jaakob Palasvirta, trumpeter Katie Sullivan, Oliver Dingwell, Maggie Power and the St. John’s Choir. The concert will take place at Cochrane Street United Church Thursday at 7:30 p.m.
There’s no set price for admission, but donations will be accepted for a new choral scholars program at the church. Refreshments will be served at a reception in the church hall after the show.