Sunday, October 12, 2014

In Loco Parentis

I’ve written here before about my years living at Coles House, a residence for young women (18-35) during the late 1970s and early 1980s. I was working as a proofreader in a large law firm (a major snore), but many of the other residents were students at one of area music schools: Curtis, The Academy of Vocal Arts and The Philadelphia College of Performing Arts (now part of The University of the Arts).

One day at breakfast, Leslie, a young violist, said, “Breakfast would be nicer if we had music.” So I began humming some of the first movement of Mendelssohn’s Italian Symphony. While many people have made it clear that I’m not much of a singer, no one has asked me to stop humming. I added a few other tunes and Leslie was so impressed that she asked me to make her a tape that she could have for her summer trip to a music camp. So I recorded hummed versions of parts of the Mendelssohn, Mozart’s 40th symphony, some other sturdy orchestral chestnuts and read “The Three Billy Goats Gruff.” (Everyone likes a bedtime story). I was glad to hear that this was a great success and sent Leslie and her roommates into peals of laughter on a nightly basis.

Some weeks later Leslie approached me again.

“Maestro Primavera [the conductor of PCPA’s orchestra] tells us we should play to a person in the audience. My family doesn’t live nearby. Will you be my person in the audience?”

I agreed. The concerts were usually very good. They were free and tickets were not required. I sat in the front row. Leslie would come on stage, nod briefly at me. I would smile. She told me that my presence made the concerts more enjoyable for her.

Pretty soon I became the person in the audience for many others. Every PCPA student had to complete a senior recital and they were frequently in the middle of the week. Many parents, some who resided in foreign countries, had no chance to get to these concerts. The venue provided for the senior recitals was dark and drear, the perfect setting for Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder , but not much else. I went to recitals for a cellist, a French hornist, a bassoonist (the solo literature is not vast) and a number of singers. I tried to hang around long enough to congratulate each performer.

Then there was my friend Clara who was studying voice at AVA. She had a glorious voice (think Montserrat Caballe) and was a fabulous actress. One evening I took another woman from Coles House to see Clara in a song recital. She was in great voice.

My friend and I had agreed to meet her at a local bar for a drink after the concert. Alas, when we left the concert it was pouring. You could hear the whimpers and yips from the cats and dogs. We stood around for a few minutes waiting for it to let up. We waited in vain.

Finally we headed out into the wind and the rain. Defiantly we began “Singin’ in the Rain” and got special pleasure out of shouting “What a glorious feeling/I’m happy again.” We finally made it to the bar. We were soaked. I’ve seen myself in drowned rat mode. It’s not pretty.

“Well,” I said brightly. “At least we won’t be bothered by a lot of pesky men."

We worried about Clara and if she would make it through the storm.

Clara arrived about fifteen minutes later. She was not windswept. She was not tempest-tost. She was dry.

“We were so worried about you in this weather! Is it still raining?”

“It’s pouring,” she said. “A nice gentleman who works at the theater offered me a lift. He drove his car onto the sidewalk and made sure I wasn’t touched by the rain at all.”

When we left the bar after our celebratory drink, the rain had stopped and the stars were out.

Life is just different when you hang out with divas.

© 2014 Stephanie Patterson


  1. Some delightful thoughts here... what a lovely idea - to have audience members sit in loco parentis for musicians... this custom should be broadcast -- so others can follow it. I'm sure in NYC there are tons of artists who would love to have someone be "for them".. Thelma Straw

  2. What delightful stories. During my years in radio, we were frequently reminded that we were talking to one person, not thousands. We pictured one listener, and spoke to that person. The listener changed, depending on the time of day or night, but always it was one. It was important in making a real connection. And in the arts, vital.

  3. And what a gift to me! I got to hear some splendid music!