Sunday Profile: Patrick Fagan is in tune with mountain life
In the summertime, Patrick Fagan has become a common sight on the corner of Fourth and Main in Carbondale, giving sonorous voice to J. S. Bach’s cello suites on the euphonium. His passion for music also comes out in his work in schools through Jazz Aspen Snowmass and as bassist for local “blues and then some” group Electric Lemon.
This time of year, Fagan, 49, is more likely to be found on the Snowmass slopes, where he teaches skiing.
“I feel like I get the best of both worlds,” he said. “Band directors need a lot of help at the beginning of the semester, then that tapers off around the same time ski seasons starts.”
Fagan grew up in a musical household in New Hampshire, the youngest of five.
“My parents played. All my older brothers and sisters played,” he said. “It’s something I grew up listening to and hearing. It was something that I wanted to do.”
He took piano lessons at age 6 and learned the trumpet in school. In high school, he tackled the euphonium – a baritone brass instrument passerby sometimes mistake for a tuba.
“The band director needed someone to play it, and I volunteered and wound up enjoying the instrument,” Fagan said.
He also learned to ski at an early age.
“When I was a kid the only mornings I wanted to get up early were Christmas and days we were going skiing,” he recalled.
After college and a few years as a band director in New Hampshire, he decided to pursue a degree in music education from the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley. He fell in love with the mountains while visiting his sister in Breckenridge.
In 1992, he moved to Summit County to teach skiing.
“I thought I’d teach skiing for one season, and 20-plus years later, I am still enjoying it,” he said.
For more than a decade, he lived off the grid in a cabin outside of town.
“It was unexpected turn but one that I grew to love,” he said. “When you have to cut your own firewood, start your fire, melt snow, use an outhouse, you become more aware of the rhythm of the seasons, the rhythm of a month, the rhythm of a day.”
When the land was purchased by the town and county, he moved into Breckenridge, but it was never quite the same. When a friend suggested he come to Carbondale in 2009, he took the chance.
“I’m happy to have made the move,” Fagan said. “I’ve really enjoyed the diversity and the artistic community.”
After years of sharing his love of skiing, he’s had a chance to do the same with music. He helps local band directors by offering private instruction to students or working with a section on the band while they concentrate on another.
“I love to still be involved musically,” he said. “I know how much it has meant to me and what it’s given me.”
He encouraged folks to attend their local high school band concerts, of which several are scheduled this week.
Electric Lemon happened more or less accidentally five years ago.
“Mark [Bruell] said, ‘I got us a gig,’” he recalled. “I answered, ‘We have a band?’”
The group performs from 8 to 11 p.m. every first Saturday at the Bangkok Happy Bowl.
“It wasn’t something I was looking for, but I’m really happy it found me,” he said.
Fagan is also something of a world traveller, having visited numerous countries from Asia and Europe to the south Pacific.
“I haven’t done a lot of that lately, but I look forward to doing some more.”
Another claim to fame is having a beer in his name at Roaring Fork Beer Company. His housemate won the home brewing competition and christened his creation “Fat Pagan Belgian Barley Wine.”
Still, his most visible presence likely remains busking downtown on First Fridays.
Occasionally, folks recognize the music or the instrument, but the combination is undeniably unusual. Tackling a cello suite on a brass instrument is no simple feat. Fagan employs circular breathing for longer phrases and has learned to arpeggiate some of the more complex chords.
“Bach did not write in a lot of musical direction, and that allows interpretation,” he said. “The musical rewards of playing the cello suites are endless. It’s something that you always come back to. You find out something more about Bach, about music, about yourself the deeper you dig.”
Therein lies the point of the enterprise.
“It’s nice to make a few bucks, but that is not my main motivation. I just want to play, and playing on the street corner is more fun than practicing alone and less pressure than being on the concert stage,” he said. “After I started doing it, the reactions and the conversations I would sometimes have were something that kept me doing it.”
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