111894 OSO plays Patrick Cardy, Ottawa, ON

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I met Patrick Cardy during my first week of university.  He was one of the professors in the music department and I got him for my first two years of common practise music theory.  The dude was obviously brilliant, but man, he had a job trying to squish all of that information into such a young crowd of b-level music students*.

Every week Cardy would hand out a theory assignment, a single sheet of paper with a bunch of bass lines written on it.  All we had to do was fill in the soprano, alto, and tenor parts the way Bach would have done it; no exams or nothin’, just twenty slices of paper per year.  Sounds easy enough.

Now, take yourself a New York Times Sunday crossword, blend it with a pretty tough sudoku, an epic find-a-word, and a Sherlock Holmes novel with a dozen missing pages and you are approaching the difficulty level of some of the earlier assignments from my first year.  Try doing all of this while you’re riding a unicycle up the side of Mount Everest and you’re getting close to the second-year stuff.  Suffice to say, even a math-head like me took at least a dozen straight hours to pull each of these assignments off.  

They would usually be evening hours, specifically the evenings before the assignments were due; nights when my roommate Ryan and I would never, ever get any sleep**.  We soon discovered that we did much better on the assignments when we didn’t go to the classes and relied on the textbook instead of Cardy’s sometimes convoluted weekly lectures, so we pretty much stopped going to class.  

We were even bold enough to make it our habit to slide our completed assignments under his office door while we were skipping the the class that he was teaching just a few doors away.  I’m sure that impressed the heck out of him.

I do recall one time Ryan and I approached Cardy in advance to tell him we couldn’t make it to the last class before the Christmas break.  I forget the lie we told him – the real reason was that our theory class coincided with our residence cafeteria’s supper hours and we really didn’t want to miss the special Christmas dinner – but I’ll never forget his response:

“Oh, that’s too bad guys,” he said with palpable relish.  “As it’s the last lecture before the holidays I was just going to hand back the assignments and then take the whole class out to the pub for a few rounds on me.

“We’ll miss you both,” he said cheerfully.

In my third year I got Cardy for composition, a really small class with a lot of individual attention.  I remember him handing out an assignment once that had no parameters whatsoever.  “Just write anything you want,” he said.

To this our prof (who was also President of the Canadian Composers Guild) added: “I’m so jealous of you all right now.  I have commissions going forward for the next twelve years.  I can’t imagine the freedom of being able to write whatever I want to!”

It was during that year that Cardy made a smiling point of assigning me a four-hour opera to analyze, while he was handing out three minute études to others.  Though I was initially bitter about it, it was this assignment that helped me fall in love with Philip Glass.  

And you know, that sort of emblemizes my relationship to Patrick Cardy.  I always thought he didn’t like me (with good reason) and was kind of out to get me, while in fact he was doing the opposite: without taking an inkling of credit he was secretly analyzing what I needed and providing it at every opportunity.

It was even Patrick Cardy who had put the job posting for the National Arts Centre in my mailbox when I was teaching a course at the university.  I got the gig and I’ve been with the NAC for over twenty years now.

So let’s just say my respect for the man has grown immensely as I myself have grown.  

And then, in the Spring of 2005 Patrick died; he had barely hit fifty years old.  Bizarrely, he fell on the ice while curling and badly broke his arm.  While he was in surgery to fix the break he went into cardiac arrest and that was it, Cardy never woke up.  It was a damn shame.

Now, getting to this ticket story we have to go all the way back to November 18th, 1994, when I was still a student of Patrick Cardy’s (or had recently been.  Still thinking he was out to get me, I had made a point of transferring to a different composition prof despite the fact that doing so would delay my graduation by a year, so interested in avoiding the Cardy crush was I).  That (parenthetically) said, I clearly had already garnered at least enough respect for the man to buy a ticket to hear the premiere of his flute concerto, which was performed by the Ottawa Symphony Orchestra at the National Arts Centre, where I was still a few years from beginning my tenure.

And the music was divine.  I even bought the CD and sucked up enough pride to ask Cardy to autograph it, which he did with a surprised smile.

Patrick Cardy (1953-2005) was a good man and a good composer. May he rest in peace.

*Let’s be honest here, your more advanced music students weren’t generally landing at Carleton.  Don’t get me wrong, it was a great school, especially for music – very daring, advanced, and small – but we weren’t Juilliard or anything.

**”So why didn’t you get started on them sooner?” I can almost hear you all asking (at least those of you who never went to university).  Remember, I took about ten other classes too, and none of them were a cakewalk either (except African drumming, but that’s just in my blood).  Plus there was all the drinking to keep on top of.  Duh.

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