The gift of music
Henry Joseph Fox started studying piano around 1912, when his daughter, Patricia, was about two years old. Professor Washburn of Sharon came to their home to give him lessons.
“He had a long white beard, and I thought he looked like Santa Claus,” Patricia said.
This Santa gave her a very great gift – the gift of music.
“When he was here, I was always in the living room. One day the old gentleman picked me up and put me on his lap. With my index finger, he played some little ditty. I don’t remember what it was, but I was hooked.”
Because music was a vital part of the Fox family’s life and heritage, that hook was set deeply and firmly. Henry played sax, clarinet, and flute in the Rossetti Dance Band in Farrell, and in the pit orchestra of the Columbia Theater for traveling shows. Eventually he had his own dance band. Patricia’s mother, Margaret Costello Fox, came from an Irish-English family whose roots were firmly planted in music.
“My mother’s family were all singers,” Patricia said.
Patricia had rich sources of musical inspiration and guidance outside her home as well.
“My first piano teacher was Sr. Caroline at Sacred Heart School, where I went to grade school. Then I had Sr. Bernadette, who was a marvelous musician. If she weren’t a nun, she probably would have been teaching at someplace like the Julliard School of Music.”
While at Sacred Heart, Patricia had an experience that confirmed her commitment to a life of music.
“There was a huge wholesale house next door to the school, and they asked the nuns to send a student over to fill in for someone who was ill. They sent me over. I had to type up grocery orders. When the person came back, they offered me a job, but I couldn’t see spending the rest of my life typing orders. That was the only job I ever had other than teaching piano.”
When Patricia was thirteen, Sr. Bernadette arranged piano recitals for her at the DeForest Music Store on State Street in Sharon.
“Mr. DeForest was one of the leaders of the music business in Sharon,” Patricia said. “On the second floor of his store there was a lovely stage with grand pianos on it. I gave my first recital there when I was thirteen and another when I was fifteen.”
When she graduated from Sharon High School, Patricia started giving piano lessons.
“We got our first car in 1929, the year I graduated. So when I started teaching, I could drive to the students’ homes. After a while my schedule got too heavy, so I couldn’t do that any more. At the peak, I was teaching four or five students a day and all day Saturday. Lessons were 45 minutes long.”
Of course Patricia not only taught; she also continued learning.
“Sr. Bernadette knew everyone in the music world that was worth knowing. She arranged for me to spend the summer of 1929 in Chicago so I could study with her former teacher, a Hungarian concert pianist named Alexander Raab. Then Sr. Bernadette wanted me to go to Rochester, New York, to study with her friend there, a German concert pianist named Max Lando.”
After a while Mr. Lando moved from Rochester to Erie. Patricia would catch an early morning train to go for lessons at his home there. She would come back on the afternoon train, arriving about dinner time. She did that for quite a while, until Mr. Lando died.
“By then Sr. Bernadette had died, too, so I found my next teacher on my own, a younger man from Lithuania named Andrius Kuprevicius. I studied with him until I was 55 years old, when my father died. Then I thought it was about time to quit studying.”
However, she knew it wasn’t time to quit teaching. In fact, 46 years later, she is still teaching, although she cut back her schedule this past year. Because her arthritis makes it hard for her to get around, she reduced her schedule to two students a day. She keeps Saturdays for make-up lessons.
Patricia taught mostly classical music, but some of her students were more interested in jazz, so she taught them that. She encouraged them to play the kind of music they liked.
Over the years Patricia has had some very good students.
“I had two unusually talented students at the same time, Maureen Murray and Douglas Hines. Doug got a Fulbright scholarship to go to Austria to study Mozart. While he was over there, his mom and I went to visit him. He told the lady in charge of the Mozart home that we were coming, and he was going to bring us to see Mozart’s home. She said to bring us at five o’clock, after everyone else left. We were the only ones in Mozart’s home. She told him to play something, so he got to play Mozart’s own piano.”
Patricia said Maureen (now Murray-Jakic) was marvelously talented, too.
“She could play Mozart as well as some of the most famous pianists.”
Because of her love for music, Patricia took every opportunity to hear the greatest musicians of the era.
“When I was quite young, I heard all the great artists. I think that’s what kept me having such a great interest in music. I heard all of them, such as Paderewski, the great pianist who became premier of Poland. I heard the Italian coloratura soprano Galli-Curci, and all the great singers and violinists. Dad and I would go to symphony concerts in Pittsburgh practically every weekend because he loved music, too.”
Through the years Patricia not only taught piano, but also performed constantly. She was the organist at Sacred Heart Church for many years. Every morning there were three Masses, at 7:00, 7:30, and 8:00. Sometimes there would be a wedding or a funeral after that. While Patricia played the organ, her sister Margie sang.
“I had no voice at all,” Patricia said. “Margie got her marvelous singing voice from my mother’s side of the family. Sr. Bernadette had her go to New York City to study with one of the Metropolitan Opera coaches. In 1947 she married a man named James McCarthy, who was a city planner in San Francisco. When she moved out there, she tried out for the San Francisco Opera and was accepted. She sang with them until she had her children. She had a daughter and two sons. After that she gave up music.”
Patricia gave recitals every year at the First Presbyterian Church, as well as smaller private recitals in her home until about ten years ago. She also enjoyed giving two-piano concerts with her friend Nellie Polangin at the Temple Beth Israel. Their duets were so popular that they became known for them far and wide.
Patricia never married because music has always been the main love of her life. She still lives in the house in which she was born, with her magnificent Steinway grand piano.
She has no idea how many students she has taught over the years, and even less of an idea of how many have heard her play piano and organ. But it is certain that the many of them have passed on to others the love of music that she instilled in them. Because she shared with so many others the gift she was given, the world is a far richer place.
Excerpted from Lives of Quiet Inspiration, Volume 1, by Joe Zentis. Hermitage, PA: Green Street Press, 2007