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Patrick Byers (Cante Luta): The Man

Introduction To "The Man" - May 2, 2009

Patrick In AfricaFirst and foremost, it is my utmost desire that I express that I love each of you; Raef Brean, Marissa, Claire, Audra, Ian, Trisha, Drew, Francois, Graham, Colin, Zoe, Aubry, and Micah. You have never been a number to me. Thirteen beautiful heartbeats! The countless times a jaw has dropped from someone hearing “the number” for the first time.

 

I did not set out to have thirteen lovely children. I loved your mothers and you were born one at a time. There never was a master plan. There was only the love of a woman and then each of you. Those taken aback at the number thirteen can never understand why. This is the age and era of limit. Two, three, or maybe four are acceptable. Each of you was a choice. Your mothers chose to have you, and I was always grateful and overjoyed. Nevertheless, I must confess that I did not comprehend what was involved with fatherhood until Graham’s birth. Before, the natural feelings that a father should acquire and nurture were foreign to me. Sadly, it seemed more natural for me to take off on my quests despite seeing your little faces crushed against the screen door watching me leave.

 

Although my heart ached, and tears flowed, I could not resist this seemingly innate and insatiable thirst for adventure. I make no excuses, rather this is an attempt to explain, not justify. Finally, after enough of those little faces watching me flee to a new “adventure”, you became the strongest pull for my heart and my conscience. Still, I continued to leave. I’d come and go. Then finally, I left nine of you for New York City. This was the major departure and also the most risky and costly one. I have had to live with the vision of your shattered faces and tears ever since. My own soul departed from you and my heart withered. Appreciatively, time tends to heal and I am forever grateful that all of you, my children from Niki, have come to visit as well as provide support during these heady days of my illness. I adore the photo  of you that Jennifer took across the street at St. Nicholas Park.

 

This is my joy, though undeserving, but long overdue. How immensely blissful it is, surrounded by your faces, now grown and growing with me and within me.  Now facing my own mortality I have the fruit of the better part of me, the part that understands finally after all of these years what being a father means and above all the eternal bonds of love that has flourished from the moment your mothers gave birth to you and our eyes met. I love each of you very much. It is to each of you I will write about in this section of the journal. I will do so mostly seriously, but with a wee bit of your fathers’ natural impish flare. This too you must indulge for I cannot restrain myself. Consider this as a long overdue letter to you children and your mothers.


To The Mothers Of My Children - May 1, 2009

As you well know, I never cared about income. My mother never cared. My father planned to make a million dollars and retire. I was my mother’s son. Nevertheless, there was bountiful joy in children and living, friends and students staying in our home, music, art, philosophy, faith, theater, competing with the over focus on math, science and literacy in the children’s schools. The evil seeds for No Child Left Behind were in the soil even then. Given an NEA-North Carolina Arts Council grant to compose a viola concerto, I took them out of school and on the road home schooling. We visited my brother and his house caught on fire. We took his six children and our nine to Dublin, Georgia, my parents’ home while my brothers dealt with his charred home. A Mennonite community nearby used my father as their lawyer. We attended their services. Simon and Sarah Yoder invited us home with their nine children. I sat chatting with Simon about shaped note singing. Outside I could see a tree swing and my children playing with his, a portrait of a simpler time in American history.

We returned to North Carolina so I could organize a concert in Hamptonville honoring Sir Leo Arnaud. Lady Faye, his wife, Sonya, Faye’s daughter, and the entire family greeted us with open and generous hearts. It was a packed house. Leo’s countenance shined. I had no money, no job prospects, no home. I was as content and happy as I had ever been in spite of those circumstances. Our children loved home schooling and the experiences with the Mennonite community. The zenith was Sir Leo’s concert surrounded by people who loved our children and gave us an honored place in the family with one of the great musicians of the 20th century. I am grateful for those good memories and saddened by the difficulties that my failures and mistakes have wrought. I ask for your forgiveness and have accepted my fate.


Raef Brean - April 30, 2009

RaefWhen your dear mother, Niki Ezzell, married me she married a “School of the Arts” graduate. Few associated, much less married someone from “that” school on the hill. “He’s one of the talented ones,” she had heard. Except for one aunt, I was not a husband to bring into the community. When you were born, nobody was actually thrilled, because of me. Only my colleagues from that school were celebrating. Nik Munson and Judy Montgomery performed with me in a theater group, The Centennials. Your birth to them was genuinely exciting. They both came to the hospital during Niki’s labor. When you were born, Nik looked at you through the plate glass window and sang from Schumann’s Dichterliebe, for you my tiny Raef. We left for Georgia, you, your mother, and I. We stayed in my parents’ home for a time, and then left for Miami, Florida.

 

This move proved to be both pivotal and earth shattering. We rented a house in Miami Springs. In the backyard a lily pond two feet deep waited for a meeting with destiny. I heard your mother scream. I found her standing in the lily pond holding you, by all appearance your lifeless body. When I pulled you from the pond you were grey and your eyes fixed. I yelled a primal scream and blew air into your small mouth. There was a whimper. Color returned. You were alive! I was humbled and full of tears and asked what more did He want? In time you recovered and were able to be the normal toddler. However, something had profoundly altered the inside of me, both as a man and as a composer. A weekend later a young choir director of the Miami Springs Presbyterian church gently told me about Jesus of Nazareth. On my way home in broken humility I asked Him to take my life and live in my heart. A peace that passes all understanding entered my heart. Life would go forward, I would experience highs and lows, sin and evil, but that peace remained. I was so smitten with Him I returned to my parents’ home in Georgia and set to task. Words came...”Man! Where is your filth! I pour but you believe on a faded stone...”

 

I composed and did not stop until the last bars of the final movement, three weeks later. The first movement the prophet speaks, the second is a dance in the spirit of the Lord, and the third with the man, woman, and child, the family is set in a communion. The fourth movement the bride, a mature bride, sings from her heart for her love, and He returns to take her home. I had departed from my student day’s fascination with dissonance and polytonal colors. How much praise I had received from those complex works! Another pioneer! In my departure, a love song had only heart bound melody, sweeping harmonic changes, codas with unrelenting pounding of victorious major key. I felt so caught in the expression of love I gave little thought to the classical trends of the time I lived. All of this came about because I was so grateful that you my dear son had been spared. What I have become in recent years as a man, father, husband, and composer I attribute to that moment by the pond, holding your lifeless and precious body in my arms, naked and exposed, helpless and fearful, and yes hopeless and distraught. 

 

Raef, you had a sweetness that often passed for shyness. When you were in high school, there were opportunities at that “school” on the hill. You acted in a play needing a child actor, toured as a dancer with the school needing children in roles, and spent the afternoon with legendary American Theater Hall of Fame director, Ellis Rabb, and being coached in Queen Mab’s speech from Romeo and Juliet. I recall that you had a great sense of humor and could pull pranks with the best of them. Your first love interest you met at Governor’s Honors, a summer event. My advice was a part of the courting. It pleased me very much that it worked! With love and art I was pleased that you sought my counsel. It remained so all through our journey west when Jennifer, baby Colin, you and I took to Walt Whitman’s open road. We traversed all the way to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where St. John University waited for you to apply. I supported you when you dropped out of high school in Winston-Salem having issues with low quality education. You studied at home. I was extremely proud when you applied to St. John’s without a high school degree explaining why. I was extremely happy when St. John’s accepted you enthusiastically.

 

Somewhere in this vast journey we lost each other. In time after St. John’s and on to Indiana University studying classics must have changed your mind about me. Some light bulb came on. Now restless years have passed without our speaking or sharing. I have missed you, my son. I have never forgotten nor does a day pass that you are not in my heart.


Marissa Gabrielle - April 29, 2009

Marissa GabrielleI was present during the birth of all but two of my children. My darling Marissa, you were born while we stayed with my parents in Dublin, Georgia after leaving Miami, Florida.

 

I vividly recall when you were wheeled out in a newborn baby bassinet, unlike any new born I had witnessed. Your beautiful eyes were wide open looking around in awe of this new world. For those reading this, you are the very plump baby in the drawing of John Reid’s that greets visitors on the opening splash page of this site. Always cheerful with an easy laugh, you were all bows and dresses. During your preschool years you were erroneously misread as being “slow”. I knew different. You were deliberate in your actions, thought things out and took your time. You seemed to enjoy the journey and the challenge of getting there.

 

I relished teaching piano on Sunday afternoons with all of my children, including you. Even the youngest wanted their lessons, which was more solfeggio and ear training. But Marissa, you were unique and took to music like a fish to water and soon you were playing well even as a child. I fondly recall that when you were in middle school you came home with a report card containing an “F” in band. Band....? What instrument were you playing, I asked? None! You had signed up for band rather than chorus without telling me or Niki. We put forth effort to remedy this dilemma.

 

Pianist, Armenta Hummings, told me she had hocked a clarinet and I could get it for $10. I called a friend who was a clarinetist and asked him to come by to introduce you to your new instrument. Amazingly, you returned to school with your clarinet in tow and in two weeks you were coaching your fellow classmates. A year later I took fatherly pride as you soloed with the Winston-Salem Symphony for the Weber Concertino.

The middle school band director had spoken to his wife about you and your sudden musical excellence, even teaching your classmates. Byers, his wife inquired? Is that as in Patrick Byers? Then she stated “Of course she is talented! She’s his daughter! This story was told to me by the band director who was quite amused. I was very pleased that you inherited the music gene.

Marissa and husband, DavidYou always loved drawing, especially girls with giant hair bows. 

 

In order to calm your asthmatic episodes I began what would become a regular event with all of my children. I would watch your eyes or theirs carefully as a story was made up and told. It appeared to help your asthma. Dilly Doll was your favorite. Then, there was Uncle Tzafo, who visited all of you in the evenings during the summers. An eccentric, Uncle Tzafo’s name came from his boyhood. He was so homely he was called so-awful, which in time became Tzafo. Every June 4, at exactly 3:09 pm, Uncle Tzafo would visit his nieces and nephews (not unlike my children) with stories of his adventures traveling the world. Staring down a cockroach and the resulting magical powers was one his countless tales. All of you would always without fail ask me, is it true? What do you think, I would ask?

 

All too soon you grew up and married professional clarinetist, David Krakauer. Not only are you a professional clarinetist, but you bake cakes designed good enough for the Smithsonian as art and still draw and create lovely clay sculptures of high quality. I love spending time with you despite your very busy schedule. As are all of my daughters, you are a charming, glamorous and an alluring woman. Although at times I still view you as the little girl who hid under my legs from less enlightened adults when fearful or threatened. During these difficult days of my illness I am the vulnerable and sometimes frightened one who clings to you, Jennifer, friends and family for comfort.


Claire Helena - April 28, 2009

ClaireYou were born with jeweled black eyes. I can visualize even now how you wore your hair with little bear ears as a little girl, or monkey swings. It was a joyful day when you were born in Lagrange, Georgia, although I was not present in the birth room again. We left Lagrange not long after your birth and took another detour to my parents home before returning to Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

 

We lived in a series of homes, staying with friends until we moved into a house with two fireplaces on West End Boulevard. There was a swing on the front porch. You were six and would sit in the swing and sing. I marveled that your singing technique included a vibrato of your own making, much to the annoyance of your older brother and sister who disregarded your singing as caterwauling. In fact, you were quite creative and focused. When I left for New York City the music in you lived on.

 

Now you are a very fine singer with a vibrato that has grown naturally. I enjoy your cabaret singing. I recall watching a video of you that displayed a decidedly sensual and magnetic performer. You are also quite the intellectual, a brain child. Claire, you seem to swim in ideas. I have attempted in vain to swim with you. It only seems to annoy you. I was extremely proud when you graduated from Oberlin College. What would I expect, a musician? I yet remember the little girl singing to her heart’s content on the front porch before dad took off for New York City.


Audra Katrynna - April 26, 2009

AudraBy the time Niki was pregnant with you, she was tired of the hospital which took the child away after birth. She wanted a birth where she could be with the baby. We looked into home birth, as yet a novelty at that time. It was legal in North Carolina. That did not assuage my fears. Midwifery was not common. You were on your own. My brother, Tim, had delivered all six of his at home. What if’s crowded my fears. When Niki went into labor it was early evening. At about 6 am, your head crowned and as you emerged I rolled you into life, tied the umbilical with sterilized shoe string, cut it and placed you on Niki’s stomach. Niki bonded with you, attaching you to her breast. When you were sleeping, Niki got up, took a shower and cooked breakfast. Impressed? I was. We buried the placenta under a tree in the back yard. The other traditional choice was to cook and eat it.

 

Because I was the first to touch and hold you a bond unique to us has remained throughout life. There is a “daddy’s little girl” to our relationship that is very natural. You asked to go with me when I went to Vietnam. You also possess my wander lust, traveling first to Israel, then east to Nepal, finally settling in India. You created a business belly dancing for wealthy weddings, met a “prince”, returned to North Carolina to have your baby, and my first grandson, Rohin (not Robin).  I recall when your sisters, Marissa and Drew joined you in India and all three of you danced. It is yet a stretch for me to imagine my little girls shaking their bellies. I am not against it, just resistant to grown up children. After all, dad, not unlike Uncle Tzafo, would return with great tales of Africa when you were little girls. I was a hero. Is Africa true, you would ask me? I created camp stories and other stories for you and Micah, the last of my little people. Soon it will be time. The curtain comes down, the plays are ended. Perhaps Rohin would like Boompa’s stories. Then there is Samuel Daye, Ian’s son, too.


Ian Samuel - April 24, 2009

Ian Samuel

The week you were born I was on tour with the North Carolina Shakespeare Company. We celebrated with drinks all around in a bar in Wilmington, North Carolina. We had just performed The Hollow Crown, a play with six actors covering the history of major kings and queens of England. Was there any interest in North Carolina? Hardly. The tour was as professional as theater gets. They were real troupers under duress. I was “court” musician. Ian, you would soon prove to be as much a thespian as the actors on this tour. You were the Monkcat. All of five and creator of a memorable character remembered by all of us. There you were, naked waist, hair sprayed and sticking out at all ends, and a face painted as ceremonial as the wildest of islands in Indonesia. And of course, you were born with those beautiful large eyes. As a boy that was what greeted anyone. You were "all eyes".

 

As Monkcat the visage was enhanced. Monkcat came from summer school. It was Byers summer school. This was a solution. Other families sent their children off to summer camp. There were the baseball leagues and the city pools. I felt that with my children the summer could be more productive. Byers" summer school had weekly themes. Art week, math week, music week, religion week, drama week, and their favorite, business week when they created their own currency and businesses. Older children were paired with younger children, buddies. There were competitions. The older child had to teach the younger who would present answers to math questions, sing a song, or present a dramatic character. Hence, Monkcat was born. You were the younger child and you were prepared by Raef. To this day we all remember Monkcat.

 

Alison Sawyer and her boyfriend, John, stayed with us one season. Alison worked with me as a singer and an assistant on films. I had been in South Africa and was returning for more exploration after a year. John drove with me to the airport. I took you along. You were yet five. In those days passengers and family and friend could walk together to the gate. It was time. I said goodbye and entered the walkway to the plane. John later told me that you stood on the window watching the plane. As the jet ascended you said “Bye, bye, daddy, bye, bye!” John said there was an audible “aw...” from the passengers waiting at the gate. Well, Ian, you grew up and Jill came. You and Jill are blessed with Samuel Daye, my second grandson. Your Japanese rock gardens and Jill working with lighting in theater and music productions is the theater and Monkcat reborn.


Patricia Nicole - April 23, 2009

Patricia NicoleTrisha, how you loved humor! From the first words you could speak you laughed. You were also the most physically loving, a lap girl. I would be preoccupied with some project or work of music and a tug at my sleeve or a desire to sit in my lap distracted me. I was so over focused that any interruption could annoy me. However, there are few things worst or heartbreaking as a child rejected, particularly one as good natured as you. Maria Montessori once wrote that when a child like you tugs at your sleeve or disturbs your work or your sleep it is the “Holy Spirit” getting your attention. The “Holy Spirit” annoyed me often. When Audra and I were in Vietnam, word via e-mail came that you had a serious health crisis. Your kidneys had malfunctioned and in a week you had gained weight that had caused your otherwise slim figure to balloon. Audra and I were shaken. I shudder now when I reflect on your hospitalization but am grateful that the steroids stabilized you.

 

Trisha, you were the first of our children to have a health crisis. It devastated me. I had no insurance in North Carolina. Our family doctor, Dr. John Roach, co-taught with me junior high youth in Sunday school. His office was always open for our children. John played folk guitar and was originally from a town, Monroe, west of Winston-Salem in the mountains. He was kind, patient, a doctor from happier times in America. He always looked in on our children after they were born in the hospital. Dr. Jim Newton an obstetrician-gynecologist delivered many of you. He loved the piano. Jim waived his doctor’s fee for delivery exchanging my playing his grand piano at one of his parties. After his guests had left he sat with his wife listening to me play, not moving a muscle. Any time I have told this story it is greeted with disbelief. In a nation devaluing art and music a person like Jim Newton could never be understood. Jim did not cause us to feel beholden to him in any manner. He was a good doctor and every baby he delivered was in excellent hands. He delivered you.

 

I am so appreciative that he cared for you and now you are all grown up. I was so very pleased and grateful for your coming to visit me during my illness. All the way from Oregon! I recall that you came by the apartment on your way to the airport to return home and during our chat you admitted that you only had a dollar and twenty-five cents. My heart hurt that you sacrificed so much to visit me. I told you that I had to be dad and gave you what I had in my wallet. When we hugged good-bye I did not want to let you go.  All of those former times when you were a little happy go lucky girl, when you tugged my sleeve and I was too busy to respond, all of it was pent up in that farewell hug. This is one of many benefits of disease. The outer façade of the man crumbles and there is an outpouring of all of the emotional histories. They are encyclopedic when it concerns you and the rest of my children.


Drew Mikhail - April 21, 2009

Drew is attending beautician school. She cut my hair during the visit of my children in New York City. Drew has become a stylish and modern young woman. She and Marissa worked as dancers with Audra in India. There is a bond with these children that keeps them close. Whatever friction exists is dealt with. I was in New York City during Drew’s teen years.

Once at Laguardia High School while I was sitting in the faculty conference room chatting with students I looked at one of the students who had just joined us. It took a moment but I realized I was looking at Drew. She was visiting her sister, Marissa, and had dropped by the high school. It was dreamlike. I had not seen Drew since she was yet a pre teen visiting me in New York City. Here was a young woman. Her childhood I was present. She and Francois were a pair. They could have been twins.

One Halloween we picked Alice in Wonderland as the theme. Drew was Tweedledee and Francois was Tweedledum. Their fat suits were the charm of the houses we visited. Drew as a child had pouty lips. They gave her a kind of Betty Boop look. She would orchestrate a playtime fantasy and order Francois to take a certain role which he did dutifully. They were fun to watch and equally fun to include in our Christmas family play. Their lines from the play were always greeted with warm chuckles.

Every Yuletide at our house we visited rest homes and homeless shelters and performed our Christmas play. The play was prepared a week before Christmas, and rehearsed daily. Everyone had a role and lines. The play and theme were developed sitting in a circle and making it up from child to child. Original songs were added. We had attentive and non critical audiences on Christmas day, simply because few people visited on Christmas day. This was the point. There was no room in the Inn. After our local city tour we returned home to our own Santa visit and opened presents.

As with all of my children I regret that I was not there each moment, each hour, each day, and each year. I did not say that "I Love You" enough or caressed you enough. I will go to my grave with a heart filled with remorse and sadness for my failures and neglects. I hope that you, my dear Drew, will someday forgive me.


Francois Robert William - April 20, 2009

Francois was named after three friends, Francois Odendaal, zoologist and filmmaker; Robert Carter, clarinetist, and William Behrends, sculptor. Of the children he was the most mellow and gentle.

Every Sunday afternoon I taught piano to my children. When it was Francois’ turn, a three year old sat proudly at the piano waiting for his lesson. We sang a scale and then with a pencil I pointed to keys for Francois to play the great opus Mary had a little lamb. He did so and was happy to. I took all of them with me when there were concerts of my work. They saw me play the piano in performance. At the time I was not sure what effect it had on them. When asked in school what their daddy did they responded he plays the piano.

When Francois was in his teens he took to the piano with total focus. He was also a great baseball talent. The coach on his high school baseball team called him a sissy piano player. Francois often e-mailed me during these years. A sissy piano player? I burnt the web with e-mails to the high school principal, the superintendent, the state education department of North Carolina. Francois studied piano at UNCSA with Clifton Matthews in the summer. He was the same age I was entering the school. I have a photo of my recital in Siena, Italy at 16 and another of Francois playing a recital in Winston-Salem. I love the father-son parallel events. He plays for me whenever he visits. He has large hands and a substantial technique. He also improvises. We have read some duets together. I have not played for him. For me it is time to listen. He has heard me in concert. That is enough.

At the time of this writing, Francois is in love with a girl from India. She lives in New Jersey. He is attending college in Kentucky, but in the summer will work for Beethoven pianos in New York City learning to be a technician and staying with his girlfriend. He will be my second child to live and work near me. It pleases me. Regrettably, my time is becoming shorter on this earth. There is so much left unsaid and undone. I hope that the saying is true that "Death ends a life, not a relationship." I pray that in my children's hearts they salvage the remnants of the love that I have for them. I hope.... 


Graham Martin - April 18, 2009

Graham was named after American Ambassador, Graham Martin. The Ambassador spent many hours generously advising me when I was in South Africa. Success has many fathers, failure is an orphan. This advice from Ambassador Martin stayed with me struggling to find parents for a new music from Africa. Graham was a toddler when I left them for New York City. I remember asking my children, who wished to go with me? Graham piped up enthusiastically, I do! I drove away with Jennifer and Colin, a small baby then, and looking at Graham, he was hurt he was left behind.

I did not see Graham again until he was grown. He is the only one of my children who never knew me. The only one I never knew. This does not mean I feel remote from Graham. He is my son. It was his birth that for the duration of Niki’s pregnancy and after his birth I finally felt and understood what it was to be a father. Prior to Graham fatherhood was for better men than I, good men, honorable fellows. I loved my children and had great fun with them, but more as a fellow playmate story teller. With Graham’s birth there was a settled warmth and long term fidelity in the personhood of a father.

Oddly, just when I understood, I left. I had no money. I had not had any for over a year. I was offered a job painting houses to make money. I left for New York City, instead. I was not a house painter. When I saw Graham again he was a handsome teenager. Tall physically, witty and personable. He has a girlfriend, Anna. They are inseparable. I like to believe that they will be together forever. It is possible. My good friend Larry met his wife Marcia near their age and now they have been married almost 40 years! Who knows.

This highlights my failure as a man and as a father. My restlessness and impetuosity has indeed been costly. I called it a quest for adventure but most call it irresponsibility. The latter is correct. Arrogance and pride were my allies over the years. The heart is indeed a betrayer because it leads you to rationalize and to make right what your mind knows is wrong. Then it condemns and informs on you as you become wiser with time and age. When it is far too late to correct your errors. Again, I must ask for forgiveness from you, my son. I pray that God is indeed merciful for I have much to be forgiven for. I learned too late the Bible truth in Proverbs that says “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom”. My ego and arrogant pride led me to disgrace as a father and as a man. Learn from my mistakes. I do love you.


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