Any way you slice it, music is in Will Pate’s DNA. His mother was a piano teacher; his dad, a talented guitar player with a voice to match. Pate hails from Tupelo, a birthplace he shares with a fellow Mississippian with a modicum of talent – Elvis Presley.
With that background, it does indeed seem inevitable that music was, as Pate puts it, “something I was going to experience along the way.”
In August, Pate’s path led him to the Music & Music Education program at Teachers College, where he balances a full load of courses with a 27-hour per week work schedule – seven as an office assistant in his department and 20 more in the capacity of department instrument manager, overseeing instrument loans, inventory and the scheduling of practice rooms.
By ninth grade, marching in an all-state band with a “huge sound,” Pate chose his career. “I wanted to create an experience like that for people who came through band programs after me.” The best way to do that, he realized, was to become a music teacher.
As if his plate isn’t full enough, Pate also sets aside time for trumpet lessons and rehearsals with two Columbia University ensembles.
“I’m deeply involved in the TC community and feel like I’m soaking up as much as I possibly can,” he says.
Pate’s parents waited until he was in the third grade before acceding to his persistent requests for piano lessons.
Three years later, Pate followed his older brother’s lead by picking up the trumpet. By ninth grade, marching in an all-state band with a “huge sound,” he chose his career.
“I wanted to create an experience like that for people who came through band programs after me,” he says. The best way to do that, he realized, was to become a music teacher.
With that goal in mind, Pate took his trumpet to Oxford and the University of Mississippi, where he majored in music and joined the 315-member marching band.
At his first “Pride of the South” appearance before 66,000 Ole Miss football fans at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, Pate focused on staying in formation. “I was so nervous I’m not sure I played a single note. But each week after that it became less terrifying and more exciting.”
In the meantime, he was developing an appreciation for another genre, musical theater, and dreaming of one day seeing performances on the grand stages of Broadway. The opportunity came toward the end of his senior year, when he was invited to watch a favorite professor perform at Carnegie Hall. Pate convinced his parents to make the trip an early graduation present. Three Broadway shows and one recital later, he was vowing to one day settle in the city that “has so much to offer for not only what you can do here, but for the people you can meet here.”
But New York is also the city of the $20 hamburger, and it was only after Harold Abeles, Professor of Music Education, offered him the instrument manager position in the department, that he decided to enroll.
The schedule has proven demanding, but Pate has still found time to enjoy the city – for example, by using a TC student perk to score an $18 ticket to a New York Philharmonic opening weekend concert.
As the audience rose to its feet at the conclusion of that performance, Pate giddily pulled out his phone and snapped a picture of the trumpet section.
Not the subtlest move, perhaps – but he had to do it.
It’s in his DNA.