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EXPO Profile: Violist Seth May-Patterson

: Video by Mark Bocek.

EXPO Profile: Violist Seth May-Patterson

: On stage at the "Tonight Show" (L/R) Andrew Joslyn, Chandra Johnson, Seth, Rebecca Chung Filice, Lena Simon (MU '11), Mary Lambert (MU '11) at the piano, Vic Chowder, Maiah M. Manser. Photo by courtesy of the artist.

EXPO Profile: Violist Seth May-Patterson

: Backstage at the "Tonight Show" (L/R) Seth, Chandra Johnson, Lena Simon (MU '11), Maiah Manser, Mary Lambert (MU '11), Rebecca Chung Filice, Andrew Joslyn. Photo by courtesy of the artist.

EXPO Profile: Violist Seth May-Patterson

: The Passenger String Quartet; (L/R) Andrew Joslyn, Alina To, Seth May-Patterson, Rebecca Chung Filice. Photo by Jason Tang.

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BM candidate and professional touring violist Seth May-Patterson performs Bach for his April 18 senior recital.

Everyone has followed Cornish alumna and Grammy nominee Mary Lambert’s successes, including her date on the Tonight Show. As the camera panned over the string section backing Mary up that day in Los Angeles, viewers would have seen a tall man with a viola in one of the chairs: Seth May-Patterson. One might assume that his being there was simply a case of a Cornish senior being brought along by a Cornish graduate, but this is not the case. May-Patterson is not your average senior. He and his group, the Passenger String Quartet, have been performing with an array of stars across the country, from Judy Collins to Suzanne Vega. Seth also continues to work close to home. Audiences for the EXPO 14 production of The Secret Garden may have spotted Seth in the orchestra pit as part of that show’s excellent ensemble.

Check out the EXPO 14 page and other student profiles.

Seth gave his senior recital at the PONCHO Concert Hall Tonight on April 18, the final step toward completing his Bachelor of Music degree. Seth played Suite No. 5 in G major, Allemande by Bach and Sonata for Viola and Piano by Arnold Bax. The program closed with a short set featuring the Passenger String Quartet: Andrew Joslyn, violin; Alina To, violin; Seth May-Patterson, viola; and Rebecca Chung- Filice, cello. All pieces performed were a combination of original compositions and arrangements written by members of the Passenger String Quartet. The video below was a preview of his performance of Bach’s Suite No. 5 in G major, Allemande:

The 26-year-old is an accomplished violist who is finishing at Cornish music studies that began at the Eastman School of Music and included a scholarship to the University of Nebraska. What he has gotten from Cornish is schedule flexibility and the support of a faculty made up of other working musicians (like Mara Gearman, who was recently featured in Women in Music), who understand what his life is like.

May-Patterson is the son of school teachers who grew up in Sioux City, Iowa. The young Seth benefitted hugely from the subjects they taught.  His mom taught strings and his dad, swimming. From as early as he could jump into a pool or finger a violin, Seth was engaged in learning. From age three through his high school years, he took strings from his mother, finally settling on the viola because, as he puts it, “I’m a big guy, and the violin was too small.” He was accepted at the prestigious Eastman School of Music immediately out of high school, where he studied with George Taylor. One years in, Seth accepted a full tuition scholarship to the University of Nebraska. After two years at UNL and short of a degree, Seth was invited to be the apprentice to Emanuel Vardi.

May-Patterson’s next step turned out to be a move from the Midwest to far northwest corner of the United States. Seth’s mother had studied strings with Vardi, an accomplished professional violist who had played with the NBC Symphony under Arturo Toscanini. The multitalented Vardi — who passed away only recently — had come to North Bend, just east of Seattle, to play and paint in the quiet town. “I was invited to be the apprentice of Manny,” says Seth, “invited to live with him and be his personal assistant in exchange for lessons.” Seth accepted, and for the next few years, he studied the viola with Vardi and co-founded a beginning strings program for young musicians, among other projects. 

Seth also played with a variety of groups in Seattle, notably the Seattle Philharmonic where he became a principal under Adam Stern. When Stern realized that Seth wanted to finish his bachelor’s degree, he had the perfect recommendation – Cornish – the college where Stern just happens to teach conducting. While completing his degree requirements, Seth has played with the Seattle Rock Orchestra and, more importantly, the Passenger Quartet led by Andrew Joslyn. It is largely with this quartet that Seth has had the opportunity to play so many shows and tours.

Given the number of musicians he is called upon to play with, it’s a good thing Seth’s musical tastes are eclectic. “Music is music is music,” he says. Citing favorites such as “classic Zep, Floyd, Radiohead, the Beatles,” May-Patterson adds a comment that many seem surprising coming from a classically trained musician: “Anyone who is a wordsmith.” His favorite rapper is Snoop Dog, “because of the beat and flow of the lyrics.” His recent gigs have included performances with Duff McKagan of Guns ‘n’ Roses, Built to Spill, Macklemore, Ryan Lewis, Kris Orlowski, Ivan and Alyosha, Vaudeville Etiquette, Il Divo, and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Up next—finishing an album with David Bazan of Pedro the Lion, followed by a full-fledged tour of the United States.

The Secret Garden was a part of EXPO 2014, a presentation and celebration of student achievement across Art, Design, Music, Theater, Dance, and Performance Production at Cornish College of the Arts.


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