Journalist of the Year Portfolio

The only one of his kind


Junior Patrick Magee calmly takes his seat in front of his jet-black Steinway and Sons grand piano. 

His mind tracks each rounded whole-note and winged sixteenth-note with darting eyes, but they don’t stay on the page for very long.

Once he starts playing, he feels like a lost astronaut, drifting through infinite space and time, “seeing galaxies” slip through his fingers.

But on the piano, his fingers don’t slip.

Prokofiev’s “Sonata No. 3” springs back to life. 

His hands dance across the beaten black and white keys. In deep concentration, he presses the string he broke by “playing too much” and delves back into another story.

This time, he’s “an alien in his own land,” a hero in his musical story of heartbreak.

For every piece, he crafts a story.

This is how Magee interacts with his music.

And it has paid off.

Magee was recently selected as the Grand Prize Winner in the piano section of the Collin County Young Artist Competition and will perform with the Plano Symphony Orchestra March 19 in the Charles W. Eisemann Center in Richardson, Texas.

He was also chosen as the only pianist from applicants around the country to join the prestigious National Youth Orchestra (NYO) to perform over the summer at Carnegie Hall, Netherlands, Czech Republic, France and Denmark on an expenses-paid trip.

But when Magee found out about his accomplishment, he didn’t react like most people would.

“They sent me an email,” Magee said. “It was funny, most people go from seeing it to not believing it to then getting really excited. For me, it was the reverse. I got really, really excited and then I was like, ‘Wait a minute. That’s not possible.’”

Although Magee has been playing since he was five-years-old, he only really fell in love when he changed teachers a couple years ago.

“When I switched over to my new teachers I really started to get into [piano],” Magee said. “They allowed me to look at music in a new way. It wasn’t just playing the notes as the composer wrote it, but really analyzing how you're playing it so you make it as much of your own piece as the composers.”

Dr. Alex McDonald, one of Magee’s teachers, sees the artistic passion in Magee’s playing and encourages a fluid relationship with his pieces.

“He's playing [Rachmaninoff’s “Concerto No. 2”]  and the way that he shaped the beautiful passages of that piece are just really fantastic,” McDonald said. “Once he won the [Collin County Young Artist] competition, I think that gave him even more of an encouraging boost to be even more free with the music.”

Soon, McDonald wasn’t merely Magee’s teacher but instead an eager listener and participant in his work.

“I accompanied him, at least for the majority of the performances,” McDonald said, “that's really fun for me because when I hear what his artistic ideas would be and I can respond to that, it's no longer just me coaching him and telling him what to do.”

Beyond attending two private lessons each week, Magee spends hours atop his sleek piano stool, averaging three hours every weekday and five and a half on Saturday and Sunday.

“He's always worked really hard,” McDonald said. “It's a gradual thing. You know, little by little, he’s been striving to grow the entire time I've known him, and I know he was striving to grow before with his previous teachers. I think because of that continued hunger to grow, he's just made a lot of steady progress.”

But Magee’s room hasn’t always been filled with blue ribbons and shiny medals.

In fifth grade at one of SMU’s music camps, Magee stepped up to the piano and prepared himself to perform. 

He played Mendelssohn’s “Rondo Capriccioso,” and although he knew it wasn’t his best performance, he didn’t think it was too bad.

His mother disagreed.

“At first I was kind of offended,” Magee said, “but then I realized, 'Wait a minute. She's not going to do me any favors by telling me that I played well. By being honest, she is going to give me the most improvement.’ For example, when I play now, and she says, 'That was really amazing. That was a great and beautiful performance,' I know she is being honest. And the same goes for my teachers.”

Although he’s played in countless recitals and contests in front of judges critiquing every detail about his posture and playing, Magee still feels anxious leading up to his performance with the Plano Symphony Orchestra.

“I get most nervous when I'm playing for my friends or colleagues,” Magee said. “Actually, in the lead up to playing for the Plano Symphony, since there are going to be a bunch of people that I know, I've been getting all of my friends to listen to me play.”

Although the awards serve as inspiring milestones in Magee’s musical career, McDonald stresses that music is not about the trophies or ribbons — it’s about the joy of playing.

“The great thing about music, unlike sports, is that you really can continue doing it your entire life,” McDonald said. “The fact that [Magee] has continued to grow after receiving these prizes, to me, indicates not only have the prizes done what they are supposed to do, but Patrick is a musician with integrity because he's continuing to improve. It's not just about winning. It's about also growing as a musician and exploring this wonderful music.”