Freshman piano major wins opportunity to perform with Kansas City Symphony

  • WSU freshman piano major Patrick Orr won the Grand Prize in the Kansas City Symphony Young Artist Competition.

  • His instructor, professor Julie Bees, says she finds it incredibly rewarding to be involved in passing on musical traditions.

  • As the winner of the competition, Orr will accompany the Kansas City Symphony on May 24 and 25.

Julie Bees, professor in Wichita State University's School of Music, sees teaching as a tremendous responsibility and an unbelievably rewarding career, and she's seeing some of those rewards through her student's success this year.

“For pianists, there is a tradition that's handed down from generation to generation,” says Bees. “I feel like I'm carrying on this tradition and doing some good in my own small way.”

Bees is passing that tradition on to her students, many of whom are making names for themselves while still in college.

One such student is freshman Patrick Orr, who won the Grand Prize in the Kansas City Symphony Young Artist Competition in Helzberg Hall at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in February. As the winner, Orr will perform with the Kansas City Symphony on May 24 and 25 in the “Inside Music Series” for donors and patrons of the symphony.

“It was a really surreal thing for me. I think that's the best word to describe it,” says Orr.

Orr's interest in the piano began after he watched the movie, “The Titanic,” and decided to learn how to play the hymn “Nearer My God to Thee” by ear with the help of his mom. Not long after that, Orr went to his first piano lesson when he was 10 years old, which he says was terrifying because he knew nothing about piano.

I knew I wanted to play, but I didn't know how important it would be to me. I just knew I wanted to keep doing it.
Patrick Orr

His true awakening moment came when he played in a concerto competition for Wichita Metropolitan Music Teachers' Association.

“I remember being the last one to play in the final round – I was really excited because I got to play on a really big piano in a nice hall,” says Orr. “I remember walking out onto the stage and bowing, then looking out into the audience and how amazing it felt that I would be able to share with them my passion and how much I loved the music I was working on.”

That passion is what's pushed Orr to continue to excel in piano, and it's reflected in the way he plays.

“I've seen him focus his attention and he's learning how to be a successful musician,” says Bees. “You have to learn to be a problem solver, because every new piece you learn has its own set of challenges.”

Orr isn't the only successful student Bees has taught, and she believes music is an integral part of a well-rounded education.

“It takes a lot of hard work and perseverance to be a successful musician and I think the same is true to be an entrepreneur,” says Bees. “What we've been doing for a couple centuries fits in with what the university is doing now for the future across the broad spectrum.”