Daniel Pate will always remember the date he completed his board of review and officially became an Eagle Scout.
It was Tuesday, Sept. 8, 1998 — the same day Mark McGwire hit his 62nd home run of the season, breaking the single-season record.
“I’m a bit of a baseball nut,” Pate says, “so it ended up being extra special for me to be able to associate that day with two activities that I really love.”
Twenty-two years later, Pate still loves baseball, but now he’s the one doing the heavy hitting.
Pate is an internationally recognized percussionist, researcher and educator. In addition to continuing to perform across the country, Pate has spent the past four years working as the percussion department coordinator at the Juilliard School, the performing arts conservatory in New York City that counts among its famous alumni violinist Yo-Yo Ma, Oscar winner Viola Davis and Tony winner Patti LuPone.
Pate manages the logistical challenges associated with staging concerts and events in the school’s percussion department — performances that often include newly composed works by composers from all over the world. New pieces often require new instruments, meaning Pate gets to design and build percussion instruments that meet the composer’s requirements.
For a show at Juilliard in February, the students performed a piece by John Cage, the composer best known for his controversial silent piece called 4’33”.
Performing the Third Construction required, as the program noted, “a veritable United Nations of percussion, including Latin American, Indo-Chinese, and Pacific Northwest rattles; a Chinese cymbal; a teponaztli, or Mexican slit drum; Cuban claves; Indonesian bamboo “cricket callers”; an African “lion’s roar,” or friction drum; and a Polynesian conch shell.”
If acquiring or creating those instruments sounds difficult, just remember that Pate marches to the beat of his own teponaztli.
“With the amount of concerts that occur in a given year, my work is a very challenging and rewarding endeavor — especially since every concert offers a new and exciting challenge that must be overcome,” he says.
While Pate undoubtedly has natural gifts, he also credits much of his success to the steady drumbeat of transformative experiences he enjoyed as a Scout in Troop 355 of Spring Valley, Calif. (Desert Pacific Council).
“Scouting gave me the chance to practice and develop interpersonal skills that I consistently rely on to put on concerts,” Pate says. “I use the skills I learned from Scouts when I collaborate with colleagues, students and composers from all over the world to create amazing musical experiences. These skills are universal and can be successfully applied to any career that a Scout chooses to pursue.”
The banjo-playing Scoutmaster
Pate’s Troop 355 Scoutmaster was Distinguished Eagle Scout Greg Deering, founder of the Deering Banjo Company.
When Pate told me that, I immediately flashed to this Eagles’ Call magazine story from 2015. Mark Ray interviewed Deering for his excellent piece, which is still worth a read today.
“Scouting is just an incredible foundation for all of life, not just business,” Deering told Ray. “I can’t imagine what life would be if I hadn’t had the foundation of Scouting and the influence of Baden-Powell.”
Pate says Deering was both his Scoutmaster and his mentor. Even after Pate became an adult, Deering continued to serve in that latter role, introducing Pate to opportunities he didn’t think were accessible.
“Through him, I have had the opportunity to travel to Europe to hear, meet and perform with many amazing bluegrass musicians over the years,” Pate says.
Pate will never forget his first opportunity to perform as a soloist with the San Diego Symphony. He was intensely focused throughout the performance — noticing nothing but the music. But when the show ended and the house lights went up, Pate saw a familiar face.
“I remember coming out of my mental zone and seeing [Deering] in the front of the audience smiling and clapping,” Pate says. “Being able to share that moment with him has always struck me as a special moment.”
Scouts at Juilliard
Before he moved to New York seven years ago, Pate volunteered both with a local troop and at the council level. He says one of his favorite annual events was his council’s Eagle Scout dinner, where he was a proud sponsor.
“I enjoy meeting aspiring musicians, and this event gave me the opportunity to share my own experience in the field and hopefully inspire them,” Pate says.
But even though he has switched coasts, Pate still runs into Scouting alumni all the time. They often bond over simple things, like tying knots, or bigger Scouting lessons like overcoming obstacles.
“It will sometimes come up when someone needs to tie something together, but more often it comes up when something goes wrong at a concert and the plan has gone off the rails,” he says. “I have found that the students or faculty that have had Scouting experience are more calm in dealing with these setbacks and are quicker to offer solutions that get us out of the weeds and back on track.”
Doing it all in high school
We’ve written frequently on this blog about the challenges of balancing Scouting, school and sports. But as any member of a high school band, choir or orchestra will tell you, balancing the demands of Scouting, school and music can be just as challenging.
Pate admits he wasn’t 100% successful at maintaining this perfect balance. But he learned that devoting exactly 33.3% of his time to each of the three priorities wasn’t just impossible. It was impractical.
“Shifting your focus in the short term when you have a pressing deadline coming up is sometimes what you have to do,” he says. “As long as you have a plan on when you will bring your focus back to balance, over the long haul, everything evens out.”
Pate kept a monthly schedule, meaning he knew exactly how much time he had for each activity. When a major project approached, he was prepared.
For his Eagle Scout service project, Pate organized and performed a series of benefit concerts on behalf of the Marfan Syndrome Foundation.
Pate’s piano teacher had this disorder that affects the connective tissue supporting the heart, eyes and blood vessels.
“She was born with this syndrome, and I felt that helping to raise awareness about it could potentially save the life of someone who unknowingly has it,” Pate says.
The funds raised from the performances were put toward the purchase of resource manuals describing the common symptoms and treatments. Pate and his volunteers placed these manuals in local hospitals so doctors would have information to correctly diagnose and recommend treatment.
Even though that project was completed more than two decades ago, Pate says the lessons learned stick with him.
And that’s why we still need Scouting today, he says. Because it prepares you for life.
“Scouting will teach you life skills through problem solving and being part of a team — skills that are valuable well past your time in Scouts,” he says. “Sure, there are the fun activities like camping, hiking, kayaking. But really all of these activities are meant to teach you how to learn new skills that are unfamiliar, work with others to achieve a common goal and handle problems with empathy and patience.”
Thanks to John Shotwell for the blog post idea!
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