To Mark Lyons, son of late Alltech founder Pearse Lyons, it was in many ways appropriate that the vocal scholarship competition his father founded fell just a few days after his father’s death.
“Coming from the Irish culture, a lot of how we deal with grieving and death is through stories and songs and coming together,” Lyons said Sunday afternoon, immediately after the Alltech Vocal Scholarship competition at the University of Kentucky’s Singletary Center for the Arts. “Within the company, that’s a little bit of what we’ve been doing the past few days ... sharing stories about the person who has passed, thinking about their passing, their life, the impact they had and how we bring that forward.
“So, in that regard, it is something that is very natural in a way to have this competition at this time. He really loved this.”
Pearse Lyons founded the competition, which had its 13th edition Sunday, in the mid-aughts with a proposal to UK Opera Theatre director Everett McCorvey that a scholarship program with thousands of dollars in prizes available would help grow the burgeoning program. Sunday afternoon’s competition for prospective University of Kentucky students gave away more than $400,000 in scholarships and $100,000 in cash to students who wowed a substantial crowd in the 1,500-seat concert hall with some of the greatest hits in opera and musical theater.
One of the top winners said the award of a full scholarship to UK, plus a $6,000 stipend, was the difference between her coming to her dream school and having to settle for somewhere else.
“If I didn’t win first or second, I wasn’t going to be able to come here,” said Casey Mayo, a singer from Huntsville, Ala., who became interested in UK when fellow Huntsvillian and Metropolitan Opera soprano Susanna Phillips recommended the school. “The fact that I won this competition means, ‘Wow, I get to go to the school of my dreams.’”
Mayo said that one name that kept coming up during conversations with faculty at UK and visits to campus was Pearse Lyons.
“I wanted to meet him,” she said. “I heard he was a great man, very kind and very giving. It’s a shame that he passed so shortly before the competition.”
The audience at Sunday’s competition heard tributes to Lyons from McCorvey, who said “I am here today without my best friend, Pearse Lyons,” and Mark Lyons, who told the crowd his father was not an opera fan until he met McCorvey. It also saw a video tribute to Lyons, including footage of him with icons such as Muhammad Ali and Queen Elizabeth II, and lots of images of Lyons with his wife, Deirdre, and their children, Mark and his older sister, Aoife.
Pearse Lyons was quoted several times from the stage saying, “Do what makes your heart sing.”
Mark Lyons said that since his father had been hospitalized since November with an acute lung condition, developed during recovery from heart surgery, plans had been made for him to be able to watch the competition in his room. But plans changed when he died Thursday.
“It is fitting that we have this celebration of music and the talent of these young people,” said Mark Lyons, who has been named to succeed his father as Alltech’s chairman and president. “He wouldn’t want us sitting around, letting things stop. He always wanted us to keep going and was setting out this huge vision for us.”
Sunday afternoon, Mark Lyons was stepping right into his father’s role at the competition as well, handing out huge checks to the many winners.
“Dad set the vision for us,” he told the audience at the end of the event. “It’s on us to keep it going.”
Alltech Vocal Scholarship Competition
These are the top winners of the singing competition for the University of Kentucky voice program.
1st: Casey Mayo, Huntsville, Ala.
2nd: Samuel Powless, Paducah
3rd: Ethan Mooney, Lexington
1st: Marquita Richardson, Pottstown, Pa.
2nd: Nathaniel E. Thompson, Mount Vernon, N.Y.
1st: Jeremy Kelly, Bowling Green
2nd: Taylor P. Comstock, Independence, Mo.
3rd: Tanyaradzwa Tawengwa, Harare, Zimbabwe