Notes from the Podium: Honoring Alice Parker

Alice Parker was a leading figure of the rise of choral music throughout the twentieth century and into the twenty-first in America. She was born in Boston in 1925 and received her education in music at the New England Conservatory. As a right-hand person to Robert Shaw, the “dean of American choral music” and director of the Robert Shaw Chorale, she collaborated on hundreds of choral arrangements. These arrangements are a main-stay of choral repertoires throughout the world. There are more arrangements in the Siskiyou Singers library by Alice Parker than by any other composer (except, perhaps, Reppert). Unfortunately, Alice Parker “passed across the Jordan River”, as she might have said, on Christmas Eve this past year.

Alice Parker (Minneapolis Star Tribune)

She has also contributed a vast amount to American choral music as a composer. She wrote 5 operas, 11 song cycles, 33 cantatas, 11 works for chorus and orchestra, 47 choral suites, and 40 original hymns according to Wikipedia. Many of her works are set to poetry by significant American poets. Among her favorites was Emily Dickinson. Alice Parker said, “I love lyric poetry and the kind of prose that approaches poetry (the King James Bible, for instance)…The lyric brevity of Emily Dickinson is music to my ears…”

She received the Brock Commission from the American Choral Director’s Association in 2014. The result of that commission was “The Definition of Beauty”, set to the poetry of Emily Dickinson. The piece was debuted at the ACDA National Convention in 2015 and is the featured work of the Siskiyou Singers’ performances at Southern Oregon University Music Recital Hall May 4, 7:30 PM and May 5, 3:00 PM. It will also be a part of the tour repertoire when Siskiyou Singers participates in the International Choral Festival at Alta Pusteria, Italy in June of this year.

Alice Parker was an educator and advocate for choral singing, especially community singing. She was the founder of Melodious Accord in 1984. This choral organization is committed to choral performance, but also to the education of choral singers and advocacy of the choral art. “Melodious Accord, Inc. believes that melody is an unparalleled means of communication for human beings; that when we use our ears and voices we enrich our lives through creating communities of sound; and that singing together brings immediate benefits–physical, mental and spiritual–to those who join in this most participatory of all the arts.” I know from personal experience that she was always ready to encourage everyone in their choral pursuits.

I was lucky enough to spend a bit of time with her at a conference. She helped me think about new approaches to choral arranging and composition.

Alice Parker’s contribution to the choral community in America cannot be overstated. She was a compassionate leader and talented creator and she will be missed. Siskiyou Singers is thrilled to honor her this May with the performance of some of her brilliant music.