Remembering Alice Parker

Beloved by all who knew her and held in high esteem, Alice Parker was a true steward of the choral art…

On Christmas Eve this past year, we lost one of the pillars of American choral music. Alice Parker Pyle, composer, teacher, mentor, arranger, song leader, and bright light in our wide musical world, passed at the age of 98 after years of impacting countless lives across the globe. The imagined corners of the earth did not exist for Ms. Parker. Nothing was beyond her vision; no one was beyond her influence.

From the Washington Post’s 12/29/2023 obituary…

Ms. Parker’s works were part of the repertoire in churches, choral societies and other venues around the world, making her among the most widely performed contemporary composers — with thousands of people or more probably hearing her work each week.

Her final composition, “On the Common Ground,” was finished in 2020 as her failing eyesight made it impossible to see the notes. It drew on two of her major influences over a seven-decade career: the contemplative tones of chants and the call-and-response structure of traditional spirituals and gospel music.

The song appealed to a country deeply divided over politics and values, and sought to revisit the traditions of town meetings in Ms. Parker’s native New England to air and settle differences.

The soloist sings: Help me find the common ground

The chorus answers: Find the common ground, yes, the common ground

Then back to the soloist: Between the high and the low; between the poor and the rich

“When we sing something perfectly lovely together … and it really clicks, you have this marvelous feeling of brotherhood in the room,” she told New Music USA. “We are all human beings. We are all feeling this emotion together at the same time. And this is uniting us. We are not separate.”

Murphy, Brian. “Alice Parker, choral composer who celebrated beauty and unity, dies at 98” Washington Post [Washington, DC], Dec. 29, 2023

At the core of Ms. Parker’s work was the human being. This radiated from her work and interactions with individuals and groups alike. Pennsylvania based composer and conductor, Joseph Gregorio, spent time with Ms. Parker at one of her group retreats.

Alice Parker was one of the brightest lights in the musical firmament.  Her teachings about the potential in each breath, the primacy of text and rhythm, and the joy and magic of melody and counterpoint, along with her lifelong efforts to build community through singing, lit the way for me and countless others.  They will live on in the beauty and craft of her compositions and arrangements, her writings, and in the hearts of those who knew and learned from her.

– Joseph Gregorio

From the 2020 Documentary, Alice: At Home With Alice Parker, by Eduardo Montes-Bradley:

Ms. Parker leaves us with over 500 works, including operas, cantatas, arrangements, song cycles, and original hymn tunes. Her true legacy is the human connections she made throughout her life. She is part of the very fabric of our field’s tapestry, and will continue to impact the choral music world for generations.

Ms. Parker, left, on the cover of Newsweek

Photos by Eduardo Montes-Bradley, 2019