Alice Parker, the choral music legend whose work was frequently featured by Twin Cities groups, died Christmas Eve. She was 98.
Her final composition, "On the Common Ground," was premiered three years ago at Plymouth Congregational Church in Minneapolis.
Philip Brunelle, the artistic director and founder of VocalEssence and the choirmaster for Plymouth Church, estimates that he has conducted more than 20 of Parker's works as a composer and arranger.
"Every choir director in high schools, colleges and churches knows Alice Parker," Brunelle said Tuesday. "She really wanted everyone to sing. She was so charming in a grandmotherly way."
An NPR story celebrating her 90th birthday notes that she wrote more than 500 pieces of music and did arrangements for a wide variety of folk songs, hymns and spirituals. She is best known for her 20-year collaboration with Robert Shaw, winner of 14 Grammys and a Kennedy Center honoree in 1991.
Parker grew up in Boston and got her education at Smith College and Juilliard School, where she met Shaw.
"They were trying to get me to write 12-tone music," she told New Music USA last year from her home in Hawley, Mass. "I was resisting like crazy. I simply couldn't do it. And I had the satisfaction of living long enough to realize that I was right, and they were all wrong in the sense that what really lasts is not necessarily tonal music, but modal music.
"Somehow or other, that peculiar mixture of whole and half-steps is much closer to musical truth than any system that is drawn out of equal half-steps or equal whole steps," she said. "That's too much. Henry Ford was making everything exactly match. Things in nature don't exactly match. The leaves on a tree are all the same except each one is different from each other one. And the snowflakes are all different. And the way water behaves is always different."
Brunelle remembers getting a call from Parker in the midst of the pandemic.
"She was very concerned about people being antagonistic to each other," he said Tuesday. "She talked about the traditions in New England where people would gather in the village square and discuss their differences and that we're not doing that anymore. She had written 'On the Common Ground' about that and didn't know what to do with it. I said to send it to me."
Since debuting at Plymouth Church, it has been performed by various groups, including the St. Olaf Choir.
"When we sing something perfectly lovely together and it really clicks, you have this marvelous feeling of brotherhood in the room," she said in the New Music USA interview. "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."
Parker had five children with her husband, Thomas Pyle, who died in 1976.