Alice Parker

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Alice Parker
Portrait of Alice Parker.jpg
Alice Parker by Eduardo Montes-Bradley
Alice Parker

(1925-12-16) December 16, 1925 (age 97)
Years active1947–2020
Thomas Pyle
(m. 1954;died 1976)

Alice Parker (born December 16, 1925) is an American composer, arranger, conductor, and teacher. She has authored five operas, eleven song-cycles, thirty-three cantatas, eleven works for chorus and orchestra, forty-seven choral suites, and more than forty hymns, all original compositions. Also to be noted are wealth of arrangements based on pre-existing folk-songs and hymns, many of which were produced in collaboration with Robert Shaw. Parker is best known for these kinds of arrangements of spirituals, mountain hymns, and folk songs, early-American hymns, and international folk-songs, most notably in French, Spanish, Hebrew, and Ladino.


Early life

Parker was born in Boston to Mary Stuart and Gordon Parker. She studied music theory with Mary Mason at the New England Conservatory, composition and conducting at Smith College and the Juilliard School, where she began her long and prolific association with Robert Shaw. The many Parker-Shaw settings of American folk songs, hymns, and spirituals form an enduring repertoire for choruses in many countries around the world. [1] [2]

Musical career

Parker attended Smith College, graduating in 1947 with a double major in organ and composition. She went on to study choral conducting at Juilliard, then became a teacher while also collaborating with Robert Shaw on arrangements of materials to be recorded by the Robert Shaw Chorale, formed in 1948. [1] Parker went on to become the primary arranger for the Robert Shaw Chorale for 20 years. On December 29, 1947, Alice was featured on the cover of Newsweek alongside other singers. The chorale disbanded in 1965. [3]

In 1954, Parker married Thomas Pyle, a member of the Robert Shaw Chorale. They had five children. [1] Pyle died unexpectedly in 1976, leaving her to care for their five children. [3] She moved to western Massachusetts, and, in 1985, she founded Melodious Accord. The Musicians of Melodious Accord is a professional chorus that has released fourteen albums. The Melodious Accord Fellowship Program brings young mid-career musicians from all over the world to study with Parker. [4]

She has composed over 500 pieces of music, including operas, song cycles, cantatas, choral suites, and anthems. [4]

Honors and awards

Alice Parker conducting in 2019. Alice Parker conducting Christmas Carols.jpg
Alice Parker conducting in 2019.

Parker served on the Board of Directors of Chorus America. She was their first Director Laureate. Among her many awards, Parker has received the Distinguished Composer of the Year 2000 by the American Guild of Organists, the 2014 Brock Commission from the American Choral Directors Association, the Harvard Glee Club Foundation Medal in 2015, six honorary doctorates, and the Smith College Medal. [5] Parker is a Fellow of the Hymn Society of the United States and Canada. She has been awarded grants from ASCAP, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Aaron Copland Fund for Music, and the American Music Center. [4] Most recently she was honored by the International Emily Dickinson Society for her choral suite Heavenly Hurt.

To celebrate Parker's 90th birthday in 2015, choral groups worldwide posted performances of her work on YouTube, as part of a project called Alice Is 90. [3]


The 2020 documentary Alice: At Home With Alice Parker by Eduardo Montes-Bradley, explores the life and works of Parker. It was filmed over the winter of 2020 at her residence in Hawley and in New York City. Produced by HFP in association with Melodious Accord, Inc., the film focuses particularly on the formative years and in the collaborations of Parker with the written works of Martin Luther King Jr., Archibald MacLeish, Eudora Welty and Emily Dickinson. Alice's American premiere was on October 8, 2020, by Chorus America, [6] it was selected to be in the Official Selection, 2020 at the Virginia Film Festival. Grand Jury Award, Mystic Film Festival, 2021. Distributed by Kanopy. [7] [8] [9]

Arrangements and recordings

(1951–1962 in collaboration with Robert Shaw; Robert Shaw Chorale)

(Alice Parker Arrangements for Robert Shaw Chorale)

(Alice Parker Compositions with Lucy Shelton and Manhattan String Quartet – Musical Heritage)

(Other Works)

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  1. 1 2 3 King, Jennifer Sue (2005). Three choral compositions by Alice Parker: a conductor's analysis of Songstream, Angels and Challengers, and Songs from "The Dragon Quilt".
  2. LaBarr, Cameron. "About Alice Parker". Conversations with Alice Parker. p.241. GIA Publications, Inc. Chicago, 2019.
  3. 1 2 3 Scott, Charlene (December 17, 2015). "Choral Groups Honor Composer Alice Parker On 90th Birthday". Retrieved November 16, 2018.
  4. 1 2 3 "Parker, Alice". Retrieved November 16, 2018.
  5. Archived March 8, 2016, at the Wayback Machine , Retrieved March 2016
  6. Chorus America Presents New Documentary: "ALICE: At Home with Alice Parker"
  7. Melodious Accord Official Site
  8. Internet Movie Database
  9. Montes-Bradley, Eduardo. "Alice". Heritage Film Project . Retrieved September 4, 2020.
  10. Stanford University Library. Online Resources: "Opening Night! Opera & Oratorio Premieres"
  11. Singers Glen, Premiere Performance Program. Lancaster Mennonite High School, Lancaster.
  12. Opera:'Ponder Heart' has World Premier".By Edward Rothstein The New York Times September 13, 1982