Alice Parker Week: Technology and the Arts

It’s Alice Parker Week: In addition to being a living legend as a composer and arranger, Alice is a beautifully polished author. Her writings exhibit the same clarity and parsimony of her music. I’ve selected some quotes from her books as meditations for this week.


When we carry our cell phones and CD players wherever we go, we are living at a remove from our surroundings. […] Instead of actively participating in each moment of our lives, we are withdrawn, increasingly unable to cope with other human beings, or even to notice and enjoy he natural world though which we move. We become so umbilically attached to that electronic life that we suffer very really pangs of withdrawal, as from an addiction, when the pangs are removed.

Is there an antidote to this cultural disease? Let me propose those arts based on doing rather than viewing. Let us work together to make things that involve our sense, cooking together being an obvious focal point for families. We are helping each other, teaching and learning, conversing (often sharing the tidbits which remain hidden from direct questioning), and finally sharing in the results of our labors. Theater is the art that involves the creation of a world rather than a meal, where actors and production folk become a community as they work to produce a convincing whole. Writing, reading and painting are solitary – as are practicing an instrument, or sculpting a statue. Yet all these are intensely human activities: the ultimate goal is to communicate with other human beings. Art is not, in my view, for art’s sake: it is for our sake, in the largest possible context. [Bold mine]

I’ve saved singing – choral music – for the last. No other art demands so persuasively that we dwell in this moment, right here, where space crosses time, in order to create something fleeting that we cannot make alone. Here is a positive addiction – one that brings blessings rather than disease, and one that makes us appreciate and  value those with whom and for whom we sing. We are most wonderfully human when we sing together – and we should be very jealous and suspicious of those electronic media that seek to usurp this experience.

From Reflections on Song: My Musical World, pages 96-97 (July 2002)

Consider the creative arts as the antidote to screen addiction. And consider choral music – “where space crosses time” – among the highest of these arts.

Note that Alice wrote these words long before Facebook was a thing, to say nothing of Instagram, Snapchat, How much more do we need Alice’s advice today?