Alice Parker Week: Natural Music

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.

Our tape decks and CD players repeat the same performance over and over with none of the slight variation that is common to natural processes. We don’t get a chance to learn how to listen to the work in its journey, to ride the moving currents, to align oneself with the energy.

If we apply this to group singing, we might ask: Does the song seem inevitable? Natural? Right? Does it flow from beginning to end? Do pitch and rhythm, text and form make one communicative whole? Is everyone caught in and affected by the music?

From  Melodious Accord: Good Singing In Church (GIA), page 29

There are three audiences I want to hear this message.

First, composers: are you writing music as she describes it in the second paragraph above? The most effective and affective music is that which takes on “one communicative whole.”

Second, conductors: are you remembering to lift the music off the page, back into three dimensions? We have to bring it back to life, and stop considering “fidelity to the score” as the loftiest goal. Fidelity to the score is trying to make a three-dimensional house back into a blueprint. Conductors: remember to make the music live beyond the page.

Third, especially students: if you’re accustomed to only listening to recorded music (as most of us are), you are being exposed to only a small part of the whole. One of the joys of making live music with others is its immediacy: the music you make in concert will never exist exactly the same again. This is a big positive, and connects you do a deep well of human tradition.