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News & Events for the Smith College Community
Alumnae News September 15, 2014

The Power of Women's Song: Alumnae Chorus Honors Composer Alice Parker ’47

Conducting a choir
Throughout her long and notable music career, Alice Parker ’47 has made a point of composing pieces specifically for women’s choruses.

“I’ve written quite a bit for women’s voices because I know how relatively little repertoire there is,” she says. “I feel like I have a responsibility to pick texts that really have meat to them and set them for women.”

Take, for example, Parker’s “Three Seas” (1989), based on poems by Emily Dickinson, or “Incantations” (1984), inspired by Elinor Wylie’s poetry.

“I can’t set poetry unless it just sings in my ear as I read it,” Parker says. “And with both of those poets, almost anything they write sings in my head.”

Fans of Parker’s work will have a chance to hear “Three Seas,” “Incantations”—and more—on Sunday, Sept. 21, when the Smith College Alumnae Chorus fetes the famed composer with a show at Sweeney Concert Hall. The 2 p.m. event is free and open to the public.

Parker will conduct the chorus before passing the baton (literally) to Jonathan Hirsh, director of orchestral and choral activities at Smith. In honor of Parker’s love of folk music and her many folk arrangements, Hirsh will direct the chorus in selections from Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “Folk Songs of the Four Seasons” (1949).

Hirsh calls Parker, who received the Smith College Medal in 1982, “an icon” in the field.

“She is a very recognizable name in the music world, specifically in the world of choral music,”  he says. “And she went to Smith. For us to be able to call her our own, in some small way, is just really special.”

Fifty-seven alumnae from the classes of 1958 through 2011 have registered to participate in the Sept. 21 event, titled “A Weekend of Song in Celebration of Alice Parker ’47.” After learning the music on their own and traveling to Northampton from as far away as Seattle, the alumnae singers will spend the better part of three days rehearsing for the concert.

Despite the demands of preparing for the show, Diane “D” Bone Foubert ’67, for one, didn’t hesitate to sign up.

“It’s the power of being in a group of women and singing and making gorgeous music,” says Foubert, a second alto from Ohio. “It feels really empowering and moving. And that makes it worth it for me.”

Founded in 2005, the Alumnae Chorus welcomes any Smith alumna interested in choral music, regardless of whether she sang as an undergraduate. Highlights of the group’s previous performances include an appearance at the 125th anniversary of the Smith College Glee Club in 2010, a tour of Sicily in 2011 and a tour of the Baltic States in 2013. (A 2016 tour is in the works.)

While singing abroad is “uniquely exhilarating,” says Eliza Zingesser ’05, president of the board of the chorus, the concert at Smith holds particular meaning for participants.

“The Alumnae Chorus exists thanks to its members’ excitement about Smith,” Zingesser says. “Performing at the place where it all began is also very special for us.”

The concert will be the chorus’ first collaboration with Parker. “We are honored and delighted to be working with her,” Zingesser says. “She is one of the foremost contributors to the landscape of 20th-century American choral music.”

At 88, Parker, who lives in Hawley, Mass., maintains a full schedule of conducting, composing, teaching, traveling and making recordings.

“I keep trying to cut back, and I don’t seem to know how to do that,” she says.

Parker says she’s looking forward to leading her fellow alumnae in song at Sweeney Concert Hall.

“I’m so fortunate to have good health and energy—and that people still want me to come and make music with them,” she says.