Meet Memorial

(March 6, 1997, Gazette)

This music man is creative and composed

By Jean Graham
Music may not be Michael Parker's primary means of earning a living, but in 1997 -- more than ever before -- his musical compositions will receive international exposure.

Dr. Parker is associate professor of classics at Sir Wilfred Grenfell College in Corner Brook. Evenings and weekends, he's a composer of classical music. This year, his works will be performed in places as varied as Corner Brook, Fredericton, and Flagstaff, Ariz. His newest composition, Six Lowly Variations on the Flying Dutchman (in Canada), premiered in Corner Brook and St. John's in late January. Later this month comes the release of a new CD.

A very good year
Dr. Parker is excited by all the activity, and is quick to acknowledge the contribution being made by 1997 being declared the Cabot 500 Year of the Arts, in honor of the 500th anniversary of John Cabot's arrival in the province.

"Three of the projects are Cabot-related productions," he explained.

The first of these was the Sinfonia Concertante tour. Sinfonia, the chamber group of the Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra (NSO), took Sinfonia Concertante (which the NSO commissioned from Dr. Parker and premiered in 1993) to six locations in the province.

The Avalon East District Band, an all-star high school band directed by Grant Etchegary, has commissioned a composition from Dr. Parker to mark the 500th anniversary of John Cabot's landing. This new work, entitled Terra Incognita (The Unknown Land), will tour the province in June.

New release
The most exciting part of Dr. Parker's musical year will be the release of the first CD devoted exclusively to his music, which is expected to happen in April. A Cabot 500 project, the CD -- titled Lyre -- celebrates the meeting of Old World and the New World, and features new music for the clarinet performed by French clarinettist Etienne Lamaison, a long-time friend and collaborator of Dr. Parker's. The CD will also showcase French flautist Annick Mabille, sopranos Catherine Cornick and Cheryl Hickman -- alumni of Memorial's School of Music, and pianist and School of Music faculty member, Dr. Kristina Szutor. The music for Lyre was recorded by the CBC last August at the Donald F. Cook Recital Hall in the Music Building, with Francesca Swann as producer and Terry Winsor as sound technician. That experience was cathartic for the classics professor/composer.

Back in the game
"The recording session last August was unbelievably good," he said, with obvious enthusiasm. "We only needed one take for most of the pieces. It was such an incredibly positive experience; I think that's what was the impetus to get me writing again."

He explained that for a while he thought he might never compose again.

"I've had a year-and-a-half of a dry spell," he said. "I honestly thought that was it, that there was no more music."

But with the superb recording session for Lyre and evidence of continued interest in his work from a variety of sources -- including a summer music festival in New Brunswick which has commissioned a work based on an aboriginal theme -- Dr. Parker, composer, is back, and he's busier than ever.

"It's very important for a composer to get ongoing feedback and encouragement," he said. "That encourages you to keep going, to keep creating."

Dr. Parker is also project co-ordinator for Lyre, which means he's involved in preparing the 26-page booklet that includes translations of the vocal pieces into French and Italian. When he's not working on commissions, he tries to attend as many of the performances of his work as he can.

Hooked on classics
Then, of course, there's his day job. As the sole classics professor at Sir Wilfred Grenfell College, Dr. Parker has very busy days. This semester, for example, he has about 100 students. At Grenfell, for some reason, at least 10 per cent of students study classics at some point in their academic career.

"They take one course and then they get hooked," Dr. Parker laughed. "Many continue, and do two or three courses from me."

Does he ever feel torn between the classics and classical music? Not for one minute.

"I went to Banff in 1991 for a sabbatical. The plan was to spend some time doing nothing but write. I was there just to write music, and I had no classics to worry about. All my worldly needs were taken care of -- and I just dried up," he admitted ruefully. "I've come to recognize that I need both classics and music in order to do either one successfully. It's hectic and frantic at times, but it's the way I have to live."

-- with files from Sir Wilfred Grenfell College