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Masterpiece delivered

By Bojan Fürst

When the new generation of Memorial grads marches to their convocation ceremony this May, they will do so to a beat of a unique and beautiful piece of ceremonial music.

The piece, composed by Dr. Michael Parker, pays homage to Newfoundland’s and Memorial’s distinguished past. “It’s a good piece. It was challenging, but it’s good,” said Dr. Parker adding that he is indeed pleased with the final form the music has taken.

Memorial University commissioned an original piece of ceremonial music for its 100th regular session of convocation. Ultimately, in a national competition that saw a dozen proposals submitted to a jury, Dr. Michael Parker has been selected as a composer for this original work.

Dr. Parker had a long and distinguished career as a professor of classics at Sir Wilfred Grenfell College campus and as a composer whose music has been commissioned, recorded and performed across Canada.

“I have been at Grenfell for 30 years in education and it is very exciting to compose music for what is the climax of a student’s journey. This is a wonderful opportunity to combine my interest in classics and music,” he said.
Winning the competition, however, was only an overture to the real challenge. Because of its particular use, the music had to be composed in such way that it allows for variable length and different arrangements.

It took four months of researching and planning, but today Memorial can pride itself on a unique piece of ceremonial music with a strong Newfoundland flavour.

“The timing was challenging. The need for variability in length of different pieces depending on the length of ceremony – that was bit tricky. But, once I figured that out, the rest came fairly easy,” Dr. Parker said.

He decided to base each segment on a piece of traditional Newfoundland music that speaks about the beauty of the province as well as the strength and courage of its people. The processional has its origin on Newfoundland Volunteers Band March, a music that used to be used to send the soldiers off to war. The interlude, played during the signing in of the honorary graduates is based the tune titled The Emigrant form Newfoundland, while the recessional draws on the well-known Ode to Newfoundland.

“When you right short segments like this, it’s important to avoid making them all sound the same and at the same time you want to allow the instrumentalists an opportunity to breath, to shine,” said Dr. Parker.

Dr. Tom Gordon, director of Memorial’s School of Music, was very supportive of the idea from the start and emphasized how rare it is for a Canadian composer to have his work performed in a manner Dr. Parker’s music will be performed for generations to come.

“Among Canadian composers, a masterpiece is a work that gets played twice. In this case, the premiere alone will include nine performances for thousands of listeners at spring convocation 2009. Subsequent performances will add dozens of performances each year,” said Dr. Gordon.

“So this is a pretty rare opportunity for Canadian composers, Newfoundland and Labrador composers to write works that are going to have a large audience and many, many performances. “

Dr. Michael Parker, the composer, will attend this year’s convocation ceremony when his music will be performed for the very first time.