Smith 35th!

On Thursday afternoon, I arrived in Northampton, Massachusetts for my 35th reunion at Smith College.

Thursday is light on scheduled activities, as many participants can’t arrive until later in the weekend, but it gives those of us who do have the opportunity to get started on heavy-duty reminiscing, as well as catching up on our current lives and loves. We spent hours chatting at our headquarters and over dinner at the Cutter-Ziskind House dining room. We reflected in a special way on the classmates we have lost over the years; our class memorial chairs thoughtfully prepared a compendium of our deceased classmates which brought each of them to mind for us.

Friday presented us with a number of options for presentations and reflections. In the morning, I chose to attend a faculty presentation by Ellen Doré Watson, entitled “How Poems Mean.” It was held at the Poetry Center, of which she is the current director. We filled the room with women (and one spouse of the male persuasion) and read and discussed poems from a thick packet that Ellen had compiled for us, illustrating how poets convey meaning to readers/listeners. After the presentation, I perused the collection of poetry books and journals, spending the most time with the shelves devoted to alumnae poets. I was especially excited to see the books of Anne Harding Woodworth ’65, with whom I have sung with the Smith College Alumnae Chorus. Anne is one of my poetry godmothers, who has always been generous in giving encouragement and advice. I was pleased to have a bit of time to speak with Ellen personally after the gathering had dispersed. I hope to meet her again, perhaps for manuscript review through the Colrain conferences or when I return to campus.

After lunch, a classmate and I walked around campus, enjoying the exercise, our surroundings, and conversation. We were able to visit Haven House, where I lived all four years. It has had extensive renovations since then, so it was interesting to see what had changed – which is nearly everything. I was touched, though, that our wooden mailboxes remain in place, even though students now receive mail through boxes at the Student Center. Even more amazing was that our napkin boxes are still there. In our student days, Haven had its own kitchen and dining room for our residents and those of our sister-house Wesley. We each had our own cloth napkin, which was kept in a labelled cubby near the dining room entrance, taken out and returned there for each meal. The college laundered them every week. Now, dining is concentrated in fewer locations with recycled paper napkins available, but I admit to feeling nostalgic for our student days with homestyle serving most evenings – and candlelight on Thursdays.

Later in the afternoon, I helped to host the Alumnae Chorus reception, along with other Alumnae Chorus members from the class of ’82. We are always on the lookout for other singing alums to join us for events, on campus, in the US, and abroad. We were excited to have Alice Parker ’47 join us, along with a number of her classmates! While we were students, we sang her works, including a commission for the 25th anniversary of Helen Hills Hills chapel. The Alumnae Chorus was honored to sing in a tribute concert for and with her in 2014. Alumnae Chorus will be doing a US event in 2018 and another international tour in 2019, so we have a lot to look forward to!

SCAC reunion reception w/Alice Parker
Alice Parker ’47 with Smith alums

Next was a class dinner, which President Kathleen McCartney visited. This is our first reunion since she became president. I was so impressed with her warmth and Smith-spirit! Smith is lucky to have her at the helm.

After dinner, we returned to our class headquarters for “A Night of Passion” in which classmates shared what they are passionate about. Language, music, nature, quilting and fabric art, writing, and more – each presentation uniquely fascinating.  I participated by reading an excerpt from this blog post about meeting up with Smith friends and two Smith related poems, including “Lessons from Mahler”. I so appreciated the warm reception from my classmates, most of whom remember me, if they do at all, as the organist I was in our campus days. It was so affirming to my current poet-identity to have them react so positively to my poems.

When I fell into my dorm-bed in my room overlooking the lawn where the diploma circle was held after commencement last Sunday, I felt content – and really, really tired. I’m not used to being on the fourth floor…

Radio segment on Alice Parker

In September of 2014, The Smith College Alumnae Chorus (SCAC) had a choral homecoming event with composer/conductor/choral arranger/champion of choral singing Alice Parker ’47.

I was pleased to take part and to blog about it here and here, with related posts here and here.

Yesterday, the SCAC posted this link: on Facebook from the local NPR affiliate, featuring interviews with Parker and other musicians and clips of her work, all in under five minutes.

Alice will soon turn 90 and the celebration is on!

Alice Parker


This is the first of what I hope will be several followups to the Smith College Alumnae Chorus celebration of Alice Parker ’47 which took place on September 21.  I thought it best to begin with a post concentrating on Alice Parker and her music.

The Alumnae Chorus sang two sets of Miss Parker’s compositions, Three Seas, with three poems by Emily Dickinson as texts, and Incantations, with four poems by Elinor Wylie. We also sang a Parker arrangement of the spiritual “Come On Up.” Miss Parker conducted her pieces in the concert, although we were able to rehearse with her only on Friday afternoon and Sunday morning.

The music was challenging, especially under the circumstances, with each member of the chorus learning the pieces on her own before coming together to have everything performance ready in under 48 hours.  (We also prepared three Ralph Vaughan Williams settings of English folk songs, which were conducted by Jonathan Hirsh, the current Smith Glee Club director.)  I knew there would be mistakes in the concert, but the performance was successful because we were able to communicate the poetry, music, and mood to the audience.  We were relieved to hear Miss Parker reminds us several times during rehearsal that there is no such thing as a perfect performance.

The best part of the experience of working with Miss Parker was hearing her talk about poetry, her process as a composer, and her life.  She read the poems to us in rehearsal – and to the audience in the concert, relishing not only the meaning conveyed but also the sounds of the vowels and consonants tumbling along one after the other.  She talked about how poems in English fall into rhythms in groups of twos and threes, which results in so much of her music being written in 5 or 7 (3+2 or 3+2+2) to follow the word rhythm.  Miss Parker works only on commission, so she always has a specific group for which she is writing and a deadline to deliver the score.  She explained that once she has chosen the texts, she reads them aloud over and over and, as she begins to compose the melody for the text, sings and dances the poems, filling in the harmony and counterpoint in her head. She wants the music to be fluid and alive as long as possible, only committing it to paper when the deadline is looming. She said, “The page is nothing but a prison for music.”  I was so struck by that statement that I hurriedly wrote it down.  It will always remind me that music is alive and not the static black-on-white notation that we struggle to replicate.

Miss Parker also told us stories from her life, especially her famous association with Robert Shaw, with whom she collaborated on many arrangements before taking on solo assignments from him.  The director of the Binghamton University Chorus, with which I have sung for years, also worked with Mr. Shaw and loves to tell stories about him, so it was fun to hear stories about him from a different perspective.

What was most heartening was seeing a woman born in 1925, still engaged in creative work and still engaged with family, friends, community, and her alma mater.  Should we all be so blessed.


Smith College Alumnae Chorus

Early tomorrow morning, I leave for Northampton to participate with the Smith College Alumnae Chorus (SCAC) and the Smith College Chorus and Glee Club in a tribute concert to fellow alumna Alice Parker ’47.  We will be singing some of her compositions and arrangements and she will be conducting some of the performance herself, at the age of 89! Here is a link to the campus press article about it:

Because the members of the SCAC are spread out across the country, we have been learning our parts on our own and have an intensive rehearsal schedule from Friday afternoon to Sunday morning to be ready for the concert Sunday afternoon.  Of course, I am looking forward to the music itself, because I love to sing.  I have sung a number of Alice Parker’s works over the years, beginning when I was on campus as an student, including a premiere written for the 25th anniversary of Helen Hills Hills chapel during my sophomore year.  (Yes, for those who aren’t familiar with Smith, Helen Hills Hills is correct; Ms. Hills married a cousin.)

Helen Hills Hills Chapel Smith College Northampton MA
Helen Hills Hills Chapel
Smith College
Northampton MA

I am also looking forward to being back on Smith’s beautiful campus as summer turns to fall.  Paradise Pond and Island, the gardens, and the arboretum, which is located throughout campus, will be just beginning to show their fall colors.

I am very excited to see my SCAC friends, especially my college roommate Mary, with whom I will be sharing a hotel room. She lives a couple thousand miles away from me, so it is always an event when we can get together!  I’m proud to say that our class of ’82 will have five members in the chorus this time around, among the other singers who will range from class of 1958 through class of 2011.

Besides the alumnae from my era that I know, I am also looking forward to seeing some of the women I met when SCAC did its first international tour to Sicily in 2011.  We sang Mozart Requiem in three fabulous cathedrals and had amazing sightseeing tours and some of the most delicious food ever!  It was my first – and so far only – trip to Europe and memorable in so many ways.  Here are links to Facebook photo albums from that trip:
In and near Palermo:
On the road and Agrigento: concert:
Mount Etna:
Giardini di Naxos and the first two concert churches:
Thankfully, there are no photos of the goose egg I got on my head after I walked full-tilt into a glass wall!

Reunited with my luggage in Catania
Reunited with my luggage in Catania

This shot is included in one of the albums, but I had to share it here, too, as I know it is a favorite of some friends.  My luggage had gotten lost and it didn’t catch up to me until we were in our second destination.  I was very happy to have it back!  This is currently the photo posted on my Top of JC’s Mind Facebook page, which you are invited to visit and like. (Hint, hint.)

I had to miss the second tour, so this will be my first opportunity to re-connect with the SCAC members I met in Sicily.  One of them, Anne Harding Woodworth ’65, is a poet, which I hadn’t realized when we were traipsing about in Sicily.  We have communicated by email a bit and she has graciously agreed to look at my first attempt at assembling a chapbook.

So many threads coming together!  I don’t know if I will get any posts in while I am gone, but wish everyone a fabulous weekend. I fully intend to be having one myself!

%d bloggers like this: