The collaborative arrangements of Alice Parker and Robert Shaw

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Date
2012
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University of Alabama Libraries
Abstract

This document is a comprehensive survey of the two hundred and twenty-three choral arrangements created in the collaboration between Alice Parker (b.1925) and Robert Shaw (1916-1999). This repertoire was written between 1950 and 1967 for seventeen RCA Victor recordings made by the Robert Shaw Chorale. Part I presents an overview of the music, title listings, and publisher information. Part II is a history of the collaboration, beginning with its genesis and the working relationship between the two. Their work occurred in the "Golden Age" of choral music in America and during the American folk music revival, both of which contributed to commercial album sales and the fame of Shaw and the Chorale. Part III describes the style of the arrangements, whose nineteen style characteristics are demonstrated in excerpts from six different songs. A detailed method developed by Dr. Parker for identifying distinguishing features of these arrangements is applied to one of the folk hymns. Over half of the Parker-Shaw arrangements are then compared in spreadsheets, found in Appendix III, with successive appendices presenting summaries of the results of the comparisons. This process reveals, among other things, the central role of melody and counterpoint in determining the nature of this music, and the arrangers' preference for working with melodies based on traditional church modes and gapped scales over those with strong tonal implications. Part IV demonstrates that the enduring quality of this repertoire can be credited principally to Shaw's comprehensive grasp of both classical and popular music, and Parker's mastery of Shaw's arranging technique. Also important were Parker and Shaw's continual desire to select folk-based music of high quality, to be faithful to the spirit of the melody and text, and to entertain the listener. The document concludes that Parker and Shaw's greatest contribution to the choral repertoire was in their arrangements of early American folk hymns. Though these folk hymns were originally not intended for choirs, the Parker-Shaw arrangements preserve the spirit of the original hymn while making full use of the resources of a four-part chorus, providing the choral world with a significant genre of excellent repertoire.

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