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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Remembering Daniel Pinkham (1923-2006).

Jason Shelton was the first to let me know this morning that the highly-regarded composer and long-time King's Chapel music director Daniel Pinkham died Monday morning. Here's the Boston Globe obituary, the PlaybillArts obit, an appreciation from the New England Conservatory where he taught for many decades, and Daniel Pinkham's website. A memorial service is scheduled at King's Chapel for Saturday, January 20, at 2 o'clock.

I have several enduring memories of Dan. Of course I encountered him as a parishioner at King's Chapel, where I loved the mix of baroque and modern church music he conducted and performed, but it was during my three summers as a tour guide at the historic church that I got to know Dan just a bit more personally. One weekday afternoon, he called down to me from the gallery after I had finished leading a large group through the church and told me that he had enjoyed my tour. (If I had known he was eavesdropping, I'm sure I would have lowered my voice!) To think that he had been in my audience was humbling, embarrassing, but also gratifying.

In July 1997, he and Carl Scovel, the minister at King's Chapel, acknowledged the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the Mormon pioneers in the Salt Lake Valley by including the great Mormon hymn "Come, come ye saints" in the Sunday morning service — a choice that moved me to tears as a post-Mormon Unitarian. I couldn't sing, but it was marvelous and strange to hear my ancestral music performed in my Unitarian home, and I was very grateful.

Dan's sense of humor was always evident, his musicianship was superb, and I was always quite in awe of him. And that's partly because I had the privilege of singing with Harvard Divinity School's Schola Cantorum in a performance of his "O magnum mysterium" (a work for choir, organ, and brass) in 1998 or 1999 — the most difficult and perhaps the most exciting thing I've ever sung. I wish I could find a recording.

This month, countless choirs are performing his music, including his "Christmas Cantata." In a way, I think of Pinkham as one of the last great gifts of Unitarian Universalist Christianity to the rest of the church: Although I have no idea if he ever especially considered himself a "UU" — I rather doubt it — he composed liturgical music for a liturgical UU church that many churches, running the theological gamut, could embrace in their worship. I can't tell you how much that example means to me.

What a wonderful gift to leave music for others.

Copyright © 2006 by Philocrites | Posted 19 December 2006 at 9:02 PM

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December 20, 2006 10:44 AM | Permalink for this comment

I couldn't sing, but it was marvelous and strange to hear my ancestral music performed in my Unitarian home, and I was very grateful.

What an amazing experience that must have been. Thank you for sharing it with us, and for sharing your memories of Daniel. Zichronam livracha -- may his memory be a blessing.

Dan Harper:

December 23, 2006 10:32 AM | Permalink for this comment

What a loss for the music world. Pinkham was one of the really good composers of the late 20th C. And how many other 20th C. American composers regularly wrote music for use in churches? --not many, so it's a huge loss for the church world as well.

Anne Pinkham Gorney:

January 22, 2007 12:17 PM | Permalink for this comment

I was unable to attend the memorial service this past weekend for my uncle Dan but I got a first hand account from my sister Kate Pinkham who did attend and marveled at the love that poured out from everyone at the assembly.

Reading your article made me smile with fondness for him and the family memories that were invoked. I'm sure he will be sadly missed in the music world as he surely will be missed in the Pinkham world too.

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