Conservatory Spotlight

Lavinia Kell Parker, Piano Instructor & Composer

Tell us a bit about your musical background: (i.e. how old were you when you started, what instruments do you play, where have you studied, who were your influential mentors, etc.)

When I think of my childhood, growing up on a farm in Ontario, I’m flooded with happy musical memories: my mother at the pump organ; my father’s morning wake-up call, a booming bass voice singing God Save the Queen; the many opportunities provided to me through our church, singing in harmony and later playing the organ (my uncle thumping the back of the pews to make sure the hymns didn’t go too slowly). Even with five kids in the country, my parents ensured we had excellent music instruction. When I was 5 years old I attended Music for Young Children with founder Francis Balodis, and in the years following my mother spent a lot of time in the car, taking us to lessons and performance opportunities. In highschool, I loved band, playing flute and trombone, and I would memorize all the instrument parts and improvise transcriptions of our band pieces on the piano. I participated in a German exchange program, and became very good at cycling with my trombone, playing for local brass bands. I was also glad to be an accompanist for my youngest sister, a beautiful singer. When I went off to Wilfrid Laurier University, we made karaoke background cassettes (mostly with pop love songs) so we could keep “playing together.” 

Studying at University, I was awakened to a new type of music and experience. I remember feeling complete awe at the first choir rehearsal learning the Brahm’s Requiem. Being enveloped by sound, singing this “new to me” music with a community of people was life changing.  Fundamental music skill classes also made it apparent how much I didn’t know. I was a student in class with Anne Carothers Hall, author of “Studying Rhythm,” and early in the term, she had all of the students clap rhythms individually. She must have sensed my terror because she never called on me. She had me stay after class, and I admitted to her that I had no idea how to read the exercise. The kindness with her response is something that I hope to embody in my teaching. That year I received a WLU scholarship for “outstanding promise in chosen field of music” and I know that it is because of her time and encouragement. When I teach, I see this potential in each student and invest this same energy that others have given to me. For the record, I,  personally, keep reaching for that promise - I feel like I still have a lot to learn.


How has music changed your life?

Does getting married count? My husband, Brad Parker, now piano professor at UofL, was in many of my classes, including piano masterclass with Heather Taves, and piano pedagogy with Margorie Beckett. We were married shortly after graduation, continued with residencies in France and the United States, and are now thrilled to be living in Alberta. Well-wishers at our wedding said “may you forever make beautiful music together” and with the addition of two kids I think we still do that…


What drew you to the world of composition? Can you tell us a bit about some of your favourite pieces that you’ve composed?

There is something intoxicating about the act of creation. I have a drive to write; it is like a spiritual necessity. There is also this paradox because it can be agonizingly difficult work. Favourite works would have to be the pieces that I’m actively composing, which right now, is a choral work for the UofL Singers. While writing a piece I am consumed by the process and it is exciting to see a vision unfold.  

Favourite past works would be tied to my life experiences. My piece, Songs Are Thoughts, was the first work composed after our son was born and it when it was premiered by the Eastman Women’s Chorus, I was in attendance but in active labour with our daughter! This piece is also significant to me as it has undergone many revisions and voicings with advice of another composer/conductor, Martha Hill Duncan, and conductor Julia Davids who championed its publicaiton with Cypress Choral Publishing. Composing can be isolating and to have this type of collaboration and mentorship was extremely encouraging to me.

White Lights In Darkness, was sketched while we lived in Paris and my husband was singing with a Gregorian Chant choir.

Crawford Road, for carillon, was another piece where I had the joy to collaborate with the premiere performer, Linda Davies. It was written for the SC Clemson Tillman Bells, named after Ben "Pitchfork" Tillman a proponent of Jim Crow, and also the site of the first Clemson admittance of an African American, Harvey Gantt.

Soli Deo Gloria, was the first choral work where I was invited to tour with the choir! I got to visit Italy with the Erskine Choraleers singing in incredible venues such as St. Peter's Basilica in Rome and St. Mark's in Venice.


Do you have any advice for students who are interested in composing their own music?

Yes! Just do it! It doesn't matter if you've mastered notation. Improvise your ideas, create your own instruments, learn how to use graphics to visualize your music and get it on paper. At the same time commit to learning music theory, attend concerts and keep practicing. Seek out excellence. There are many opportunities in the city, and the University has excellent Digital Audio Arts and Composition faculty. People often inquire to me about setting words to music. When setting text to a melody, the most important thing is to understand syllabic emphasis. When composing O Magnum Mysterium the first work I wrote after moving to Lethbridge, I walked the Coulees each day internalizing and understanding the flow of the latin text. During those walks I established the flow of the work that entails the great wonder and yet peaceful calm of the animals at the birth of Christ. This work will be available December 20 as part of a Christmas Special, Festival of Lights, with the MC Singers presented by Mississippi Public Broadcasting: Mississippi College Festival of Lights: Specials | PBS