C. Alexander Peloquin, Boston College's long-time composer-in-residence who is credited with helping to reshape the musical character of the Roman Catholic Church, died on Feb. 27 in Providence, RI from the effects of a stroke he suffered on Feb. 12. He was 78.
During his 38-year career at Boston College, Peloquin developed the Men's Glee Club into the internationally-known University Chorale, which performed his ground-breaking compositions throughout the United States and Europe.
When Peloquin arrived at Boston College in 1955 as conductor of the Glee Club, he immediately set out to broaden the repertoire, which largely consisted of Broadway standards. Although he kept some of the Lerner and Loewe, the demanding Peloquin also had the singers tackle the likes of Charpentier. "You can always do Broadway, and while it may please the audience, you're not really teaching choral music," Peloquin said in 1990, three years before his retirement. "I felt we could do something really substantial."
In the early 1960s, he reached for greater substance by bringing women into the club, and the Boston College Chorale made its inaugural appearance in March 1963 during Boston College's centennial celebration.
His works included the oft-performed "Gloria of the Bells" and "Lyric Liturgy." A list of his compositions filled 14 pages of a directory of Boston-based composers.
C. Alexander Peloquin.
Heartened by the Second Vatican Council reforms, which included introducing English into the Mass and more participation by the laity, he made a point of composing melodies containing simple refrains for the congregation to sing, and utilized elements from jazz to Broadway.
"When the liturgy changed, he was the first person to really take up the task of writing music in English and for the modern Church," Richard Proulx, director of music at Chicago's Cathedral of the Holy Name, told Boston College Magazine in 1990. The Boston College Chorale, more often that not, introduced those ground-breaking works to the world.
"I thought there were some very exciting possibilities," Peloquin said in 1990. "I knew the average Catholic in the United States did not know Latin, so here was a way to really involve him or her in the liturgy."
In 1979, he conducted a choir of 300 for a Mass celebrated by Pope John Paul II in Chicago's Grant Park, which was attended by 1.5 million people.
Peloquin grew up in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. By the time he was 11, Peloquin was playing classical piano on his own 15-minute radio show on WTAG in Worcester. He later studied at the New England Conservatory and earned a Boston Symphony Orchestra scholarship to the Berkshire Music Center, where he came to know composers Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein.
He served as a bandmaster during World War II, conducting music for Jewish, Catholic and Protestant services. Upon his return, he undertook music ministry at the Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul in Providence, RI and founded the Peloquin Chorale, which often performed at the cathedral. He also began writing liturgical music.
Robert Batastini, senior editor at GIA Quarterly, a national publishing firm for religious music, pointed to "Lyric Liturgy" from 1974 as paradigmatic Peloquin. "The first movement, 'God of Heights,' has a memorably beautiful but simple melody," he said in 1990. "It's a real catchy tune, and you give it to a congregation of 600, 800 people and they will snap it right up. That has been part of his forte, to involve the congregation in the liturgy."
Batastini also pointed to another movement of "Lyric Liturgy" which features interplay among the organ, timpani and horn section. "There really hadn't been anything like this before he introduced this style. In that sense, he is a liturgical Bernstein or Gershwin," Batastini said.
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