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Daniel Pinkham, 83; Boston composer, conductor known for organ and choral music

December 21, 2006|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Daniel Pinkham, a composer, conductor and teacher at the New England Conservatory and music director of the King's Chapel in Boston since the late 1950s, died Monday of leukemia in Natick, Mass., according to colleagues. He was 83.

Pinkham joined the conservatory faculty in 1958 and was appointed music director at King's Chapel, a historic Unitarian church on Boston's Freedom Trail, the next year.

Best known for his organ and choral music, he was a prolific and generous composer concerned with making his work accessible to the masses, said Heinrich Christensen, the current music director at King's.

Many of Pinkham's anthems now sung around the world were first performed in Boston. His "Christmas Cantata," written for conductor Lorna Cooke de Varon and the New England Conservatory Chorus in 1958, has become a staple of church and school choirs. De Varon cited the piece's "wonderful poignancy and joy" in an interview with the Boston Globe on Monday.

"I am not a sacred composer," Pinkham told the Boston Globe in 2000. "I just like to hear my pieces more than once, and when you write for the church, you have a better chance at that.... I tell my students I'm available for weddings, funerals and bar mitzvahs; I call this the inspiration of the pocketbook."

During his first year at the church, he began a series of Sunday evening concerts, which will celebrate its 50th season next year, the Rev. Earl Holt said.

Pinkham, who often performed on organ and harpsichord, retired as music director in June 2000 and was named Music Director Emeritus of King's Chapel, where a memorial service will be held Saturday.

In 2003 he wrote music for orchestra and narrator to accompany Robert McCloskey's classic children's story "Make Way for Ducklings," in the same vein as Prokofiev's "Peter and the Wolf."

Christensen said Pinkham continued working until last summer, and his "A Cradle Hymn" had its premiere Sunday night at the Memorial Church in Cambridge, Mass., performed by the Harvard University Choir.

Pinkham was born June 5, 1923, in Lynn, Mass., home of the factory that concocted his great-grandmother Lydia E. Pinkham's Vegetable Compound for "female complaints."

He received bachelor's and master's degrees in music from Harvard University, where he studied under Aaron Copland and Walter Piston. He also studied composition with Paul Hindemith, Arthur Honegger, Samuel Barber and Nadia Boulanger.

Pinkham is survived by his longtime partner, Andrew Paul Holman, and a brother, Christopher.

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