Obituary as it appeared in the Providence Journal
February 28, 1997
By Channing Gray
Journal-Bulletin Arts Writer
Dr. C. Alexander Peloquin 78, noted religious music composer.
PROVIDENCE -- Dr. C. Alexander Peloquin, whose jazzy compositions helped reshape the face of religious music in this country, died yesterday at the Bethany Home in Providence.
Peloquin, who was 78 and lived on the East Side of Providence. was at the forefront of musical reform in the Catholic Church, writing deeply-felt pieces with a popular appeal.
"A lot of religious music today is boring," he once said, "and I don't think worship calls us to boredom."
Peloquin, who had been in failing health, was featured for years on national television and radio programs. In 1979 he was called to conduct before Pope John Paul II and 1.5 million people gathered in Chicago's Grant Park. His one disappointment, he would later say, was that the music shell held only 300 singers. He had 700 who wanted to take part in the historic event.
Peloquin was also resident composer at Boston College and, for more than four decades, music director at the Cathedral of 55. Peter and Paul in Providence. In 1991 he was named music director emeritus for the church.
Bishop Louis E. Gelineau issued a statement yesterday praising Peloquin for his musical gifts and his "faith and love for the church which prompted him to use his skills for the Lord."
"He was a major figure in American liturgical music." said percussionist George Goneconto. who accompanied Peloquin on four European tours. "He was able to take the best of American music and weave it into the liturgy."
Peloquin wrote more than 150 scores, many of which used jazz-like rhythms and harmonies reminiscent of George Gershwin, Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein, all composers he admired.
He was born in Northbridge, Mass., a son of the late Noe G. and Marie Louise (Bernard) Peloquin. Musical training began at the age of 8, when he started piano lessons. Three years later he had a regular spot on a Worcester radio station and soon after he gave his first organ recital at the First Congregational Church in nearby Millbury.
By the time he reached 25, Peloquin had played the piano with Leonard Bernstein, and, in World War II, he served in Europe as a bandmaster for the 314th Army Band, bringing the sounds of Gershwin to GIs in Italy, France and Morocco.
He recalled in an interview four years ago that French villagers were adamantly opposed to concerts of American music until he softened them up with a medley of French folksongs. It was that experience, Peloquin recalled, that taught him that it was not enough to be a fine concert musician. Composers had to have a sense of what will appeal to those "in the pews."
Starting in the 1950s, Peloquin began a 13-year relationship with The Catholic Hour, first on NBC radio then on CBS television.
His music was steeped in Gregorian chant back then but soon moved in different directions.
In 1964 he unveiled the first English high Mass ever sung in the United States at a conference in St. Louis. That began Peloquin's rise to national prominence as one of the few classically trained composers inspired by the reforms set out in the second Vatican Council.
"He was a bridge between the old and new," said Father Anthony Mancini, who was hand-picked by Peloquin to succeed him as music director at the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul.
"He was the most important composer of liturgical music since the Vatican Council," said Mancini, who met Peloquin in 1971 when Mancini was a student at Our Lady of Providence Seminary.
Mancini remembered Peloquin as a demanding perfectionist while rehearsing his Peloquin Chorale, which disbanded about five years ago. "He always got his product," said the priest.
Mancini just returned from Rome where he performed two of Peloquin's compositions for the Pope, including Rejoice in Hope, which was written for the installation of Bishop Gelineau here 25 years ago.
Mancini said his last conversation with Peloquin was just before he left for the Vatican. He said the ailing composer was "delighted" to learn the Pope was once again going to hear his music.
Peloquin, who was awarded many honorary doctorates, once said he was drawn to sacred music because at one point he had considered becoming a priest. "It stayed with me, it nourished me," he once said. "I'm glad because there are a lot of people writing for Broadway and composing symphonies that are heard once and never again."
In 1991, Rhode Island College performed one of his few secular works, the Four Freedom Songs, which are based on poems by Thomas Merton, and first performed at Dr. Martin Luther King's Ebenezer Baptist Church, as a tribute to King just months after his death. Peloquin said just before that performance that he felt music should make a difference. "If you sit down just to repeat yourself and never have the clouds part, what use is it?"
Peloquin is survived by a sister, Doirs M. Peloquin of Providence and a brother Lionel G. Peloquin.
A Pontifical Mass will be celebrated Monday at 10 a.m. at the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul.
Burial will be at St. Patrick's Cemetery in Whitinsville, Mass