(Some of our conversation has been lightly edited for length or clarity.)
SW: Congrats on the virtual concert last week celebrating composer Darius Milhaud! How did that come about?
MP: My string quartet (the Eclipse Quartet) has had an association at Mills College in Oakland for years. Milhaud taught at Mills for many years and they have annual concerts to celebrate him. This year, they wanted to do something virtual and asked if Sara (Sara Parkins is Maggie’s twin and a professional violinist) and I could do something in our backhouse recording studio. I thought – we can do better than that. Sara and I have a trio (the Mojave Trio) with Genevieve Lee, the pianist at Pomona College and then we reached out to soprano Melissa Givens who is also at Pomona who is just a fabulous singer and to violinist Sarah Thornblade. It turned out to be a cool partnership between distant music departments and a program of solos and duos of Milhaud’s music. It also included music of Satie and Bolcom and Honegger and also a solo cello piece of my other sister Zeena who teaches at Mills. And we even ended with “What the World Needs Now” by Burt Bacharach, who was one of Milhaud’s students.
SW: Oh, I am so glad you mentioned that! I saw that on the program, and I wondered about the connection.
MP: Milhaud taught so many well-known people – like Dave Brubeck. If you do a Wikipedia search for students of Milhaud, you will be shocked! Not just by the sheer numbers, but you have names like Burt Bacharach that keep showing up. He taught a lot of people, both in the US and in Europe and seems to have been very beloved by his students. Milhaud is a big deal up at Mills College. They have a giant bust of him in the lobby of the concert hall. Honestly, he was incredibly prolific and his music is kind of mixed in quality. Some of it is brilliant but some of it needs a lot of massaging. It takes a lot of work to get inside and make all the musical decisions to pull it off, but it always feels worth it in the end.
SW: Thank you so much for agreeing to do this interview! This is the first one as part of this project, and honestly, probably my first interview since I worked for my high school newspaper.
SW: We had emailed back and forth earlier in quarantine, and you had mentioned you created some video channels for your various musical projects. Is that a skill that you just picked up, or did having all of this time give you an opportunity to expand on your skills?
MP: I felt like it was long overdue to make these Youtube channels for my different projects. For Eclipse Quartet, we have been around since 2003 and we have played so many concerts. But, since we don’t have a manager I feel like in a lot of ways our visibility is quite low outside Los Angeles. I never had enough time to make a video channel. Just the process of remembering dates of old concerts, finding those files, and asking people to send videos of performances, is very time-consuming. But luckily, Jeff (Jeff Gauthier – Maggie’s husband) helps me! After I go through the process of hunting down the videos and making sure they are good enough to put out there, Jeff helps me with the technical side. And it was really like going down memory lane, remembering past concerts and repertoire projects. It was kind of cathartic in a way to go back and look at all of those concerts. Jeff has gotten really good at making them into Youtube videos. I don’t have those skills, but I do have good reaching out to people skills, and getting stuff done skills. It was fun, and I also made a little Maggie Parkins cello channel, so that exists and I can keep adding to that.
SW: That’s awesome. And yay for supportive, tech-savvy husbands! I have one of those, too. Speaking of Jeff, the two of you have a musical duo -The Smudges – have you been able to make music together these last few months?
MP: Of all the chamber groups I have, it’s the one that’s kept going! We’ve only been doing the Smudges for two years, but we have a bunch of music from the shows we have played. Jeff writes most of the music, but we also asked other people to write for us. Since Covid we had time to work on a new piece by our friend and accordionist Guy Klucevsek. We did a couple of very small outdoor backyard concerts, and then we did Brad Dutz’s Sunland Streaming Series Concert. We were supposed to do a recording of a fantastic Tom Flaherty piece, but I injured my hand and was out of commission for a few weeks. But we’re back, we just started rehearsing again, and we’re working on a recording. We’ve been playing these pieces now for a couple years, and we’re sort of ready to move on, but we want to record them first. It has been fun to not have to commute to rehearsals. Scheduling is like well should we go after dinner, or before I start teaching or whatever, so it’s fun.
SW: I’m so glad you guys can do that!
MP: Yeah, it’s really nice. And, it’s one of the more unusual groups I’m in: it has improvisation, it has somebody playing electronics all the time. It’s not quite defined exactly what genre it is because it’s got a little jazz. It’s got a little bit of new music. So it’s got a little bit of everything in it.
SW: Well, it’s kind of like you! I mean, you are such a musical omnivore. You can do everything. Okay, so you come from a musical family. And I’m always curious about how people got introduced to music, presumably at a young age. Why did you pick the cello? Why did that speak to you?
MP: My mom was a pianist. Sara and I were the last two kids and I think she wanted some string players in the house. When we were four we both took violin lessons for a short time but that didn’t last. There was the Detroit Community Music School where we grew up, and my mom was teaching piano there. When we were seven, I was two inches taller than Sara, so my mom just went “cello (pointing to me), violin (pointing to Sara)”. I mean, it was really random like that. And it’s good that it turned out that way because I cannot imagine Sara playing cello. When I see that little pinky of hers at the top of her violin, I can’t imagine that little pinky doing justice in the cello. So really, it was just like that, my mom picked for us and, I think she wanted some string players to play with, too.
SW: I love that story. So, since we’re putting out these interviews to kind of promote and market this high school composer initiative that we have, I think that maybe the applicants might be interested in hearing what their mentors were like during high school. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
MP: Well, high school for me wasn’t my favorite time of life. My older siblings were out of the house and my parents were going through a rough patch. I wish I had been able to go maybe to an Arts High School like OCSOA in Orange County but I was in a suburban Detroit High School, and pretty much counting the moments until I could escape to go to a music school. I did have some eclectic tastes. My brother was really into jazz as a bass player and I got introduced to Miles, McCoy Tyner, Bill Evans, and Coltrane. My sister Zeena was at Bard College and her friends were playing all kinds of music for me like Zappa and Henry Cow and Eric Dolphy. I worked at a local record store – Harmony House Records, and I got exposed to a lot of really cool music too. They hired me because I was a “classical music expert”. I had started a huge record collection beginning from then and going all through college. I also loved to read and I didn’t have a huge social group. I was a little bit of a loner, but also knew that I was going to get out there and go find my peeps in college. I tried all the groups in high school: the jocks and the burnouts and the thespians. I tried finding my peeps there but I never really did.
SW: Yeah, I feel you on that. Yeah, and commend you for trying to find your peeps! I grew up in suburban Buffalo and was counting down the days. Oh, boy.
MP: Man. And then weather wise I go from Detroit, MI to Rochester, NY. And you can relate to that. I remember just standing at a light once waiting to get to 8:30 theory class and slipping and falling and I wasn’t even moving. Falling in the snow or falling on the ice or something just waiting for a traffic light….
SW: Ugh, snow ..and ice. Okay, why are you excited to participate in this project? Why do you think it’ll be meaningful? Or what are you most looking forward to?
MP: I’m really looking forward to helping high school students find a voice of creativity and experience through music. Guiding them to learn how to communicate their musical voice and to help them just articulate what it is they want to do. I am looking forward to showing them up close the things that our instruments can do. What Sara and Brian do on their wind instruments is so different from what Shalini and I do on our stringed instruments. Then even more with piano and percussion! It is a lot to offer a young composer. I’m just excited to help students learn to follow their musical instincts through writing music. So I’m excited. I’m looking forward to get to work with some of these students closely either online or closely in person.
Maggie’s Covid Projects (clicking on the project will take you to the recording or to a site with more information)