Remembering Nancianne Parrella (November 14, 1935-June 2, 2019)
This week marks the anniversary of the passing of the Grand Dame of the Organ Loft. Nancianne Parrella was our Associate Organist from 1994 to 2015, and Organist Emerita until her death. Our parishioners knew Nanci as a kind, gracious woman with a self-deprecating sense of humor, who could really tear it up on Easter Sunday. But those of us involved in the music scene beyond the walls of the church saw her walk among the titans of American music. Notable conductors such as the late Joseph Flummerfelt, Robert Shaw, Kurt Masur, and Lorin Maazel regarded her as an equal and indispensable partner.
We were fortunate at St. Ignatius to be graced with Nanci the musician, Nanci the advisor, Nanci the prophet, Nanci the teacher, and Nanci the mother. Whether you were a seasoned professional musician or felt like you couldn’t carry a tune, she made you feel like the most important person in the room.
Many of us forget that Nanci’s tenure at St. Ignatius was but the closing chapter of an extraordinary career. Other highlights include:
- Serving as organist at First Presbyterian, Trenton; Trinity Church, Princeton; and Holy Trinity Lutheran, Central Park West, where she was an integral part of their Bach Vespers Series.
- Teaching with her husband, Joachim, in the Princeton public school system from 1957 until her retirement in the mid-1990’s.
- Serving as principal accompanist for the Robert Shaw Chorale and Festival Singers.
- A 14-year collaboration with the Bethlehem (PA) Bach Choir.
- Serving on faculty at Westminster Choir College in Princeton alongside Joe Flummerfelt.
In addition to all these engagements, she maintained a dizzying freelance career, playing for and serving as informal advisor to almost every major choral ensemble in New York City, professional and avocational.
Upon meeting Nanci in 2001, she immediately treated me as her peer, which I most certainly was not. Her husband, Jo, and their daughters, Amy and Lisa graciously embraced the St. Ignatius musicians as members of their household, even when it meant less time with their spouse and mother. We owe as much a debt of gratitude to them as we do to Nanci.
One of the ways we honor Nanci’s and Jo’s memories is through the Joachim and Nancianne Parrella Memorial Organ Fund. Use this link for more information about this remarkable couple, the fund, and how you can honor their legacy: https://donate.stignatiusloyola.org/parrellamemorial
Nanci was real. She lived with both feet firmly on the ground. And as her art reached for the heavens, she took us by the hand and, with a bright smile and a twinkle in her eye, led us there as well.
Her voice still echoes in my mind: “Honey, you can’t just play the damn notes! Let’s have another bottle of wine.”