Legendary Fairbanks priest-composer dies

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Jesuit priest Father Normand Amedée Pepin, an acclaimed composer and organist who served the Fairbanks Diocese for more than 30 years, died Jan. 4 in Weston, Mass.

Born in Norwood, Massachusetts in 1933, Father Pepin grew up an avid hockey player and served as an altar boy.

According to his obituary, in the mid-1940s a high school teacher, along with his mother encouraged him to study the organ. His interests, though, were not only musical. During his sophomore year, one day, he promised God that if the Red Sox beat the Yankees, he would say the rosary every day. The Red Sox won and except for three or four times in his life, he was true to his promise.

In 1950 he joined the Jesuits and began composing instrumental pieces. He was ordained a priest in 1963. After assignments in Brazil, Bahai and Maine, he was sent to Alaska in 1977 where he taught at Monroe High School in Fairbanks. The following year he taught at St. Mary’s School in St. Mary’s, Alaska.

In 1982 he spent a year focusing on music in Spring Hill, Florida. During this year he composed In Paradisum, a vocal piece for piano or organ accompaniment. Other choral pieces followed. His most noted choral arrangement was Obedient unto Death, an oratorio about the passion and death of Jesus. It was first performed in Fairbanks in 1987, on Palm Sunday. This score was included in the Fairbank’s Time Capsule that is to be opened in 2059 for the 100th anniversary of Alaskan statehood.

Later, the Pittsburgh Concert Chorale staged this oratorio twice. This composition was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and reached the finals. In 2002 the Pittsburgh Concert Chorale performed the world premiere of Hadassah, a musical drama about the story of Esther. Normand composed the music and Doris Esteban wrote the libretto.

In 1983 he returned to Fairbanks where he worked for the next 27 years in various roles. He composed most of his musical works during this time.

In 2010 Father Pepin was assigned to Campion Center in Weston, Massachusetts. He composed his last musical composition and performed it at the rededication for the Chapel of the Holy Spirit, Campion Center, on June 19, 2011.


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