His Life’s Work

UNH Today: Arts Articles

It started when he was a small child in Manchester, New Hampshire, hearing his mother prepare for her performances as a professional singer. It continued at UNH, where he received his degree in music. But it was at the age of 82 that Richard Alan White ’58 would see his passion for music reach a pinnacle few attain.Last October, White’s opera “Hester” received its professional debut with two sold-out piano-vocal performances at the Center for Contemporary Opera in New York. His 900-page labor of love, written over the course of four decades, retells Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic work, “The Scarlet Letter.” And with write-ups in The New York Times and on NHPR, White found himself in the limelight at an age when the majority of his classmates are well into retirement.
White’s journey to composing an opera for full orchestra and voices — with, as he puts it, “parts for everyone but the chandelier” — began early. Like the plot of a great story, however, his path was not a straight line: He would take myriad jobs to pay the bills and support his family, but through it all, music remained his true vocation from his earliest days.
“The important things in my life are what come first,” White says, speaking from his Brooklyn, New York, home studio. He recalls taking clarinet lessons and singing in churches and synagogues in the 1940s. At Manchester High School, he loved performing in Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, recalling how the curtain would go up on a tableau of actors frozen in place during “HMS Pinafore” and the audience would erupt into applause. “Little things like that, you always remember,” he says.
“This opera and all those 900 pages were put together with a No. 2 pencil.” 

At UNH, he sang in the choir and studied music with professors like Donald Steele and Vincent Bleecker, whom he …

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