Listening closely, beyond pitch and rhythm, Anthony J. Palmer heard in music “the spiritual, mystical experiences that permeate our existence.”
As a teacher, he worked with high school and college students. As a composer, he wrote for musicians ranging in talent from amateurs who sang occasionally to polished professionals.
He also inspired all he encountered with his belief that music helps everyone transcend the challenges of each day. Music, he wrote in an article for Philosophy of Music Education Review, “serves superbly as the bridge between the outer and inner worlds.”
Dr. Palmer, who ended his career after about a decade of teaching at Boston University, died Feb. 1 in Aventura Hospital in Aventura, Fla., after suffering a heart attack while on a cruise to the Bahamas. He was 81 and lived in Hudson.
His arrival at BU after moving to Greater Boston at the end of the 1990s “was a huge boost to the music education department because he brought new ideas and a new vision,” said Andre de Quadros, a music professor who formerly directed the university’s School of Music. “He had a profound impact.”
While teaching at BU, Dr. Palmer decided the music education field would benefit from holding a second Tanglewood Symposium in 2007, 40 years after a national conference of music educators held the first Tanglewood Symposium.
“We had leading people from all over the country and other parts of the globe attending,” de Quadros said. “It was a very important symposium to generate a new vision for music education in the 21st century.”
Shortly before Dr. Palmer died, he and de Quadros published “Tanglewood II: Summoning the Future of Music Education,” a book they co-edited that addresses areas of music teaching featured in the symposium.
“The 1967 Tanglewood Symposium was a watershed event in the history of music education and had effects beyond our borders,” Dr. Palmer told BU for an online announcement of the book’s publication. “We are confident that Tanglewood II will also have an impact across the worldwide profession. The book carries a message of reevaluation and renewal of music learning and teaching so sorely needed at this time of external pressures on music programs in schools.”
For Dr. Palmer, de Quadros said, “the Tanglewood project brought to a climax a lifetime of work in music education. He was able to incorporate his life’s work, his own opinions, and his philosophy of music education.”
Born in Youngstown, Ohio, Dr. Palmer was the second of three children whose father was a welder.
After high school, he served in the Air Force during the Korean War, which delayed his college studies and possibly fueled the enthusiasm he brought to his career, particularly in its later years.
“Toward the end of his life, he seemed like he was always in a hurry to accomplish much, much more that he had not been able to accomplish because of his late start,” said his wife, Linda. “He always had five or six things going at once.”
Dr. Palmer graduated from California State University in 1958 with a bachelor’s degree in voice and in 1960 with a master’s in music education and composition.
For about two decades, he was a choral director and taught in Los Angeles-area high schools, and then taught music and choral activities at Los Angeles Valley College.
Dr. Palmer married Norma Johnson, and they had two children while living in Los Angeles and in the San Gabriel Valley, outside the city. That marriage ended in divorce.
Along with taking the family on camping trips, Dr. Palmer was an accomplished cook and published a small cookbook of his mother’s recipes, said his daughter, Carolyn of Colorado Springs.
He was, she recalled, “just very optimistic and positive.”
In 1975, Dr. Palmer graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles, with a doctorate in music education and ethnomusicology.
He taught music education at the University of Tennessee from 1980 through 1987. While there, he met Linda Kobylenski, and they married in 1986.
At the end of the 1980s, Dr. Palmer taught at UCLA before moving to Hawaii, where he was a professor of music at the University of Hawaii at Mânoa until he first retired in 1998. Throughout all his years teaching, Dr. Palmer also composed.
“I have always felt that compositional techniques required that each work satisfy the parameters of the group for which the composition is written,” he wrote in a biography posted on the website Orpheus Music Press . “I believe then that the task of the composer is to be creative within the boundaries set by the capabilities of the group.”
Dr. Palmer was not averse to revising his compositions and making adjustments to accommodate the skill level of musicians in an orchestra and the amount of time they had to prepare.
“One factor in this equation is that community orchestras, like community choirs, have limited rehearsal time, usually once per week for a couple of hours,” he wrote.
With musicians and students who had more resources and talent, however, Dr. Palmer was ready to offer an unlimited amount of his own time.
“He treated all of his students with dignity and with kindness, and he was extremely generous with his time, and his energy was absolutely vibrant,” said Margaret Ruth Mell, who teaches at Villanova University in Pennsylvania and sought guidance from Dr. Palmer while she was working on a doctorate.
“He had a way of being able to pull strands together from seemingly unrelated fields and knit them together in a really beautiful tapestry,” she said.
A private service will be held in California for Dr. Palmer, who in addition to his wife and daughter leaves a son, David of Oklahoma City; a sister, Babs Margoni of Temecula, Calif.; four grandchildren; and a one great-grandson.
Even though he retired twice, from the University of Hawaii and then in 2009 from Boston University, Dr. Palmer brought the kind of energy and curiosity to teaching in his late 70s more often found in younger professors, said de Quadros, who added that Dr. Palmer taught BU’s first online music education course.
“He was really a remarkable figure,” de Quadros said. “I have a huge admiration for him. I admired him when he was alive and admire him no less now that he’s no longer with us.”