Robert E. Cook Honors College alumna and percussionist Erin Barbour returned to the Great Hall on the campus of Indiana University of Pennsylvania in December for quite nostalgic reasons and to premier her new arrangements.
“I'm very comfortable with the Great Hall space,” said Barbour, 27, a native of Morrisville, PA, who currently resides in Charlottesville, Virginia.
“I've performed there many times before and I even had one of my senior recitals there,” she said. “I know the way the hall sounds, and I think it is a comfortable, intimate space. Also, one tune was to an accompanying video, and I knew I needed a space equipped with a video screen and a nice audio system. But the greatest thing about a Great Hall performance is that I love that space. I practically lived there for four and a half years. I had the Honors College graduation ceremony on that stage, and I learned priceless things in that room.
“At our concert we premiered several works that I have written and arranged,” she said. “I wanted to premier them in a special place, and I thought the Great Hall would be wonderful.”
She studied percussion at IUP and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in music performance with a double major in history in 2002.
She played quads for “The Legend,” IUP’s marching band, and percussion in Jack Stamp's Wind Ensemble, the IUP Orchestra and the IUP Percussion Ensemble. She also played piano for the IUP Jazz Ensemble.
Since graduating, Barbour has embraced several career paths while her musical career has also flourished.
She manages two French restaurants and is studying for the sommelier test, which will accredit her with being a wine expert. She handles promotional materials for bands at music booking agency Sam Hill Entertainment, teaches drum lessons and works with local drum lines and percussion sections.
She teaches clinics and hand-on workshops, and has guest lectured at IUP, Indiana University, Piedmont Virginia Community College, Bloomington (Indiana) South High School and Western Albemarle High School. She has worked with the Lotus World Music Festival in Bloomington, Indiana, and served as a sound preservation technician at the IU Archives of Traditional Music.
Along with her talent as a percussionist, Barbour is also an accomplished composer and singer. She is an ethnomusicologist and her interests lie in classical percussion, Latin drum set and marching percussion.
Her compositions and arrangements have been performed by the IU Latin American Popular Music Ensemble , the MUMC Hand Bell Choir , and various drum lines, singers, chamber groups, and percussion ensembles.
Her accolades include performing in the Afro-Cuban ensemble Nasha, Brasilian samba drum lines Women of Mass Percussion and Samba Sensation, congas in the Joe Vento All-Star Big Band and the Afro-Hoosier International Afro-pop band.
She has also played drum set in several eclectic ensembles, including the girl punk rock band DUM(B) , heavy metal band Black Mojo, and several samba groups.
“Performing is so intense,” she explained. “I love the individual perspective that musicians can impose upon compositions. It's so interesting to study how different musicians interpret a work of music, and then to study that music and interpret it your own way. In that way, performance is like saying something. It's even more interesting to perform a piece that you wrote yourself, because then, you're saying something that you thought of to begin with.
“If you accept the soul/body duality of people, music is a way of creating a sonic physical environment that can transport both the performers and the listeners to another more metaphysical place. In such a perspective on music, the musician serves as a conduit to that other place. In that sense, performing is practically religious.
“Percussion is so much fun because it's so kinetic. Moving around so much is fun and audiences are almost always receptive to percussion performances.”
Currently, Barbour is timpanist in the Charlottesville Municipal Band , teaches drum line and concert percussion at Western Albemarle High School, and performs with several percussion duos: iMallet with I-Jen Fang, Kairos with Mika Godbole, and Wanderlust with Irish musician Ann Connolly. Erin also collaborates with Hang Drum player Dante Bucci, singer-songwriter Kathy Compton, and rapper MzMena.
“I'm also working on a bunch of compositions,” she said. “One is a chamber piece for trio of vibraphone, marimba, and hang drum. The hang drum is this new form of drum in the steel drum family. It looks like a flying saucer and has an incredible tone.”
Also on her musical horizon are several projects.
“I am planning an album,” she said. “It will be a jazz/Latin album and I will play vibraphone and sing with a jazz quintet. I have two other research projects I am working on as well. One is a documentary/book about the history of marching drum lines. The other is a book/documentary about the history of the drum set.”
Barbour said she continually draws on her experiences and learning process of the RECHC.
“The education at the Honors College is one that really calls one to action,” she said. “While I was a student I received much encouragement from the Honors College staff, professors, and Robert E. Cook to take action and do countless things I might never have done otherwise. Each summer I traveled all over the world to take special classes. Each fall I traded stories with all my classmates who had also been all around the world doing research or taking classes. Such an environment makes the world seem small and, in a sense, conquerable. That view of humanity, plus the HCesque call-to-action attitude provides an incredible global perspective that I appreciate and draw from on an daily basis.”
Her advice to students is to “Talk to your professors. Regularly plan out goals and drafts for achieving the goals, then get to it. Think big. Use all the resources available to you.”