Archive for Sunday, November 15, 1992


November 15, 1992


It's hard to imagine James Barnes composing quiet, comtemplative chamber music as he drives the winds section of the Kansas University Symphony Orchestra through a rehearsal.

He waves his arms and tacks-tacks his baton on the conductor's stand. He shoots a quick glance to the woodwinds, who are handling a section of Shostakovich's Ninth Symphony a little too gingerly.

"C'mon, guys. Let it rock," Barnes says in his Oklahoma drawl.

The next day he is shoveling forkfulls of Kansas Union cafeteria salad into his mouth as he tries to describe his latest work, "Meadowlark," which he will conduct Monday in its world premiere.

"It's sort of moody, questioning and quiet," he says, still chewing. "I don't know. It's just me."

THE KU CONCERT Wind Ensemble will perform "Meadowlark" during a concert at 8 p.m. Monday in Swarthout Recital Hall. It's the last in the series of five works written to commemorate the 100th anniversary of KU Bands.

Barnes, professor of music theory and composition and assistant director of KU Bands, was commissioned to write the piece by the KU chapters of Kappa Kappa Psi and Tau Beta Sigma, national band honoraries.

"I was going to do the piece for free," he said. "But I wouldn't turn down the money."

The piece, a pastorale, is scored for a chamber ensemble: piano, cello, percussion, and a woodwind quintet with a flute, French horn, bassoon, clarinet and oboe.

"IT'S LIKE a walk out in the country," he said, struggling to define the piece. "It's very simplistic and straightforward. Not too modern.

"It ends with bird calls coming from offstage. The flutist gets up before it is over, goes off stage, and you hear these bird calls at the end."

Barnes is far from pastoral. His mind and body are stuck in allegro high gear, that is.

"Meadowlark" is the latest of nearly 100 original works by the 43-year-old composer.

He claims composing the piece took about two weeks. Writing music is excruciating work, he says.

"It's really an act of desperation," he said. "I love to orchestrate. I love to conduct. I love to teach. Writing music is hard work.

"When you sit down and look that a blank sheet of paper, that is drudgery."

HE STARTED writing the piece by banging out ideas on the piano and then fleshing them out for other instruments.

As "Meadowlark" began to take shape, Barnes asked friends on the KU faculty if they would commit to playing a part in the piece.

Three guest soloists from the KU department of music and dance will play in Monday's premiere: Richard Angeletti, piano; Susan Brashier, oboe, and Edward Laut, cello.

The 100th anniversary of KU Bands also marks a milestone for Barnes, an Oklahoma native who came to KU to study music in 1967, and began working in the music department in his fifth year at KU.

"That's the scary thing. The band is 100 years old, and I have been here a quarter of that time," he said.

Does he like the finished product? "I don't judge my pieces for a while," he said. And he isn't sure what kind of reaction to expect from the audience.

"CHAMBER music is like baseball. It's more fun to play than it is to watch," he said.

"They may hate it, they may love it. I may have my car waiting at the back door with my motor running."

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