Piano and voice teacher Barry Brown began teaching at Swallow Hill about 13 years ago. “They needed a teacher for a men's beginning singing class that had students but no teacher. A friend of the school director knew me from all the shows she had seen me perform with my group. She put us together and they gave me the opportunity!”
Barry credits Mrs. Mapes, his elementary school music teacher for getting him started in music. “She was so great with every different kind of kid and every different level of interest and aptitude. During weekly school assemblies, one kid got to lead the rest of the school in a call-and-response song called "Amen”. When I was in sixth grade, I was given that lead.”
He studied the piano with a “wonderful old woman born in 1900. She was a great player and great teacher!” Like all good teachers she was able to bring out the best in her students “even when I was busy or tired or worried”. And in college Barry focused on voice and trained in classical and musical theater genres.
His mother was also musical. She “was a double-major in voice and piano from an east-coast music conservatory. She had fifty-two kids in our house every week, teaching lessons after school. Many of her students competed in the Kiwanis Stars of Tomorrow talent show, which inspired me to want to create an act. As a senior in high school, I played piano for the show and won first place in the local and state competitions, then went on to win second place in the regional competition.”
Barry’s listening tastes include “big band and swing music, the old crooners, classical piano, as well as piano jazz standards. My favorite musicians are the ones who have the most fun playing with a high level of competency. To watch and listen to a musician who really knows their voice or instrument, who has worked to be great at their craft, which includes the ability to tell the story to an audience and really invite us in, that's the best!”
Barry teaches all age groups including “three-year-olds in little Mozart's piano class, five-year-olds playing and singing, twelve-year-olds preparing for their bar/bat mitzvahs, ten-to-thirteen-year-olds in summer music/theater camps. High school and college students polishing their auditions for theater and TV talent shows, young adults putting music to their poems and lyrics, punk-rock performers saving their throats. Young professionals working on their open-mic set list. Career professionals putting together their front-porch songbook so they can enjoy making music with their neighbors, or who want to come in for an hour and just sing songs at the top of their lungs to release the tension of the day. Men who want to sing songs to their sweethearts or want to harmonize, women who want to find their voice, couples who want to work on the songs for their wedding. 88-year-olds who want to sing and play guitar/harmonica at the same time, 92-year-old women who want to get back out there. I've also loved teaching differently-abled people who love to express themselves, work through their personal stuff and present a musical part of themselves that shines bright!”
Currently, Barry teaches at the Englewood Swallow Hill location and on-line to students across the nation and around the world – “one of my singers Zooms in from Vietnam” – both individual and group music experiences. He ‘loves developing friendships with many of the folks who have music experiences with me. We text, Facebook and send videos of music. My music friends send me invites to their shows, we do open mics and karaoke together, we sing and perform at church together. It's just great!’
When it comes to lessons, Barry says “I don't think people should take lessons. I don't think people should TAKE anything.I think people have an idea of themselves and music - an inspiration - and they risk asking for help about getting themselves to that place. They give themselves a chance to be adventurous and curious about something that is stirring in their imaginations. They ask me to give whatever I have in their music experience. I am their helper and keep that flame lit as they are exploring and discovering and being curious and working to stretch and grow and do new things.”
He believes music should be fun and “really wants to do help a person love to play and/or sing. I first ask a new student what they want and to imagine themselves in the future doing music the way they've dreamed of doing it. What does that look like? Who are they playing for? Where are they playing?”
Then Barry focuses on their individual learning style. “Reading piano music, playing by ear, chord charts or what? What music do you love? What have you always wanted to do musically? It’s important to practice listening to music, to explore, to find out what all is out there, what you like and what moves you!”
And practicing expressing emotions through storytelling is the other side of music. I love to watch a student become competent and then confident in expressing themselves and the music they are creating.
“I wish I would have been more adventurous in my early musical life, listened to more music, more singers, seen more shows. I wish I would have played in more bands and written more songs and met more people and sung more duets with others. I wish I would have learned more theory and studied more history. I wish I would have played every piano I ever saw. It seems that Swallow Hill is just the place for these kinds of wishes!”
Contact BarryGo see Barry on September 24th - October 30th at Silver Dollar City in Branson, MO (voted #1 theme park in America by USA Today) where he’s appearing as "Master Pumpkin Carver". “I carved five hundred pumpkins for their harvest festival and carved a pumpkin which received the title of National Grand Champion for the Pumpkin Masters carving contest. I've carved for TV sitcoms, newscasts, talk shows and movies.