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Jennifer Margaret Barker


photo of Jennifer Margaret Barker

Music: Composition

By: Gail Obenreder

“I keep telling my students that there is no retirement date for composers. One of the joys of composing is the possibility of being able to work on our passion throughout our lifetimes.”

Though she’s lived in Delaware for 20 years, Jennifer Margaret Barker was raised in a small Scottish village near Loch Lomond and Glasgow. She had the advantage of growing up “in a peaceful, beautiful setting where we could climb the hills . . . but also near an extremely culturally vibrant city” where she and her three siblings attended both school and university.

The Barker home was filled with music. Her father (“whose family could only afford violin lessons for his elder brother”) and mother (“who drove us from lesson to lesson in cold, dark, wet Scottish winters”) were determined that their children would have music-making in their lives, and Barker “was fortunate to study piano, violin, and oboe with the principal chairs of two symphony orchestras.”

The Newark resident arrived in the U.S. to pursue a master’s degree in piano performance at Syracuse University. But faculty there encouraged her to pursue a second master’s in music composition, and “for me, the two fields – performance and composition – intertwine beautifully.” After a year as an adjunct professor at Syracuse, Barker moved to Philadelphia for her Ph.D. in composition at the University of Pennsylvania. Now she’s a distinguished professor at the University of Delaware with 50 published works (more coming), along with scores of awards, commissions, publications, and accolades.

Ealasaid, 2019
Length of Full Work in Minutes: 6:50
Role in Creation: Composer

Songs 1 & 2 from Harmonious Dreams, 2019
Length of Full Work in Minutes: 16:45
Role in Creation: Composer

Barker’s career is blossoming internationally, so she’s able to serve as an ambassador for Delaware and bring artistic opportunities to the First State. Grammy-nominated, she has been called “a composer of profound sensibility,” and her work (though grounded in traditional forms) artfully explores sonic boundaries. But no matter how progressive her harmonic language, “my compositional style has always been focused on color, texture, and timbre . . . the acoustic qualities of individual instruments and voices and their subsequent pairing.”

Her earliest influences were 20th century choral and chamber music. But a continuing inspiration is Pulitzer-winning composer George Crumb, with whom she studied. Barker reveres him “not only for his musical language, humility, and humanity, but for his strength of spirit. He just turned 91 and continues to compose every day.” She notes wryly that even with technology and computer notation, “if all else fails, we can still compose with a pencil and a piece of paper.”

It’s an increasing challenge, though, to carve out time to write, swamped by “my biggest foe, email.” And the COVID pandemic has had a huge effect. Live presentations were moved or rescheduled, including an international concert (in Malta) and a major concert/recording project with Delaware musicians that Barker vows “we will complete, no matter what the obstacles!”

Since meeting her husband in 2003, Barker has developed skills in videography, and they frequently work on music video projects throughout the United States, Europe, and Australasia. The peripatetic composer loves to travel, but her other passion is much closer to home – “my garden. [It] was on the 2019 Newark Arts Alliance Garden Tour and . . . I hope to be accepted for the tour again!”

Her Division Masters Fellowship award will support four composition projects utilizing Delaware artists, and she is “delighted that this award will benefit more Delawareans than just me.” Thankfully acknowledging the Division’s support, Barker also is moved by the “resilience and positivity of artists and arts administrators [who have] found ways to move forward during the pandemic . . . and by my students, who have persevered no matter what was thrown at them. Their creativity will be a blessing for our future communities.”

Artist website www.jennifermargaretbarker.com

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