Scarlet & Brown Stories

Barry Torres, Director of Music Ensembles

March 13, 2023 St. Lawrence University Season 2 Episode 8
Scarlet & Brown Stories
Barry Torres, Director of Music Ensembles
Show Notes Transcript

We sat down with retiring Director of Music Ensembles, Barry Torres P'09, '11, to discuss his 25+ year career at St. Lawrence University, what music means to the Laurentian experience, and his upcoming final tour with the Laurentian Singers during spring break in March 2023. 

[Theme Music Plays]

Beth:   Welcome back everybody to Scarlet & Brown Stories, the podcast where we interview various Laurentians, whether they be faculty staff, alumni parents, or even students, to chat a little bit about what makes their Laurentian story. I'm your host, Beth Dixon. I'm the executive director of New York City Internships and Laurentian Engagement Associate. And joining me this month as my co-host is Dennis Morreale. Dennis, how are you doing today?

Dennis:   Very good, thank you very much, Beth. Glad to be back and-

Beth:   Yeah, very excited to podcast with you again.

Dennis:   Absolutely, as always. Thrilled to have the guests that we have today, someone that I think has had meant an incredible amount to many, many people going back certainly through your time, certainly through my time and farther than that, has really been one of those people that... We think about what St. Lawrence is, and we tend to think about this buildings and the things like that, but also when you stop, there are people who are as much a part of that as the Chapel, or ODY, or the Student Center are certain people are these pillars of the whole thing. And I think we've got one of those people today.

Beth:   Oh, I absolutely agree. And not just from a St. Lawrence perspective, but certainly a pillar of my St. Lawrence experience. So we're really excited to have the Director of Music Ensembles, Barry Torres, here with us today. Barry, we are so excited to welcome you to the podcast. How are you doing today?

Barry:   I'm doing quite well and I'm so happy to be here. This is a wonderful way to cap a 25-year career here, so.

Beth:   I can't believe 25 years. I was just trying to do the math in my head because I knew that you joined in what was... 1998?

Barry:   Fall of '98, I got the full-time position, but I started as an adjunct in 1996. I was hired to direct the then Early Music Ensemble and then as an emergency, since their voice teacher that they had hired for that semester bowed out at the last minute, I also taught voice lessons. So yeah, I would come up one day a week, I was living in Syracuse, and I would drive up one full day. I would come up on a Tuesday evening, do a rehearsal, do a lesson, do a whole day of lessons on Wednesday, do another rehearsal, and go home on Wednesday night.

Dennis:   Setting the scene a little bit. What songs were the students listening to at the time? Just to place us back in 1996, 1997. Do you remember off the top of your head?

Barry:   Boy, you really hit my soft spot there, the spot that I'm not very knowledgeable about. I dropped out of popular music involvement all the way back in the '70s because I went to a concert and came out of that concert, my ears rang for 48 hours straight and I said, "I'm not doing this anymore," so...

Beth:   You said, "Bring me back to the Baroque music."

Barry:   There we go, right. No, but I do have children and they were listening to Stone Temple Pilots and... Come on, what's... Soundgarden?

Beth:   Oh yeah.

Dennis:   Oh, yeah. Yeah, I had that on cassette. I think-

Barry:   What? You had it on what?

Dennis:   Yeah.

Barry:   What's that technology?

Beth:   That's right. So when you said that the Early Music Ensemble, that was... You were just explaining to us before we hit record that that was not just early music singers, which is something that was around when I was around, but also had instrumentalists.

Barry:   Early music singers did not exist, I started early music singers. It was primarily an instrumental ensemble with solo singers, and they did lots of secular music from medieval period right up through the Baroque. So recorder players, viol players, which is the precursor of modern string instruments, and the like. Percussion, pluck strings, we had that... We had a lute.

Beth:   I was just going to ask, was there a lute?

Barry:   Oh yes, there was definitely a lute and there was also this hybrid thing called the lutar. So it was a guitar in the shape of a lute.

Beth:   Oh my goodness.

Barry:   So to ease people into playing lute, because lute's a different animal than guitar. At the time, believe it or not, it was the only instrumental ensemble we had.

Beth:   That's incredible to think about. I know that throughout this interview there's going to be a lot of me being, "Back when I was a student," I'm sure, but knowing now that through the time that I've been involved with St. Lawrence since the fall of 2006 as a incoming first year student to now as a professional staff member, we've had so many music ensembles that have given not only students an opportunity to express themselves with music, but also faculty staff and community members. Can you talk to us a little bit about your role in helping to expand those different music ensemble offerings?

Barry:   Sure. Like I said, when I first came, the Early Music Ensemble was it, and then there was the Laurentian Singers and University Chorus, so there were basically three ensemble opportunities. How that evolved was due to lots of situations, lots of circumstances, it takes staff to create an ensemble and run an ensemble, and we were looking at this... I think the music department was looking at it from the point of view, "What can we realistically do with the staff that we have?" And so things were paired down quite a lot. When I was an adjunct, and even in my first year, so to speak, and I was still directing the Early Music Ensemble, that was part of my position. It was directing Laurentian Singers, directing the University Chorus, directing the Early Music Ensemble, and teaching voice lessons. So there were a bunch of string players that came up to me and said, "We would really like to have a string orchestra here, can you do something about this?:    And as part of the Early Music Ensemble, I started a string orchestra that played Baroque string music.

Corelli, and Vivaldi, and Handel, and what have you. And I had solo wind players that could play also too. So I remember we did a whole Vivaldi program, which was so much fun with wind players, and recorder players, and flute players, what have you, and oboe players. And it became obvious to the department that they needed to create a string ensemble. And so that's when Chris Hosmer was brought in and he started the String Orchestra, which is an institution here now. It's been going a long time. And we all realized Chris was an adjunct, we figured we can do this with adjuncts. It took a long time to establish it, but we started a wind ensemble. It went through various machinations, so to speak, but it did eventually hit hold. And now we have a wind ensemble too, string orchestra, wind ensemble. But the real important developments for me was in the realm of pop music, we started this thing called Rhythm and Roots Ensemble that my good friend and former colleague Mike Farley started, along with David Henderson, had a lot to say about this.

This grew out of a thing that we called special productions, which was a very strange situation where you created an ensemble every semester around a particular repertoire. That didn't work, quite frankly. We had some really interesting programs, but it was an incredible amount of work for the person who was directing it. They would have to really create scores, create parts, and do all kinds of stuff. So we started this thing, which was a hybrid of that called Rhythm and Roots, in which we would put together pops ensembles that were again focused on a particular repertoire of the most famous incarnation of that is what still exists, the Funk Ensemble, which was known as SLUFunk. And that started as a Rhythm and Roots Ensemble and we had some wonderful students with us. Oh, I'm blanking on his name. Matt, a wonderful saxophone player.

Dennis:   Oh, Wyckoff.

Barry:   Yes. Matt Wyckoff, thank you so much. When Matt was here, I thought to myself often, "You should be down in New York City playing clubs, you shouldn't be here." But here's the St. Lawrence experience, he had academic interests. He wanted to be a lawyer, and I believe he went on to practice law in environmental law, but he was a monstrous player, but he was also a pretty darn good director, so they handed the winds off to him, and Matt got them really good and tight. And Michael, of course, is as an old time rock and roller, and he really knew what to do. And the funk band really established itself. Who else was there at the time? I think Grace Potter was here at the time.

Beth:   I think you're right.

Dennis:   It was really close, she might have been just before him.

Barry:   Maybe. Yeah. Right, it was because I think... But nonetheless, the seeds were there, and so we did all kinds of... We did a Larry Boyette was very much involved, and now Larry Boyette directs the Funk Ensemble, which is a really cool thing that he does because the students have a lot to do with how that ensemble runs and it's just taken on a life of its own. But we did a Beatles program, we did a Motown program, we did a women's rock and roll... Joni Mitchell and whoever was... So we did a whole lot of incantations of that, yeah.

Dennis:   I was in the Michael's Jug Band.

Barry:   Yes.

Beth:   The Jug Band.

Dennis:   I jumped in on that one and-

Barry:   My son David played jug.

Dennis:   That's right. Yeah, I remember that, that was one of the most fun things I've done. I actually did that when I was working here. Michael is very gracious for someone with very mediocre musical skills, but a lot of enthusiasm about the particular subject matter. And Michael couldn't have been more gracious and inclusive to let me participate, but that's one of the most fun things I've done in my time here.

Barry:   Yeah, and if you remember it correctly, Michael brought in food. We did it down in underground and we had all this authentic Louisiana cuisine, so it was a lot of fun, and that was one. Another great Rhythm and Roots Ensemble was The Country Band.

Dennis:   Yeah, I did that one as well the following year, yeah. That was blast.

Barry:   Come on. The guy who's in Nashville right now, I'm so terrible on names today. Blaine...

Dennis:   Holcomb.

Beth:   Holcomb.

Barry:   Blaine Holcomb, thank you. Blaine Holcomb. He was part of that band. And I'm glad you brought up the thing about Michael and all of us actually, including community members, the only exclusively student group... Well, I think SLUFunk is exclusively student too, but the only exclusively student ensemble is the Laurentian Singers. Every other group has community members playing in it and I think that's an important synergy.

Beth:   I agree. And I've had the opportunity, as a professional staff member and community member, to sing with University Chorus and play in The Wind Ensemble when I was living in Canton. And it was amazing to me, having even grown up in the North Country and been a part of a musical family, and always was involved with some kind of music ensemble, that St. Lawrence really plays an important role for community members to have this opportunity for artistic expression and community. Was this something that was really top of mind for you when you were trying to help put together some of these ensembles or maybe market them to the community?

Barry:   Well, yes, I took the lead from University Chorus. University Chorus is almost entirely community members, there's only a few students in it, and it gives the students who maybe are not... Because Laurentian Singers is a select ensemble, and maybe to give those students who didn't make the grade, so to speak, get some singing experience. And there have been many students over the years who sang first in University Chorus and then became a Laurentian singer later. So that model was there already, and so everybody who we hired and all the ensembles that were started, I didn't start them all, this is a music department thing. They were started from the point of view that yes, we would provide community members the opportunity to play and, "Hey, what's right up the road from us?" The Crane School of Music, and how many people in this community are graduates of the Crane School of Music?

Beth:   Quite a few.

Barry:   Quite a few. Singers, instrumentalists. And so not only did we give them the opportunity, but they also lent their experience to make this student experience more rich with having some really fine musicians playing in these ensembles.

Beth:   Well, I'll tell you that having, again, been involved with a couple of these ensembles, what's really interesting is I also was a part of, for the last couple of years, I was in the the Potsdam Community Band, which is all the music teachers in the North Country have come together to play. And so being the first chair, third clarinet for those that know, I was like, "I've really made it," versus in an opportunity where we're in a smaller ensemble with St. Lawrence, where maybe we're moving around and giving people more of an opportunity to say to a student, "We're going to challenge you on this song, we want you to play a part that's maybe harder than what you would normally play." And there's a little bit more experimentation with that. And I really appreciated the opportunity to have a composition of music lovers and musicians of all different skill levels to help, not only keep your chops up if you're somebody who's just wants to keep their chops up, but if you're somebody who wants to challenge yourself, if you're somebody who's just trying to find other musicians to play with.

And I really think that I can say from a personal standpoint, that was necessary for me, for my mental health in living in the North Country and-

Barry:   Amen. Amen.

Beth:   So thank you for that and for the rest of the music department for thinking about this. One thing that is striking me, that I think we need to just make a clarification on before we move forward, is there might be listeners who are thinking, "But what about the Saints and the Sinners, and all that stuff?" Those are actually not music department sponsored ensembles, those are ensembles that are student run. They're clubs, organizations. So what we're referring to today are ensembles that the music department sponsors it, and runs and works with.

Barry:   Yes, and that always has to be clarified. People always come up to me and say, "Well, what about the Saints?" And I'm saying, "I don't direct the Saints. They run themselves as do the Sinners." And let's not forget, the Upbeats, and all those three acapella groups really contribute to the richness of the musical culture at St. Lawrence. Really, I'm so happy they're here. I'm so happy that people are just singing.

Beth:   Yeah.

Barry:   Yeah.

Beth:   So one of the questions I had for you, Barry, is when we look at that musical richness, we were talking to one of the other members of the production team for Scarlet & Brown Stories, Megan Fry Dozier yesterday, and she said, "I went to Fairfield University..." Or she worked at Fairfield University, sorry. And she was saying that at other small private liberal arts schools, there isn't necessarily this nature of music married in with the liberal arts, that's a big part of the traditions. It's a big part of all the different things that we have going on, even the fact that at five o'clock, the chapel bells ring at St. Lawrence.

Barry:   Yes.

Beth:   Can you tell us a little bit, from your perspective and perhaps over the past 25 years, how does music really make the Laurentian experience different, even if you're not somebody who's a, quote-unquote, music student?

Barry:   Well, it's precisely for that person who is, quote-unquote, not a music student. The music department has always keeps in mind its charge as being a music department in a liberal arts college. And we feel that music making should be an important part of that experience, not just the studying of, but the making of music. And we want to give everyone the opportunity to make music, and we feel it's an important part of our culture. And I think we've done a good job of accommodating all kinds of musicians, as you say, the more sophisticated musician. I've had a voice student, a former voice student right now, is finishing up his DMA in opera performance at University of Utah. Now okay, but then there's the other person who comes in who's never sung in their lives. And by the way, he came in not having sung in his life, he started-

Beth:   The opera student?

Barry:   Yes, he started at St. Lawrence with absolutely no experience, and he was able to fit together working with a professor at Craig, because I'm not an opera person, I really can't teach opera. But we worked with these people and this person, Jose Santelices Ormazabal, and he is now finishing up his DMA. On the other hand, Chris Hosmer makes it a point of writing third violin parts that anybody can play as part of what he does when he arranges things for the string orchestra.

Beth:   I had no idea he did that.

Barry:   Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. There are all levels in the string orchestra, and he pulls it together and he does these wonderful programs. Chris is a... He's a big movie music guy.

Beth:   Yes, he is. There've been many concerts of the music of Star Wars, and John Williams, and all these... Yeah, yeah.

Barry:   Oh yeah, absolutely. And I think it's wonderful because it really... It brings people into music making, as do our pops ensembles. And some people have lamented the fact that the Early Music Ensemble is no longer and it hasn't been. And the reason why is because everybody wants to do these other things. When I was growing up, early music was... How shall I put it? It was a sexy thing to do. It was the chic, new, different thing. And it did lend itself practically to making music with beginners and also sophisticated musicians, at the same time. And it was a fun thing, but it ran its course.

Beth:   And I also think what's interesting, we talked a little bit about the various decades of popular music, what students were listening to in the '90s, you were talking about... The last time you were really involved in the pop concert was in the '70s or something. But early music, for those that don't know, I mean, there's a lot of roots of heavy metal music that's early music, and jazz, and rock, and there's all these different things. So it's interesting to hear you say that this was the chic thing, because now all of a sudden the little light bulb in my head's going off that's like, "Oh yeah, this is how other forms of popular music came to be."

Dennis:   So when you say early music, could you more precisely, what does that refer to?

Barry:   Well, quite generally, it's music... Well, it actually is... I can't even use that. But it used to be music before 1750, so it was Baroque music, Renaissance music, and Medieval music, that was all... So we're talking music from roughly 1100 through 1700. Although now, when we hear Mozart, and Haydn, and Beethoven, and even Brahms done with what we call original instruments, instruments that were part of the time, that were somewhat different than the instruments we use now. Strings. Strings had gut strings on them, their bows were different, and it really makes the music sound very different. So that's what early music is.

Dennis:   One of the things I've been thinking about as we've been here talking and reflecting on your time here, I'm reflecting on my own time here, which is going on, if I include my student years, about 20 years that I've been here. And during that time, I'm realizing the times that I've been in your presence have almost exclusively been emotional peaking in one form or another. I think you've been in the room, or within view, every time I've cried on campus for the last 15 years.

Barry:   Oh my goodness.

Dennis:   Or you've been present for these moments of extreme triumphant... And I think that's true for a lot of people, that by the nature of what you do and what you bring to the table, it's these emotional peaks in one form or another, whether it's commencement, or at these big campaign events, or inaugurations, or just these emotional peaks across the board-

Beth:   Candlelight.

Dennis:   Yeah, so in some ways, you've gotten this interesting view at the soul of the St. Lawrence community, and I'm curious what that experience has shown you about what unique insight into what the soul of the St. Lawrence community is, and maybe how that's changed from when you started to where you are today.

Barry:   Well, thank you, Denny, because that's one of the best compliments you could have ever given me, that I was there when you had a deep emotional experience, and music is very much about that. Music brings together head and heart in a way that nothing else does. And so when I was first hired for the full-time position, the very first thing I did with the Laurentian Singers in public was to sing at... Remember the old senior class dinners that they used to have-

Beth:   Yeah.

Dennis:   Oh yeah.

Barry:   It was just the senior class dinner at that time, we had to come and sing the school songs, that's what we do. And I'm coming in to this experience and thinking, "Oh gosh, we're going to do these nostalgic, humdrum songs." Well, first of all, we started to work on them, and I looked at these songs and I said, "Wow, this is pretty decent music." And then I see that our Alma Mater was written by none other than J.K. Gannon, Harry Shilkret wrote a tribute, and he was a very interesting man. He became a doctor, but he was a really interested and very committed musician. Well, anyway, there we are, and I start directing the Laurentian Singers singing the school songs, and I can hear people weeping. I can feel that, I can see the students, I can see the strong emotional connection, the strong people connections, it was palpable. I came out of that and I went, "Whoa, what's going on here?" And it's been that way ever since. 25 years of conducting the school songs how many times a year, Beth?

Maybe 40, or 50, or more, or 100. That's a lot of times doing those songs and I never tire of it.

Dennis:   From a spectator standpoint. The context that I think of it almost feels like a different song, when I think about it at those... I've been, through my work, I was at a number of those senior dinners, and that feels, again, like more of a triumphant, and just the sense of togetherness and belonging in the community. It's this very warm, joyful. So I think of those songs in that context as one thing. And then when I think of it on a Sunday morning, on Commencement Commons, is when... It almost makes me tear up now, even just thinking about it, it's a very, very different feeling song in that context, so-

Barry:   Absolutely. I hear what you're saying. Beth, you remember, I'm sure, quite well singing the school songs your senior year. Did you make it through it?

Beth:   No.

Barry:   Were you actually able to sing when you got to the end of that or were you just so choked up that you just couldn't sing?

Beth:   Well, so here's the thing. Even just over the course of Commencement Weekend, you sing them at least three times. We sing them at the Laurentian Singers Commencement Concert, which is a concert that's comprised of music that the seniors have pointed out as, "These are some of our favorite songs over the past four years, let's sing them again in celebration before we graduate tomorrow." So you sing then, didn't make it through then, I was weeping. I was weeping, I don't even think I sang the whole last song of whatever was in our program before the school songs. And then in the morning of Commencement... Oh, what's that ceremony called? I'm blanking.

Barry:   Baccalaureate.

Beth:   Baccalaureate.


We don't sing them at baccalaureate.

Beth:   Oh, okay.

Barry:   But we do sing them earlier in the week for the last lecture.

Beth:   The last lecture. Yep, yep. As a student, what was special... And I'm actually curious to know if this has always been a tradition or not, or if this is something that started with you, Barry, of welcoming Laurentian Singer alums up to sing the school songs at different concerts, whether they be on campus or on tour. And as a student, having Laurentian Singer alums come up and sing, that was always cool. I was like, "Ah, look it. They're so excited to come up and sing with us. This is great, what a wonderful opportunity to connect with somebody." And we always talk about how the Laurentian community is so connected. This is a school that we pride ourselves on this alum student connection and that was just a small part of it. But then being an alum myself and being welcome to come back up, there's a whole new wave of emotion of nostalgia that comes up, where you look back and go like, "Oh my God, I was one of these students up here and now I'm not, but I'm also here with them still, and this is beautiful."

Can you tell us a little bit, is that development of that kind of tradition, did that happen under your watch or was that always been the case?

Barry:   No. No, I inherited that. As far as I know, that's a tradition that goes way back. I bet it goes all the way back to the beginning, I believe it was Dick Gilbert. So yeah, no, they've always invited alums to come up because those three songs, Chapel Bells, A Tribute, and the Alma Mater are so indelibly imprinted in the consciousness of every St. Lawrence person, but also, especially for the Laurentian Singers, because come on, Beth, what did you do? Sing it 200 times probably while you were a student?

Beth:   Oh, absolutely.

Barry:   And they're wonderful songs, and people remember them, and they are so internalized and so meaningful for them, that every time we have to invite people up. It's disappointing when there aren't any alums in the audience and that happens rarely, by the way.

Beth:   Well, that's something that... If we're going to turn it a little bit to Laurentian Singers here, I always think that is really interesting. So I know that the listeners of the podcast have heard me talk about Laurentian Singers before that, that was probably the biggest pillar of my St. Lawrence experience, that was my community, those were my friends, that was my big activity on campus. But one of the big things that Laurentians get to do every year is go on tour, which I think is really exciting. And it's a wonderful opportunity to get off campus and share music with other people, and see other Laurentians from all over the place. Like you said Barry, there were rare times that... We would be in Southern California singing the school songs, and all of a sudden, five, 10 people would come up and sing with us. And we were like, "Whoa. I didn't know there was this many Laurentian Singer alums in San Diego, this is incredible." What has it been like, in your experience, going to various different places every year and meeting different Laurentian Singer alums?

Barry:   No place is perfect, but I think St. Lawrence does people well. Personal connections, unabashedly put, love.

Beth:   Yeah.

Barry:   St. Lawrence really does it well. Do they do it perfectly? No. But people really feel that connection. And it's an important part of... It's not an important part of life, it is the foundation of life, and music is one of the best mediums for expressing that kind of love. And to me, that's why we make music, we make music to connect. Sure, we try to do it as well as we can so that it's as beautiful as it possibly can be. But when it comes right down to it, the meaning of it is that love connection. And I don't know what to say, it gets reinforced every time I go to a different place. This particular tour, my last one, is going to be, I'm sure, even more so, because there's so many alums in the Northeast, in the Boston and New York areas. And I've already heard from, oh, I don't know, dozens who say they're going to be there. And I have a feeling this time, when we sing the school songs, there may be more alums that come on stage that are on... Than are in the Laurentian Singers.

Beth:   Oh, I'm sure.

Barry:   And that is going to be really, really quite special.

Beth:   Well, I think it's important to note that this is your last tour as the Director of Music Ensembles, but also the Director and Conductor of the Laurentian Singers. And I'm curious, at the time of us recording this, we're a couple weeks away, and this episode will drop about a week before your last tour. Can you tell us a little bit about what the tour is looking like? You mentioned that you're going to New York City and Boston. What other places are you going to, in case people are interested in coming and listening to the Laurentian Singers?

Barry:   Originally I was thinking big plan. "My last year, let's go someplace really special. Let's go to Italy." Then I had shoulder surgery, and complications, and all kinds of things happened, and there were just organizational things that I didn't get done on time. And I decided to then just do a domestic tour and go to where the most St. Lawrence alums in the world are, and that is New York and Boston. And I'm so happy I did that because in Italy, who knows about us? But now I'm going to connect with all of these Laurentians that I have... Sorry.

Beth:   It's okay.

Barry:   That I've had the great pleasure to be with for 25 years, and I'll get to see them one more time. So we're going to start off in Rochester, where a current Laurentian Singer, Kira Connolly, is from. And so we do like to, many times when we do local tours, hit high schools, hit hometowns of seniors, and Kira is a senior. We'll have this wonderful concert in Rochester. We'll go down to New York City, we will give a concert at St. Malachy's Roman Catholic Church, two blocks away from the hotel that we're staying at.

Beth:   Oh, couldn't plan that any better.

Barry:   Any better, and it's called The Actress Chapel. It's a very beautiful, small Catholic church, so we'll give our concert there on Monday evening. And then on Tuesday, we're going to be at the Cornell Club as a Saint St. Lawrence event. On Wednesday, we travel through New Haven, and we have current Laurentian Singer, Nick Tiedemann and Tyler Karasinski, who unfortunately this semester is in New Zealand. Fortunate for him, unfortunate for us. But at any rate, we will go to his high school at North Haven and give a concert there, and meet students, of course, because that's an important part of what we do on tour. And then we go on to Boston, Friday evening the 24th, we'll be at Old South Church again giving a concert in their chapel, and that will be lovely. Oh, I forgot on Thursday we're going to be visiting Charlton Middle School, because former Laurentian Singer, Evan Bartlett, class of '13 is the music teacher there, and so we're going to meet his students there on Thursday afternoon on the 23rd. 24th is at Old South Church.

25th, we will connect with another former Laurentian Singer, Emma Greenough, class of '18, who has helped us immensely in Boston for everything that we're doing there. She is employed now by the Boston City Singers, it's a youth choir in Boston, and really a world-renowned youth choir, they're actually going to be touring in Ireland in June. So we're going to have a three-hour session with them in the afternoon. They're going to teach us a song, we're going to teach them some songs, and it'll be a whole lot of fun. And then we'll end up in Burlington on our way home on Sunday, and we're going to sing at the first Unitarian Universalist Society there and talk about full circle, the very first Laurentian Singers tour concert I directed happened in that venue back in 1999.

Beth:   Wow.

Dennis:   That's amazing.

Barry:   And then I will do my last concert there. And there's going to be at least three, if not more, members of that 1990 Laurentian Singers there at that concert singing with us.

Beth:   I'm calling it now, Barry, you're not making it through the school song. I'm sorry.

Barry:   Let alone other things. One of the things we're doing, one of the songs we're singing, is The Beach Boys' Good Vibrations, which I actually arranged for that group in 1999. So they're going to join us singing Good Vibrations, those singers. So it's going to be an emotional time, but a really good time. Good vibrations.

Dennis:   That, I mean, it's just such an amazing tour. And honestly, I have to say is thrilling as Italy sounds like it would've been for you guys, there's part of me that for the... The St. Lawrence community is delighted to have this be the final tour, I couldn't think of a better loop than what you've put together there. As we've talked about, I mean, so many people have passed through the Laurentian Singers or even if not, have had essentially the experience I described, where just being in the community during the last 25 years have felt a real emotional impact from your role in the community. And you've left this mark on the program in this really profound way. When people look back, how do you want to be remembered?

Barry:   I don't think about those kinds of things to tell you the truth, I really don't. I just want to get in there, do my job, do it well. And part of doing that job really well is making beautiful music with beautiful people, and that's what I do. And if people remember their time of making music at St. Lawrence as being meaningful, and full of connection, and full of joy, that's how I'd like to be remembered.

Dennis:   One thing that I know that I'll remember, I've talked about, but when I think about those key St. Lawrence memories, so many of them have a musical soundtrack to them that you were involved in. So that might be how it is in many cases.

Barry:   So be it and that's wonderful, that's wonderful. We didn't mention one thing that's was really important that I did also.

Beth:   What's that?

Barry:   The Gospel Choir and that's such a wonderful thing that has been ongoing. And with my good friend Shaun Whitehead, just a remarkable musician, but as our chaplain, she does amazing things, and that's keeping on going. And the annual gospel music workshops, again, there's another... Come on, St. Lawrence University up in the middle of the North Country, and there's a gospel music workshop, what is this? It's great, it's just wonderful.

Beth:   Absolutely. And for us, that's also a nice connection because we interviewed Shaun last year, and so we talked a lot about the Gospel Choir and gospel workshops, but she was obviously giving her due diligence of saying, "And Barry Torres is a big part of this too," so it's great to obviously bring that up. And I always think about the tour that we did with Shaun, and we learned gospel music, and we were down in-

Barry:   Civil rights music.

Beth:   Civil rights music, and we were down in Southern Mississippi and Louisiana for that, and how much of a powerful experience that was. And I know for many people, our tours, who we interviewed a couple months ago, feels the same. That Gospel Choir and the gospel workshops were something that ended up meaning something really meaningful to so many students who would not have had a gospel background.

Barry:   Absolutely. Absolutely, it's again, another special thing that St. Lawrence does. While we're very traditional in many ways, in many ways we are not.

Beth:   So Barry, I have a couple quick questions for you, so almost like a lightning round.

Barry:   Okay.

Beth:   All right. So the first question is, what was your favorite tour? Either location or repertoire, whatever sticks out the most to you?

Barry:   I'm going to piss people off if I answer, because it's nothing to be their tour.

Beth:   Then list a couple of them if that is helpful.

Barry:   Sure. Some of them are really unusual. New Mexico in 2002, and not because we were a rebuilding group at that point, it was a pretty rough year musically in some ways. But they were wonderful human beings that I went on tour with and we went to this unusual place, and it was great. The tour you mentioned, 2009 to New Orleans, our first tour post Katrina and Shaun was with us. That was great, that was great.

Beth:   That was an incredible tour, yeah.

Barry:   I don't know, there's been so many. To tell you the truth, I think the last New York City tour in 2018, wonderful musically and wonderful from the people point of view. I mean, France was great. Oh my God, singing in La Treille, it was a year after you graduated.

Beth:   Yeah, don't remind me, Barry.

Barry:   Yeah. But we sang a concert in this 14th century church in this little town in Normandy, and the mayor greeted us and thanked us for freeing his village in 1944.

Beth:   Wow.

Barry:   People were just... "Oh, yeah?" And then the very next day we were in Omaha Beach, so those are some of the big highlights and that was in that... 2011.

Beth:   All right, excellent.

Barry:   Yeah. So, yeah.

Beth:   Again, this might be a couple of them that you have to list, what's been maybe your favorite repertoire or piece of music that you've been able to conduct? It doesn't have to be Laurentian Singers, it could be of any of the music ensembles that you've put together.

Barry:   Well, I'm almost loathed to answer that question because I've come to love all kinds of music. I used to hate country music, and I love country music now. But be that as that may, I think your year 2009 when we did The Peaceable Kingdom of Randall Thompson. That was special.

Beth:   I think that that was a piece of music that I would argue, probably two thirds of us were like, "Ugh, why are we learning this?" And then once we learned it, we were like, "We don't want to sing anything else." It's what? A 22-minute piece?

Barry:   Yeah.

Dennis:   Could you say the name of this again? I want to look it up later.

Barry:   The Peaceable Kingdom, it's settings of various Isaiah passages put together in this wonderful whole. It's eight movements long and it's totally acapella. And yeah, I know, it's like pulling teeth to get you guys to learn it in some ways, in some ways not. And I hear from students even now, who say they put the CD on the player and they sing along with it.

Beth:   I am lucky enough to have the recordings of when we sat and recorded it in the chapel. And I don't own a car anymore because I live in New York City, but when I have an opportunity to be in the car and I have 20-some minutes, I pop it on and I sing with it because it's a lot of fun. Or I don't sing with it and I try to listen to parts that maybe I wasn't listening to as much when I was in the ensemble singing. "Oh, I didn't realize the basses did this part there." I don't know if you're aware Barry, but I'm a nerd, so-

Barry:   Really?

Beth:   And I've often said this, that whether it's a Laurentian Singer reunion or one of those pieces that just comes up at Commencement Concerts, it is not uncommon for Laurentian Singers, even if you weren't in the choir in 2009, to know the last couple of movements, because we've sang that with you at reunions. Ye Shall Have a Song, please play that at my funeral someday. I love that song.

Barry:   I won't be around for that... But yeah, no, no, no. Yeah, that's an important song. And this goes back to my high school experience, my high school choir did The Peaceable Kingdom when I was a freshman. And every year at graduation we sang Ye Shall Have A Song from Peaceable Kingdom, so it's just a remarkable piece of music. But like I said, there are too many other... When we did the Mozart Requiem in 2000... When was it '17 I think? 2016-

Beth:   For University Choir?

Barry:   For University Chorus.

Beth:   Yeah, that was 2016.

Barry:   And the Laurentian Singers also sang with the University Chorus, so that was a lot of fun and meaningful. But I think the Peaceable Kingdom thing really sticks out to me.

Beth:   As a side note, I need to say, I think one of my favorite performances, even though I was really like, "Oh, this is just another thing we have to do," was working with a full orchestra and the University Choir, and it was the Laurentian Singer women, and we did the Hymn of Jesus by...

Barry:   Oh yeah, Gustav Holst.

Beth:   Gustav Holst.

Barry:   Yeah.

Beth:   That was incredible.

Barry:   Well, I'm glad to hear that.

Beth:   Yeah, that's another one I pop on every once in a while when I've got a while to cook.

Barry:   Yeah, that defines you as a nerd, by the way.

Beth:   Thank you. I still sit here with the (singing).

Barry:   Yeah. Oh gosh, it was lovely, yeah. And the big orchestral things that we did with University Chorus, but also some of the smaller things. The final concert I'm doing with them will include some of my favorite music from the 19th Century parlor songs from this book called Heart Songs. And my daughter Kate is coming to be the soprano soloist on some of these. So yeah, we can do those big glorious things, but the simple music making too was really quite moving. And for Laurentian Singers, Can't Help Fallen in Love, and I arranged that also in 1999, I arranged it for that group. So yeah, but there's too many pieces of music that are too meaningful.

Beth:   I'm going to get you in trouble with my last question.

Barry:   Okay.

Beth:   What is your favorite Laurentian tradition or ceremony that you and the Laurentian Singers get to either... Well, not just the Laurentian Singers but that you're a part of, whether it be the Laurentian Singers or the University Chorus, or whomever.

Barry:   Candlelight. It's really a special event and all the groups are there. The Laurentian Singers are there, the University Chorus is there, and Sondra Proctor has gotten a children's chorus together in recent years, and that's the whole North Country community coming together. We fill the chapel twice. It's not just cold Candlelight, it is Candlelight because there's nothing but candle light in that room. And that's such a special, meaningful thing in and of itself, just being there in that aura, in that candle light, in that candlelit space. And we all love the chapel, of course. Yeah. So yeah, more in general, really almost every time we sing the school songs, it's important and it's meaningful.

Beth:   All right. Denny, do you have any last questions for Barry?

Dennis:   I don't. Just to say that this has actually been a really beautiful conversation, start to finish, and thank you so much for coming on.

Barry:   Well, thank you for having me, guys. If you only knew where I came from before coming to St. Lawrence, it's been a blessing for 25 years. In 1996, I had no idea what life was going to be for me for the next 25 years and it's been great.

Beth:   Well, Barry, thank you so much. Not only for doing this podcast with us today, and sharing your experience and some history, and just giving us a much needed, just sense of, "Let's sit back and just be thankful," and I appreciate that. But thank you for everything that you've done for the Laurentian community over the past 25-plus years. And if you are in the Northeast and you know the Laurentian Singers are coming close to you in the next week or so, please go out and support them. If you have the opportunity, I guarantee you won't be disappointed by the music that you hear, and why not feel that sense of connectedness through the school songs. So Barry, thank you again and we will catch you all next month.

Barry:   Thank you, Beth, and thank you Denny.

Dennis:   Thank you.

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Beth:   Scarlet & Brown Stories is produced and edited by Amanda Brewer, Beth Dixon, Megan Fry Dozier, and Dennis Morreale. Our music was written by Christopher Watts, inspired by Eugene Wright, class of 1949. Subscribe to Scarlet & Brown Stories on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts. Consider leaving us a rating review as well. If you have a story to submit to us, you can email us at

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