Michael Barry

by J. Andrew Dickenson
June 2007

Michael Barry has been making significant contributions to the NYC music scene for years. A performer proficient on electric, acoustic, and classical guitars, he’s also the owner of the International Studio of Music, former president of the New York City Classical Guitar Society, and founder of Laughing Buddha Records. His latest release on the label is entitled Night Wheel, a CD of international lullabies. It’s not just good music – since proceeds from the album sales go to Tibet Aid’s Precious Seeds Fund, it also does good.

NYlon Review: Can you tell me how this album came about?

Mike Barry: My executive producer, Rex Niswander, and I had been talking about it for over a year. We both felt there was some rich material to arrange, and it seemed there were few albums that appealed to adults as well as children. It always was put on the back burner until we met up with the folks at Tibet Aid. Then the wheels started turning, and the idea of the charity tie-in was born. As soon as that was set, things moved quickly.

What interested you in working on an album such as this?

Well, first of all the material. I’m a big fan of world music, and I’m always on the lookout for music with imagery and a soulful quality. These are beautiful pieces of music. A far cry from “Rock-a-bye baby.”

Secondly, arranging music for the excellent players I work with is always a thrill. There’s nothing like that first run-through when you hear your work played back to you.

Last and definitely not least, the idea of doing music that had a direct effect on needy children was compelling. I had been toying with the idea of recasting the label, Laughing Buddha Records, in a new light whereby music can contribute directly to the needs of our world, and here was the perfect way to start.

What are some of the problems that children in Tibet face?

Tibetan kids are faced with a multitude of problems. They are often orphans resulting from the occupation and all the violence that came with it. In hopes of giving them a better life, parents frequently give their children away to other Tibetans who escape to India and eventually to other parts of the world. These children are sometimes alone or in orphanages, and they are separated from their culture and families. They need all the basics: food, clothing, shelter, education, and hope for a better life.

Can you tell me about the Precious Seeds Fund?

The fund, which is a program of Tibet Aid, supplies orphaned or impoverished children with basic necessities of food, clothing and education. It also helps to keep their Tibetan culture alive in their hearts through keeping them involved in learning and activities that are uniquely Tibetan.

How did you choose the repertoire for the album?

There was so much to choose from once I started looking. The hardest part was choosing what was not going to make it onto the album. I searched both contemporary and traditional recordings and sheet music. My main criteria was that it had to have a feeling of what I call “Global Soul” and/or a sense of place or atmosphere. Plus it had to be relaxing for the children and something that Mom and Dad would like to listen to as well, and the album as a whole needed a certain flow.

Your arrangements are really nice – how did you choose the instrumentation and structure for these pieces?

Arranging for me is just a matter of listening to what’s in my mind and then getting it down on paper. If there is a slide guitar echoing around in my head, then that’s what goes down on the page. I really try to believe in what I hear and try to refocus it and listen deeper. Although I’m an educated musician, I never break out the arranging books to check on my ideas. If it sounds right, it is right. The combination of my classical training and my years spent playing world music seems to work for me. I like to keep it simple, and I still use pencil and staff paper for everything.

There are a few surprises as well, such as “Goodnight” by Lennon/McCartney. Why did you choose to include it on this album?

I always try to include a nod to my heroes on all my albums. This was such a pretty tune. I hope Sir Paul approves.

Your composition, “Night Wheel,” is beautiful.

“Night Wheel” was an attempt to capture a feeling of cosmic peace that I used to feel when I was a child. I was blessed with an idyllic childhood, and I spent all my summers out on the north shore of Long Island. I used to lie on the beach at night and fall asleep while watching the stars turn overhead. The night sky seemed like a big wheel, and it produced a hypnotic state, much like a lullaby. “Night Wheel” was written with that image in mind.

Is there a piece on the album that you are particularly proud of?

I’m proud of the concept more than anything, although I really love the Celtic stuff, especially “Garten Mothers Lullaby.”

Will Laughing Buddha records continue to do albums such as this one that benefit the greater good?

Absolutely. We have a new artist coming to the label – Haley Ackerman, a harpist from New Mexico. I’m working on my next CD already, and we’re looking for additional artists as we go along. For me, I think I’ve found what the Buddhists call “right livelihood.”

Anything else you’d like to add?

If you are true to your music and focus your dreams where they will do the most good, you can’t miss!