Imagine reading about an event in history or visiting a place in the world and translating those experiences into music.
This is how Jennifer Margaret Barker, a professor of music composition and theory at the University of Delaware, becomes inspired to compose. Her talents were recently recognized by the Delaware Division of the Arts during its 2021 artist fellowship competition. She is the lone recipient of the Masters Fellowship, earning it in the music composition category. Her title comes with a $10,000 prize (and plenty of bragging rights).
“They only give one Masters every year, and they change what the discipline is,” Barker explains. “Music only comes up every third or fourth year. You also have to have been awarded the Established Professional Award and you must wait at least 10 years after winning that before you can apply for the Masters Fellowship.”
Barker received the Established Professional Award in 2007.
“That’s why, in many respects, I was delighted that I was awarded [this] because it was quite a long wait,” Barker says, laughing.
The competition allows only 15 minutes of music to be submitted for judging—a challenge for Barker, who has compositions available from performances on six continents by orchestras, chamber and choral ensembles, and international artists. Barker selected three pieces to show her range of talent: Chincoteague (2018) for four C flutes, Ealasaid (2019) for erhu, violin and SATB (soprano, alto, tenor and bass) choir, and Harmonious Dreams (2018) for baritone, B-flat clarinet, violoncello and piano.
Growing up in Scotland, Barker knew from a very early age that she wanted to pursue music.
“I was a pianist and I also played violin and oboe. I wanted to be, what we call now, a collaborative pianist,” she says.
Barker attended Syracuse University, where she doubled up on her classes and earned her master’s degree in piano performance in one year instead of two.
She worried her homesickness would be too great after a year away from her family, but the composition faculty was impressed by her talent and encouraged her to stay and teach for a year.
“Because of their advice and their guidance, I ended up going into composition full time. I still play piano a lot, but compositions really are my passion,” she says.
Barker began teaching at the University of Delaware in 2000 and says her parents still haven’t come to terms with the fact that she isn’t coming home to Scotland. However, she says her family enjoys their visits to the United States. Their only complaint is they’d like to see more.
“After about three years, they said to me, ‘You know, you have to move now because we’ve seen everything in Delaware and the surrounding area,’” Barker says. “But I’m very happy here.”