Tri-Valley Hero: Arts and Culture | November 21, 2014 | Pleasanton Weekly | |

Pleasanton Weekly

- November 21, 2014

Tri-Valley Hero: Arts and Culture

Dr. Arthur Barnes: all-time conductor

by Dolores Fox Ciardelli

For 50 years, maestro Arthur Barnes made the drive in five o'clock traffic from the Peninsula to the Tri-Valley to conduct the Livermore-Amador Symphony, bringing it into the 21st century as a renowned classical orchestra.

His life has been full of music and musicians, from Stanford University band members to his wife's French horn students to the volunteers who play for pleasure in the symphony.

"I'm still composing," said Barnes, 84, who conducted his final performance with the Livermore-Amador Symphony in May.

Barnes grew up in Cincinnati and attended Swarthmore College before transferring to Wichita State University in Kansas, where he graduated in 1953 with a bachelor's in music education and a master's in theory and composition. He was supervisor of music in a community in western Ohio, then taught and conducted the band program at Southern Illinois University.

In 1959 he came to Fresno State as a professor and director of bands. Four years later, he took a one-year sabbatical to earn his doctorate in orchestral conducting at Stanford, where he accepted a position after finishing his degree.

Meanwhile the fledgling Livermore-Amador Symphony was seeking a musical director.

"It's always hard to come by an orchestra," Barnes noted. "Half the time, conductors get a bunch of people together and make an orchestra."

Livermore-Amador Symphony was formed when the local branch of the American Association of University Women saw the need for it, Barnes explained. It began as a night class in the Livermore school district.

"We rehearsed at Livermore High School," Barnes recalled. "Only in the last 15 to 20 years have we gone to East Avenue Middle School to rehearse."

Performances were at the First Presbyterian Church in Livermore until the Bankhead Theater opened in 2007.

"We got in on the initial dedication by performing," Barnes said. "It's a wonderful place to play, every musician loves the acoustics."

During the last 50 years, the symphony has thrived under his directorship, and growth in the area has meant more musicians for the orchestra.

"But at the beginning when its ranks were thin, I had my whole family playing there," Barnes remembered.

Helene, his wife of 61 years, and their son Jeffrey play the French horn. Daughter Holly plays violin and viola and is now head of the viola section in the Boston Ballet Orchestra. Daughter Jennifer plays bassoon in the Avanti Winds quintet. Even his granddaughter Margaux, a cellist, played with the symphony.

During his career, Barnes appeared as a guest conductor throughout the United States, in Australia, Japan, England and the Philippines, making connections that provided guest musicians for his symphony.

When he began his weekly commute to Livermore 50 years ago, Interstate 680 was not yet completed through Fremont. At least once a week, Barnes left home at 5:15 p.m. and practice began at 7:15 p.m.

"Going home wasn't as bad. But it was progressively getting worse," Barnes said.

He retired from Stanford in 1997, and as he approached 50 years with the Livermore-Amador Symphony, he decided his golden anniversary would be a good note on which to end.

"I designed programs with that in mind, certain works, certain concerts," he said. "At my last concert I wanted to feature a French horn player."

His final performance in May also included his own compositions, "California Golden Suite," which he wrote while a visiting scholar at University of York in 2012 specifically to be premiered on this occasion, and "Dallas Fanfare," his three-minute brass composition.

The concert opened with a surprise visit from the eclectic Stanford marching band, which Barnes headed up for 34 years, always encouraging its antics. He arranged more than 300 short rock pieces for it, including a rendition of "All Right Now," which has become Stanford's de facto fight song, and a mournful rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" that was first performed the week after President John F. Kennedy's assassination.

Barnes said he is busier than ever in his retirement, still composing and making recordings for the blind and dyslexic, which he has been doing for about 15 years. He is now music director emeritus for the Livermore-Amador Symphony, and he and Helene have season tickets. Its next performance, under new music director Lara Webber, is Dec. 6.

"After 50 years we have many good friends," Helene Barnes said. "We will keep in touch."

Hero FYI:

* Art and Helene Barnes met in the band at Cleveland Heights High School.

* During his early career, Barnes performed as a jazz trombonist and pianist and would play in a piano bar until 2 a.m.

* Barnes filled in for a tuba player in the 1972 Rose Bowl Parade, winning a $50 bet with the UCLA band director.

* Barnes is a close friend with former U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry; they have collaborated on several occasions, including a dramatic reading of "Lincoln Portrait" with the Livermore-Amador Symphony.

* For several years, the Barneses donated a stay at their family cottage on the coast of Maine for the symphony fundraiser.

* At this fall's pop concert fundraiser, the symphony sold tickets for a chance to be guest conductor: Everyone wrote in Barnes' name, so he ended up conducting the Souza march.

* Barnes once left a Friday-night concert with his scores on the roof of his car. Two days later, orchestra member Larry George retraced Barnes' route home and found the sheet music -- some of which was rented -- scattered over the countryside.


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