Susan LaBarr is a highly successful composer who, in her composing career of less than a decade, has completed commissions from all over the world. Having grown up with piano lessons and children’s choirs, she attended college as a piano major, and while she was successful, she soon realized that even though she loved music, a career in performance was not for her. She was encouraged to continue in music, and she went on to major in theory in graduate school. After graduating with a Masters in Theory and no interest in teaching or accompanying, job opportunities were limited for her, but she was hired as a receptionist in the Choristers Guild. Eventually, she began editing music, and this ignited a spark within her that opened her path to composing. It was her high school choral teacher who offered her first commission to write the school Alma Mater – two years after graduate school. This was a success, and it awakened a love of composing. What followed was studying with Alice Parker, who became her mentor and close friend. Today, Susan continues to compose and edit full-time for Walton Music. She lives in Springfield, Missouri, with her husband, Cameron, who is head of Choral Activities at Missouri State University, and their son, Elliot.
Susan’s compositions start with the text. Inspired by Alice Parker, she lives with the text for several weeks before adding rhythm, meter, or notation. “I am so guided by the text which gives me the mode, key meter, and rise and fall of the melody.” Her use of counterpart is also inspired by Alice Parker’s description as “the answering voice” which creates musical counterpoint as a conversation between voice parts. This allows the composer to create a musical line that is meaningful for each part.
With a love for folk music, R&B, gospel, new broadway (for example, Jason Robert Brown), and Sarah Bareilles as one of her favorite writers, Susan’s structure is often like a standard pop ballad. She is further influenced by the crisp choral writing of composers from Estonia and Scandinavia in the juxtaposition of joy wrapped in a cloak of sadness.
Grace Before Sleep is a poem of gratitude by Sarah Teasdale that reflects this balance of joy and sorrow. The piece opens in unison and culminates with richly-textured harmonies before a simple, introspective closure. It mirrors a life journey, wherein we are often surrounded by beauty in times of our deepest pain and challenge.
Susan LaBarr, Santa Barbara Publishing, Inc. 2022
YOU TUBE Series – The Chorus Meets the Composer: Susan LaBarr; October 12, 2020 Alpharetta Community Chorus
Missouri State Bear Bulletin: Susan LaBarr finds her life-long passion at Missouri State; © 2013 Board of Governors, Missouri State University