“I’m standing in the middle of the cheerleaders thinking ‘Holy cow, who gets to do that?'”
A smile comes to Barry Brown’s face as he recalls the roar of the Air Force flyover and excitement that accompanies singing the national anthem on the field for the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
Barry experienced the rush with his former band the 17th Avenue All-Stars again and again as the Official National Anthem Singers for the Denver Broncos for two seasons.
“I mean nobody gets that view, it was pretty thrilling,” he said one recent afternoon at Swallow Hill Music’s Quinlan Café.
His voice and creativity have taken him from the gridiron, to classrooms and stages, and all over the nation for his pumpkins.
Barry, who teaches voice and piano at Swallow Hill Music is a world class pumpkin carver, a “pumpkin master,” actually. The philosophy linking his teaching, singing and creative outlet of choice? “There’s a crack in everything.”
He believes anyone can sing and laments that so many encounter in their lives someone who tells them they cannot carry a tune. For something as personal as singing, a person’s confidence to share their voice can be hindered.
“If anyone has a challenge with confidence they send them to me,” he said. “My goal is to give them (students) a safe place.” He adds that he wants to battle the notion that people are tone deaf or otherwise unable to sing.
“That’s the part of the community I get to play with and I get to go home feeling great when I drive home from Swallow Hill.”
He learned from watching his mother – also a music teacher – he wanted to work with people who want to sing. He loves working with those who want to learn because, he says, those are the people who work hard for it.
“These are your walls,” he said, looking around the café. He explains that his teaching emphasizes the need to be expressive and that it’s not just about technical capability. “I’m a helper… The fact is everybody can sing.”
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in
These lines from Leonard Cohen’s “Anthem” form a teaching and creative philosophy for Barry. Take those pumpkins, for example.
After a chance encounter with a pumpkin carving set, he got the carving bug. He even entered a contest, and won. He was hooked.
“I’ve carved, I don’t know, a thousand pumpkins,” he said. Many accolades and local and national television appearances later, he sees the similarities between teaching and carving. It all comes down to working with the tools at hand, some patience, and then doing what you want.
“I want to see a finished pumpkin,” he says in the voice he also uses when describing working with his students. He loves that moment when a pumpkin is lit up for the first time, which he calls “the grand lighting ceremony.”
He talks a little about the challenges some might have with carving pumpkins – especially the archetypal dad, who might just stab away with a knife he pulled from the kitchen drawer to carve out some triangle eyes and a jagged, toothy Jack O’Lantern smile. The irritation melts away, however, when the pumpkin is lit for the first time.
“I love the glow on their face,” he says of that moment. “When the light shines you can forget that perfect offering.”
Not unlike the moment when someone realizes they can sing.
“There’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in… and out.”
Not one to sit still, Barry recently challenged himself to get back on stage – to sing and dance, and perform – and he was encouraged by the results to continue.
In the meantime he continues to build from his five years of teaching at Swallow Hill Music, to help students get comfortable with finding their individual voices. He encourages students to take advantage of Open Stage and the jams that are offered at Swallow Hill Music. He has even been known to join students on occasion.
“You don’t have to be perfect to be a singer, to get the story out,” he explains. No one has a perfect voice, that is the crack.
“Let’s sing some songs.”
To learn more about how Barry carves a perfect pumpkin, see this article by Colorado Country Life.
Learn more about Barry at his website, Barry Brown Creative.