Barrett Cobb is a triple threat – an American painter, singer, and flutist.
Her three talents come together in a concert on October 29 celebrating the publication of her book, Walk Shepherdess, Walk: A Sing-Along Book. The concert will feature Barrett, mezzo-soprano and flute, Chris Fecteau, piano and assisted by Teresa Diaz, flute; Ruth Ann Cunningham soprano. With music by Bach, Handel, Mozart, Schumann, Rossini, Gershwin and others.
Barrett’s paintings have been exhibited in three one-woman shows in New York City and in two group shows at the Broome Street Gallery. She was twice a prize-winner in juried transparent watercolor shows at the Church of the Covenant in Manhattan. She created projections for the Brooklyn Repertory Opera’s productions of Orfeo ed Eurydice and Ariadne auf Naxos. She studied painting at the Aegean Center for the Arts in Paros, Greece, the American Academy of Design, in New York, and privately with Alice Meyer Wallace, Wade Schuman, Jane Morris Pack, and Jack Stewart.
Barrett has appeared in the United States and Europe in opera, oratorio and solo recital. As an alto soloist, she has performed with the Brooklyn Philharmonic Orchestra, the Paris Choral Society, the National Chorale, the Sine Nominee Singers and Orchestra, the AIMS Orchestra, and the Orchester Landesteater Dessau. She is the alto soloist in the Sine Nominee Singers’ recording of Handel’s Israel in Egypt, on the Newport Classic label.
A founding member of the award-winning Quintet of the Americas, Barrett has served as principal flutist in numerous orchestras, among them the American Chamber Orchestra, the Royal Winnipeg Ballet Orchestra, and the Orquesta Sinfonia de Colombia. She has been featured as the soloist in concert with many orchestras and has toured the United States extensively under the auspices of Columbia Artists Management. She holds a Bachelor of Music degree from the Oberlin Conservatory and a Master of Musical Arts degree from Yale University. She also writes for the New York Concert Review.
Can you point to one event that triggered your interest in your career?
Although I didn’t realize it at the time, my first trip to the Greek island of Paros about 25 years ago was what set me on my path to becoming a children’s book author. When I made this first, fateful trip, I was a free-lance musician, living in New York and newly married. My husband had already established a tradition of spending a month every summer on Paros. A conductor and college professor, he found that having a month-long “retreat” was a perfect way to prepare scores and plan his courses for the following year. I dutifully accompanied him to his island and sat with him under the “his” tree on the beach while he did his mental work, occasionally slipping into the Aegean to cool off. Without a project of my own, however, this routine quickly became tedious to me. Then I had the good fortune to meet a wonderful painter named Alice Meyer Wallace. When I saw what she could do with watercolor I was completely transfixed. I had never thought much about the medium before, and considered it, if I thought about it at all, as a rather pallid way of making quick sketches. Alice’s paintings were luminous and vibrant, yet virtuosic and intriguingly complex. I had never seen anything like them, and I fell in love with them. When she suggested I give water color a try, I jumped at the chance. Painting under her tutelage became a great joy which continues to this day, as my husband and I still spend the month of June on Paros. In New York, I have also had the good luck to work with other fine teachers whenever time allowed. Once I found myself sufficiently accomplished as a painter, as well as a musician, the concept of the “sing-along book” followed naturally.
What about this career choice did you find most appealing?
I always wanted to do something to make the world a little better. I hope, through children’s books, to touch peoples’ lives in a way I couldn’t before. It is my desire that I might create something beautiful and touching which will transport people to a place of kindness and gentleness. I feel that contemporary culture is too harsh, too loud. I want to cultivate feelings of tenderness and an appreciation of subtlety and reflection. I also have more specific goals: I want to do what I can to get rid of biases and thought patterns which seem to me to be destructive. For instance, I refrained from making my heroine, the Shepherdess, conventionally beautiful. I think our society pays too much attention to appearance, and that a “plain” woman is just as worthy of love and admiration as a beautiful one. I also feel that music performed in a classical manner and paintings which are subtle and soft-edged can be appreciated by children as well as adults and deserve to be represented in children’s books.
What steps did you take to begin education or training?
I feel that all the work I’ve done throughout my life has led up to my new career. I have had extensive training as a musician, which enabled me to create the “sing-along” side of my book. (I wrote an arrangement of a folk song and then performed it on piano, voice and flute.) My art training made the illustrations possible.
Along the way, were people encouraging or discouraging?
My parents were always supportive of my musical career, and were able to pay for lessons and a fine conservatory education. However, classical music is a very competitive business, and there have been many times when I have felt discouraged. In the visual arts the situation is somewhat different. The way I paint, which is representational, is not in style now, so I never even really tried to “break into” the art market. So far everyone has been enthusiastic about and supportive of my new endeavor of combining music and art in the service of children’s literature.
Did you ever doubt your decision and attempt a career change.
Not yet – but there’s always tomorrow!
When did your career reach a tipping point?
When people told me they were moved and inspired by my book, and that their children were mesmerized by it!
Can you describe a challenge to overcome?
The computer! I am terrible with machines of any kind. I can’t even work a sewing machine. But in order to make my book, I had to resize photos, organize layout, and learn more than I ever thought I could about this machine.
What single skill has proven to be most useful?
Perseverance! It is the most valuable attribute one can have. It’s more important than talent or luck, but it tends to be hidden. I believe it can, like other skills, be learned.
What accomplishment are you most proud of?
I’m most proud that I had the discipline to see my book, Walk Shepherdess, Walk, through to completion. It took a lot of work, not all of which was joyous, but I finished it, and now I’m working on the sequel.
Any advice for others entering your profession?
Do what you love! If it makes you happy, it will probably make others happy too!
A concert celebrating the publication of “Walk Shepherdess, Walk: a sing-along book” created by Barrett Cobb.
4 p.m. Sunday, October 29, 2017
Church of the Good Shepherd
236 East 31st Street (between Second and Third Avenues)
FREE. No RSVP necessary.
Photo of Barrett Cobb by Richard Blinkoff