Barbara Byers is a vocalist, composer and multidisciplinary theater artist. She has an MA and PhD from the University of California, San Diego in Music with a focus in composition and vocal performance, where she composed and staged/recorded two contemporary operas, Beowulf (UCSD MA Thesis ‘18) and Helwalker (UCSD PhD Dissertation ‘21), and one improvised experimental opera, Otterborg (UCSD SpringFest showcase ‘19). Barbara has performed locally and internationally in major contemporary works including Of Body and Ghost (Tête à Tête Opera Festival, UK ‘19 by Yolande Snaith and Roswitha Gerlitz), Hwilwæg (UCSD DMA dissertation ‘19 by Justin Murphey-Mancini), Tautitotito (Darmstadt Summer Music Program, GE ‘18 by Celeste Oram), Before the Horses Crash into the Ground, and then the Ground (UCSD MFA Dance Thesis Project ‘18 by Veronica Santiago-Moniello), Bula Matari: Breaker of Rocks (UCSD DMA Dissertation ‘17 by Joshua Charney), Iron Shoes workshops and development (San Francisco, CA ‘16 by Janet Kutulas), and Holy Garden (San Francisco, CA ‘15 and East Java, Indonesia ‘13 by Ari Rudenko). She toured, taught, arranged music and performed as a vocalist with Balkan women’s choir, Kitka (Berkeley, CA ‘14 - ’16), has sung with the La Jolla Symphony Orchestra (Berio Sinfonia ‘17, A Loose Affiliation of Alleluias by Celeste Oram ‘19), and participates regularly in a range of works from new music by composers such as György Kurtág and Beat Furrer to new productions of medieval and renaissance vocal music, folk music, extended techniques and improvisation.
In addition to her vocal training, Barbara has studied oud since ‘07, supported with travel to Istanbul, Turkey in ‘11, and participated in eight weeks of Labyrinth Music Workshops in Crete and Rhodes, Greece in ‘15 and ‘16. She received a Banff Winter Residency in ‘16 for the transcription and performance of Armenian lullabies with translation help and recording samples from renowned singer Hasmik Harutyunyan, and has studied Turkish, Armenian and Arabic music with Amos Libby, Osman Nuri Ozpekel, Adel Selameh and Peppe Frana. Having engaged in some study of medieval music with Peppe Frana (oud) and Patrizia Bovi (voice), Barbara is interested in modern interpretations of early western modal music and the historical and contemporary crossovers of this practice with makkam and makkam theory.
Indonesian gamelan and masked dance played a significant role in Barbara’s early musical and artistic grounding. She traveled to Bandung, Indonesia with a Phillips Fellowship in ‘09, and Bali, Indonesia with the Darmasiswa Scholarship program in ‘12 - ‘13 for the study of music and dance. In Bandung she learned tari topeng (masked dance) with Pak Asep, kendang (percussion) with Pak Wahyu, and was introduced to kacapi (zither), suling (flute) and folk singing. In Bali, Barbara focused on traditional singing technique and wayang kulit (shadow puppetry) character voices with Pak Ketut (aka Jro Panggul), studied masked dance with Pak Made Wijaya, percussion with Pak I Wayan Suweca, and played in two gamelan orchestras to further explore and discover relationships between music and movement. She has continued her critical interest in motion-music connections through her PhD work, conducting research and writing in the philosophy and phenomenology of performance practice, deep listening, improvisation, translation and embodiment studies.
In her spare time, Barbara enjoys martial arts, climbing, archery, exploring nature and eating unripe apples.