By: Raman Kang
Photos courtesy of MuzeWest
After thundering applause from a mere introduction, Ariel Barnes takes his rightful seat in front of an intimate crowd, picks up his cello, inhales sharply and begins to play.
He’s been called a “mesmerizing musical experience” by the Toronto Live Music Report and has been described as having a “luscious tone” by the Vancouver Sun; but in his truest form, Barnes is a storyteller.
Playing a total of four pieces, one of which was composed by his late father, Milton Barnes, he takes you on a haunting, joyful and exciting journey; a journey in which only the music exists. Note by note, string by string, Barnes fades away and becomes part of the greater scheme of things. Without words, the music tells a story in the mind of the listener. Controlled by the pace of the chords, each individual can create their own scenario, plot and ending.
The experience created by Barnes for his audience is moving for both the veteran listener and the one who has no idea about what’s going on. His ability to manipulate the sound of the cello to that of a guitar is surprising and a definite highlight of his performance, mostly because it catches you off guard.
He plays his instrument as if it’s a partnership, it doesn’t seem as if he is controlling the cello, but working with it; first listening and then reacting accordingly. Barnes says there is little thought process in his mind while playing, instead he immerses himself in the music. This was more obvious in some pieces, where he was comfortable enough to close his eyes while playing, but his approach always remained consistent. Barnes has a genuine desire to play the cello and it shows.
He says music is neither good or bad, but dependent on peoples’ reactions. Since he can’t control the reaction of others, he lets go and just plays. His philosophy is “do what you do and exist as you will.” Fortunately for him, people tell him he’s good, so he keeps playing.
Barnes is good… but after meeting him, he’s better. This free-styling, Wu Tang fan, skateboarding cellist has much more to him than meets the eye. His light-hearted interactions with his audience, both in between his works and after his final piece, are refreshing and appreciated.
Although Barnes can normally be seen as Principal Cello of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, he is able to do smaller events such as this for the diverse community of Vancouver thanks to Jennifer West and Diana Chan, Co-Artistic Directors for MuzeWest Concerts.
Seeing a lack of classical music exposure in schools and the community at large, West decided to create an educational music series and asked her friend, Chan, to become Co-Artistic Director with her. Together, they created MuzeWest, a cultural event offered to the people of Vancouver at affordable prices. Contrary to popular opinion, the concert series was not named after West. The name came from a friend, Jared Miller, who suggested combining the title with a little bit of music and a little bit of West Coast.
The beauty of MuzeWest is that the music truly is for everyone. MuzeWest also takes most of the artists playing in these concert series to elementary schools, free of charge, to teach kids about their instrument of choice and play pieces for them. “I’ve seen boys in grade four, who normally don’t listen for 10 seconds, listen to an entire piece spellbound.”
“Music is a special thing, it’s like a universal language, it connects to you on a deeper level and you feel something, that for me, is priceless,” says Chan.
It’s been nearly two years since West and Chan started MuzeWest Concerts and it hasn’t been easy. MuzeWest relies heavily on donations in order to pay for the artist, space, and technical needs. After a very frustrating start financially, MuzeWest concerts is in a far better place than it once was. Although still in need of donations, MuzeWest is getting more and more positive responses and recognition from the community.
West says, “I’m not just here to get the right notes or style, I have to touch people, that’s what we’re doing bringing on musicians like Ariel.”
This recognition is visible in the response of concert-goers thanking the artist after a show; it’s seen in children immersing themselves in the music and the members of the audience walking away with “shining eyes.”
To find out more about upcoming shows for MuzeWest visit their website here.
“They’re pretty darn good.”