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Ellsworth woman part of new multicultural music

Zeitgeist, a Minnesota new music ensemble coming to Red Wing, consists of (from left) Pat O’Keefe on woodwinds, Ellsworth native Heather Barringer and Patti Cudd on percussion, and Nicola Melville on piano. Submitted photo

Rural Wisconsin may not be considered a hotbed for eclectic "new music," but that's exactly where Heather Barringer got her inspiration and her training.

Barringer, executive director and musician with the Minnesota music ensemble Zeitgeist, grew up in Ellsworth and took the first steps toward a career as a percussionist on the family farm.

What's more, she'll be performing on a piece of a silo underloader when Zeitgeist comes to the Anderson Center's historic barn for a concert at 7:30 p.m. May 11.

"Summer Rain," a five-part multicultural composition, will be presented by the Zeitgeist percussion-piano-woodwind quartet, in collaboration with veena virtuoso Nirmala Rajasekar and mridangam player Thanjavur Murugaboopathi.

The concert will be a blend of Indian classical music in the Carnatic tradition with new Western classical music. The intent, according to Zeitgeist, is "to bring a greater understanding of the two traditions" — celebrating differences, delving into common ground and creative a new musical experience.

"It's really pleasant to listen to," Barringer said. "All the sounds might be a little bit unfamiliar, but in a provocative, interesting and fun way."

Barringer will be playing her marimba and a variety of metal instruments, including some made out of farm implements.

Like many musicians, she got her start as a kindergartener taking piano lessons. Dorothy Boleen was her first teacher.

Her mother, the late Janet Barringer, liked mallet instruments, so she convinced Heather to try them.

Father Barry was a metalworker, who did welding in his shop on the farm. She recalls lots of pipes and sheets of metal on the property.

As a small child, Barringer said, "I would crawl up and grab tire irons and play away. I would investigate all the sounds I could make from this. It was a very real influence on what I do today."

She always knew music would play a role in her life, but as a teenager she didn't see many role models showing what it could mean except for music teachers and rock band musicians. Those choices were not for her.

"It became evident in high school" that music was her calling. Playing in the Ellsworth High School band program that was a part of every school curriculum at the time, she realized, "This is really what I am." Teacher Harvey Halpaus was "a master educator," Barringer said.

She went on to the University of Wisconsin-River Falls to pursue an undergraduate degree in music. That's where she encountered composer-teacher Conrad de Jong and his experimental new music ensemble.

He invited her to join the troupe, and "from that moment I knew I had found my musical home," she said.

She had already discovered Zeitgeist, which had been founded in 1977 at Macalester College in St. Paul. "I used to go listen to them" as a teenager, Barringer said.

The ensemble takes its name from two German words that mean "time" and "ghost," she noted, translating them to represent "spirit of the time."

She was attending graduate school when she learned Zeitgeist had a position open. An audition earned her the spot in 1991.

Although Barringer had concerns about whether she could come back home to Pierce County and also be a part of Zeitgeist, she soon learned that it was possible. "It's really wonderful," she said.

She's living in River Falls, which is close enough to her roots that Barringer can turn to her father for help when she needs something welded or fabricated for a show.

"My dad is more than happy to have me raid (his supply) as long as I don't take what he needs" for his own projects, she said.

Barringer also enjoys the proximity to Red Wing, where she has come to catch shows at the Sheldon Theatre as well as the Anderson Center.

"Red Wing is a very vibrant place," she said, describing the community as "an important artistic center" for surrounding communities.

The May 11 concert reflects the current work of Zeitgeist to explore new artistic frontiers by collaborating with poets, choreographers, directors, visual artists and sound artists of all types. Together they create imaginative new work that challenges the boundaries of traditional chamber music.

The "Summer Rain" concert is a tour show celebrating the company's 40th anniversary season in 2017-18. In addition to Barringer, the group includes another percussionist, Patti Cudd; Pat O'Keefe on woodwinds, and Nicola Melville on piano.

Nirmala Rajaseskar, who also is an active collaborator with other forms of art, music and poetry, travels around the world teaching and performing her music.

At a new music concert such as this, "The job of the audience is a little different," Barringer advised. "The music doesn't yet have a context" — that is, people won't already have memories of these songs.

"It's brand new. We're on the frontier of new musical thought."

The Minnesota State Arts Board provided a Legacy grant that makes it possible for groups like Zeitgeist to visit communities throughout Minnesota, Barringer noted. "Minnesota is the envy of the nation in how it supports the arts," she added.

Tickets to the Anderson Center event are $20, students and seniors $15, and members $18. Although tickets will be available at the door, seating is limited; advance reservations are recommended. Go online to www.zeitgeistnewmusic.org/summer-rain-red-wing.html

For more information, call 651-388-2009.

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