By: Lauren Jonik
To create is to dive through
the wave of all that is timeless and to resurface distinctly in
the present moment, clutching the pearl that represents our unique
beauty for an instant in all of time. Through our creations we are
changed, celebrated, redeemed and perhaps most significantly, set
free--- and given the opportunity to offer the same to others. The
music of Thomas
Barth beautifully encompasses these simple and profound truths.
The discovery of his
passions and talents came early in life for Thomas Barth. Born in
Vienna, Austria, Barth found inspiration in the simplicity of nature
and in pondering the larger mysteries. "I always wanted to find
out what was behind things and how things work. In nature, I'm very
interested how plants are, how frogs are. . . and why we are here,"
begins Barth. "I always would spend a lot of time reading. I'm doing
basically everything I did as a child, just now on a different level---
I feel very blessed and privileged to be able to do that." Embarking
upon his formal musical journey at the age of eight, Barth explains,
"I found a wonderful piano teacher, Dr. Karl Schnurl, back in Austria,
who would encourage me to improvise with him on two pianos before
our lessons started, so that was the first approach when it came
to creating. Other teachers, like Herbie Hancock, would come later
on. But, I give a lot of credit to this piano teacher for not just
supporting me in finding my way in music and giving me the tools---
all the technical, theoretical tools, harmony and how it all works
together, and the insight about other composers like Beethoven and
Bach, but for also encouraging me to do my own thing and to go my
own way." It is this solid foundation in technical skill and a long-cultivated
willingness to experiment that Barth continues to apply to his craft
In his performances,
Barth exquisitely exhibits the ability to go within while expanding
outwardly all in the space of a moment. "A performance is like a
celebration where people get together and there's music to share.
Music does something with the people and then, it creates something
that wasn't there before. . . It's a very passionate thing to do
to be on stage . . . It feels like a wave and the fun part is surfing
on the wave." It is this awareness of the audience and the process
of connecting with them that moves Barth. "I think when people are
in the state of attentive listening, that's a wonderful sphere which
one can sense, even physically on your skin. When people listen
to something in an attentive way, there's a lot of resonance already.
Wherever you direct your attention and this is a conscious effort,
the energy follows automatically." Taking it a step further, Barth
continues to expound on the immense power that music has held throughout
all of time. "I believe in the very shamanic aspect of a musician---
it used to always be that way. In ancient cultures, people would
heal, perform music and harmonize society and usually, all people
were working together. I assume that through the Western separation
of thinking, those roles got divided. What I am doing can inspire
people to remember seemingly lost connections on a personal basis."
focusing on offering this talents in several incarnations--- solo,
with musical artist Mary
Fahl and with a trio including bassist Massimo Biolcati and
drummer Ian Froman, Thomas Barth relishes each of these experiences.
"The trio music, when it comes to instrumentation--- acoustic piano,
acoustic bass and drums--- has the setting of a jazz trio and has
its own sound," Barth explains. And, while labels can serve to define,
they can also limit. "I am seeing my music not so much as some expression
of some vertical categories like jazz, classical, etc., but rather.
. . it is music that comes deep from my heart and is meant to come
out in a way beyond self-expression to a degree where, together
with the people who listen to it, it can change the vibration in
a room to a very enlightening and uplifting experience for everyone."
Barth highly values his role as not only an entertainer, but as
a catalyst for bringing joy and positive change to the lives of
those whom his music touches. To ensure this almost sacred connection,
Barth remains aware of being in the moment while performing and
as he explains, he will play a song "as if it would be played for
the first time. And, putting yourself in the state of someone who
is listening to it for the first time also helps. It's like a relationship
to a person--- every single day is important. Any love, any affection
is a thing that depends on a good here and now. You can't keep yourself
warm by yesterday's fire."
But, performing is only
half of the reciprocal creative equation. As Thomas Barth concludes,
"Composing is like baking a bread and performing is having a dinner
with that bread. Both of them influence each other in a wonderful
way. Both are so essential." When writing alone, the music comes
to Barth all at once. "I believe in that power and the initial energy
of a thought, a sound, a line or something else. Then, the composition
has another part involved as well, which is a very down to earth,
real thing, where you sit down and have these things and put them
in order. There are a lot of different cognitive processes involved
in this act." But, notably, though Barth is moved by events in the
external world around him, he does not rely upon them. "The inspiration
itself inspires the inspiration. The idea comes without having to
have an external trigger. I believe in the reason why something
is coming through quickly with a spin and a certain intensity."
Barth experiences this same magic when collaborating, as with singer/songwriter
Mary Fahl. Barth recalls the first time he heard Fahl. "I was totally
mesmerized and still, although we work on a daily basis, every time
she sings a note, I get the same feeling. It's like an electric
reaction." When working together, Barth likens it to "diving together."
"There are some things you do when you dive together and some things
you experience on your own. It can enrich your own palette immensely."
Thomas Barth seized the
opportunity to have a most unlikely composing "partner" of sorts:
Beethoven himself. In 1999 in an attic in London, England, a string
quartet fragment composed by Ludwig van Beethoven in 1817 was discovered.
It was only one page long and was later auctioned at Sotheby's,
where ten minutes before the auction, it was given to a string quartet
and they recorded it in one take. Barth found an MP3 of it online
and the first four notes inspired Sleeping Beauty, which
appears on Barth's 2003 solo double CD, Beyond Black and White.
The title of the song has a unique twist. "Sleeping Beauty
means the beauty of a work that has been sleeping and is now rediscovered.
I always had a strong connection to Beethoven, so it's my homage
to this great composer." And, indeed, this connection to his musical
elders is brilliantly evident in his performances, where it's easy
to envision, through his masterful playing, what a live performance
by Mozart or Beethoven might have been like.
The recording of Beyond
Black and White was significant in and of itself. The album
was recorded in Austria with thirty pianos in a single room with
no artificial reverb added. "We call it holistic resonance recording,"
says Barth of the specific piano sound he wanted to capture. "I
wanted the listener to dive into a journey like a three dimensional
tunnel--- to be in the piano. It was a successful attempt to transform
vibrations going beyond the audible spectrum. Beyond Black and
White is about overcoming polarities."
Believing that instrument
and player are united as one, Thomas Barth has a special appreciation
for quality. In the Summer of 2004, Barth became the first endorser
of a new grand piano called Passion, which was built by Austrian
piano manufacturer Bruno Weinberger. "This is an instrument of rare
value. It's going to be the first Passion in the United States."
Barth immediately connected with the character of the piano in both
sound and aesthetic appearance. "When I saw the piano, I said, "That's
the sexiest baby grand I've ever had my hands on," Barth says, smiling.
"From a design point of view, it looks really sexy. Even though
it's a baby grand, which would fit in any room, it has an enhanced
sound. It took a lot of building techniques to produce such a beautiful
Though success is fluid,
ever-changing and constantly being redefined over the course of
a lifetime to reflect not only who we are, but who we are becoming,
there are ideals that remain constant. "Success always is when thought,
word and action are in integrity. Success is when you have financial
freedom, when you are healthy, when you live in a state of love,
on many levels," affirms Barth. And, though the journey is solely
our own, by being open, we often cross paths with those along the
way who serve to enhance our lives in ways beyond what we could
imagine. "Give the angels the space so that they can come into our
lives. . . we create the resonance to enable this."
Underneath the cover
of daily life, the extraordinary happens: in our darkest hours and
in our finest hours and in between, we are being made new. Merely
by listening, the power of music invites us to participate in the
shaping of our lives. "A pilot or cab driver is working in the transportation
business. As creating musician, I see myself in the transformation
business," enthuses Thomas Barth. "To play "beautifully," "slick"
or "in a virtuoso manner," are means of self-expression. But to
induce transformation in the listener, to trigger something on a
higher or deeper level by simply doing what you do, this is Alchemy.
This is where magic happens."
Photo by Lauren Jonik