An hour with Lawrence Fellow Daniel Barolsky

Bonnie Alger

In his profile picture on the Lawrence Web page, music fellow in Music History and Theory Daniel Barolsky is laid back and casually dressed. In person, he exudes professionalism in his button-down shirt and dress pants, but asks to be called by his first name. “It’s kind of ambiguous to be a Lawrence fellow,” says Barolsky. “I’m going to stick with this wardrobe for a few weeks, and then maybe I’ll switch back to T-shirts. Nobody recognizes me when they see me in person!”
A native of Charlottesville, Va., Barolsky attended Swarthmore College in New York State as a history major, with a specialty in modern German history. Despite his musical background in bass and piano, the young Southerner didn’t see the point of studying music as an undergraduate. “I found the study of music to be utterly absurd,” says Barolsky.
This mind-set changed, however, when Barolsky found himself working for a record company for a year after college. It was here that his self-professed obsession with recordings began. “I hate business,” he says. “The recording company wasn’t concerned [with the nuances of recordings], they just wanted to sell records.” Barolsky began comparing recordings with an interest in particular performers. His first major interest was in cellist Jacqueline du Pr, particularly her recordings of Beethoven. “I fell in love with the A major Sonata,” says Barolsky, “an amazing, electric performance.” He eventually wore out the recording and replaced it with a version by Yo-Yo Ma, which he wasn’t as fond of. Barolsky’s “obsession” was with pianist Glenn Gould. His musical tastes are heavy on piano and light on singers, but generally eclectic. “If I were to name the three great geniuses of the 20th century, I would say Tom Waits, Glenn Gould, Charles Mingus, and maybe Shostakovich.”
Barolsky went to the University of Chicago for graduate school. “I was rejected from everyplace else. Chicago accepted me as an ‘at risk’ student,” laughs Barolsky. Prior to graduate school, he had never been west of Virginia. While in the Chicago area, Barolsky had his first encounter with Lawrence professor Julie McQuinn at a musicology conference. “Usually I don’t remember people’s presentations, but Julie was singing and dancing and laughing. It was great!”
Finding the job listing for the Lawrence Fellows Program in a musicology journal was a boon for Daniel. “I went to Swarthmore for undergrad, and I wanted to go back to a liberal arts school. In fact, Lawrence is better because there are smart liberal arts students and people who really know how to play their instruments.” His thoughts on being a fellow so far? “I’m having a wonderful time! There are about 20 first-year faculty, and we all hang out. [Being a Fellow] gives me the opportunity to build up repertoire of curricula.”
Barolsky will teach three different courses during the 2005-06 year: Performance and Analysis (this term), Music History Survey II (Winter 2006), and an upper level music history class on Glenn Gould during the spring. Barolsky will also continue his work, and will travel to Boston in November to make a presentation at the annual meeting of the Society for Music Theory.