Darrol Barry: a celebration concert of a life in music

Darrol Barry was a supreme musician and artist who gave so much to the people of Muscat in the last 16 years of his life. He was known and respected as a composer, conductor, band-arranger and much-loved character with a wry sense of humour, throughout the world. He will be sorely missed by his students, colleagues and friends here in Oman where he died on June 3, and by family and friends in Salford in the north of England where he was born in 1956.
Darrol’s official role was as Composer and Arranger-in-Residence for The Royal Guard of Oman, (for military bands, bagpipes, fanfare trumpets and symphony orchestra) but in his “spare time” he worked tirelessly for groups in the community, such as Muscat Brass, Muscat Singers and Band weekends for international schools, among other informal commitments.
Three months after his passing from illness, members of the 20-strong Muscat Brass organised a programme from his 253 compositions and arrangements to celebrate and share some of his achievements in a concert at the Bosch Centre for Performing Arts in Ghala on Friday evening. His wife, Rachael, was not only present at the performance but played percussion throughout.
The proceedings were fittingly opened with, ‘Olympic Fanfare and Theme’ in a rousing start.
The conductor, Dan Anthony, gave a warm welcome to the audience, advising we were not saying ‘goodbye’ to Mr. Barry but ‘hello’ as his twenty thousand compositions and arrangements will be played for time in memoriam by bands around the world, remembering Darrol’s own genuine passion for band music.
Dave Archer, lead trumpet with Muscat Brass, played a beautiful solo in the Irish ballad, “Carrickfergus”, with full brass chorus in warm, lush harmony, against some virtuoso trumpet runs. In complete contrast came Darrol’s jazz arrangement of ‘The Incredibles’, complete with kit-drum. Dave Archer stepped stage right to perform the trumpet solo in a rich interpretation of ‘High on a Hill’ in 6/8 with some delightful horn lines. If that were not evidence enough of Darrol’s versatility and imagination as a brass arranger, a super-hot version of ‘Putting on the Ritz’ featured walking-bass trombones over a driving rhythm from kit drum! The climax of the first part was the original 1984 composition bearing a nice pun on George Orwell’s title, “Wigan Pier”, rearranged for Muscat Brass including a grand opening with trumpet solo, followed by a lovely horn solo over more romantic sonorities in an almost filmic score.
There were some dramatic key changes concluding with a huge, broad sound, in blocks of colour, from the tubas through to trumpet-choir and glockenspiel. The greatest tribute and privilege perhaps came by the appearance of 1st Band Squadron Pipes and Drums of the Royal Guard marching on stage from the side aisles to a Scottish March.
The second piece featured kneeling traditional Omani drummers. Two Scottish pipe tunes, ‘Mackenzie Highlanders’ and ‘Mist Covered Mountains’ were juxtaposed with pipe-major M. Abdulhakim’s ‘Watani al Habeeb’. Their appearance concluded with a personal compositional gift, Hassan Thani’s, ‘Lament for Darrol Barry’ using some harmonic thirds, with a sense of 7/4 metre. The framed manuscript was given to Rachael in a moving presentation.
Part 2 opened with Barry’s iconic, ‘King of Brass’ in a triumphal, uplifting march featuring Rachael Barry on rousing timpani rolls. The choral, hymn-like ‘Quiet Moment’ provided an appropriate opportunity to reflect in its calming chords before old friend and colleague, Tim Willson, gave his own tribute on behalf of TAISM to Darrol’s generosity as a musician to students and adults all around the world.
He gave a personal anecdote of one of Barry’s compositions being played in the States as an example of his truly global stature in whom we have lost a prolific musical friend. As if to prove the point, the Band – comprising teachers from Muscat schools and the Royal Guard – performed Darrol’s renowned arrangement of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, complete with muted trumpets, cymbal rolls and gorgeous trombone lines. ‘Journey through America’ was just that; a medley comprising, O Susanna, Hoorah, O When the Saints, Johnny Comes Marching Home and Shortnin’ Bread, to mention just some, under the capable American baton of Mr. Willson.
Dan Anthony explained how Darrol composed ‘Landrover Khathar’ when he first came to Oman in 2002, and conducted the early Calypso pastiche with Lars Boersma’s solo trumpet introduction.
He expressed the family’s sincere thanks for the support shown when Darrol was ill in Muscat, and after his passing. Also apologies from Kevin Schaffer who was unable to be present to play that evening.
The Grand Finale brought bagpiper Colin Fairburn leading the massed pipes, drums and brass band to the stage with the stirring, “Highland Cathedral”. The Brass encore piece, ‘1941’, brought proceedings to a wild conclusion with Rodeo-like exuberance!
“From movie soundtracks to show songs, Darrol had a great knack for keeping things simple yet effective, and he leaves a rich legacy of compositions and arrangements for bands at all levels to enjoy. ….but Darrol will also be remembered for his excellent and extensive light music arrangements by the worldwide Brass Band fraternity”. And by those whose lives he touched in Oman, a tear was shed for one of the best loved musicians of our time.

GEORGINA BENISON