Susanne Abigail Barkan, age 52, passed away at home in Shelburne on Saturday, September 10th, 2011, after a long struggle with cancer.
Susanne graduated from Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. in 1981. She studied
traditional ballads and songs in Scotland, as well as vocal improvisation with
Bobby McFerrin at Omega Institute. In coffeehouses and festivals of Western
Mass., she was a popular folk singer, eventually leading workshops in vocal
improvisation. In recent years, she taught music at the Heath Elementary
School, the Colrain Central School, and the Academy at Charlemont.
Susanne was born in Ithaca, New York to Alfred and Rhoda Barkan, and was the youngest of three children. She was preceded in death by her mother, and is survived by her husband,
Craig D. Miller, their son Benjamin, of Shelburne, MA., as well as her
father Alfred, her siblings Amy and Jonathan, and two nieces and nephews.
A memorial gathering was held at the Shelburne-Buckland Community Center on October 9th, 2011 at 11 a.m.
Memorial gifts in Susanne's honor may be made to Hospice of Franklin County, Complimentary Cancer Care at Baystate/Franklin Medical Center, Cancer Connection or Forest Moon.
See also some Pictures and Words from the Memorial Gathering.
Older Bio from the 2000's...
Susanne Barkan sings traditional
and contemporary folk songs, old Scottish ballads, doo-wop, radio jingles,
Bach Cantatas, vocal percussion and whatever else the moment calls for.
She plays guitar, piano, flute and is learning to play hand drums. She
began leading vocal improvisation workshops in 1997. Responding to her
students' inquiries about her own musical background, we've prepared this
Susanne Barkan was born in 1959,
lived in Brooklyn, then Long Island.
Her musical life centered on classical
flute and piano for many years, though she also taught herself to play
folk guitar. Her high school years were full of instrumental music and
creative writing. Her mother played the piano, adored the opera and always
had the kitchen radio tuned to WNYC. Their record shelves were home to
The Beatles, Melanie, Bob Dylan, Theodore Bikel, James Taylor, Joni Mitchell,
Simon & Garfunkel, Bruce Springsteen, David Bromberg, and more.
At Home with the Family
While attending Hampshire College
in Amherst, MA,
Susanne discovered the traditional
tunes and ballads of Scotland, Ireland and England. Contra dancing and
concerts by Boys of the Lough, Martin Carthy, Robin Williamson, Louis Killen,
Cilla Fischer & Artie Trezise, made a lasting impression. Susanne switched
from creative writing to ethnomusicology, doing her graduation thesis from
Hampshire College on the History and Performance of Folksongs and Ballads
from Scotland. As part of the research for this work, Susanne traveled
in Scotland and England, studied Ballad Singing with Jean Redpath, and
poured through many resources at the Cecil Sharp house in London. The opening
number at her graduation concert was a duet with bagpiper Kirsten Cook,
also a Hampshire College student at the time. That was 1980.
Susanne developed a large following,
after several years performing at
coffeehouses, concert halls and on radio in Western Mass. Her renditions
of unaccompanied ballads revealed a singer with a highly expressive style.
Her guitar playing in open tunings conveyed the energy and mystery of traditional
music. Susanne hosted a radio show on WMUA called 'The Celtic Tradition'
and helped produce several concerts for the Pioneer Valley Folklore Society.
These included shows by Silly Wizard, Jean Redpath, John & Phil Cunningham,
Robin Williamson, and others. She was tour manager for Robin Williamson
in 1987, and coordinated 'Celtic Week' in 1988 at Fiddle & Dance Camp
in Ashokan, NY, hiring and scheduling workshops with Seamus Eagan, Eileen
Ivers, Billy McComisky, Mark Simos, and many others, including the amazine
job of the artist is always to deepen the mystery."
In 1988 Susanne
was in Bobby McFerrin's workshop at Omega Institute.
The Dynamic Singing Workshop brought
together 20 singers from the US and Canada, to work with Bobby McFerrin
in a five-day intensive. This experience allowed Susanne to develop a new
sense of adventure in her singing. Improvisation, it seems, is another
path along the folk process. Much of Susanne's repertoire had originated
in an oral tradition, with lyrics and tunes being 'influenced' by each
singer along the way. After working with Mr. McFerrin, Susanne began to
experience her musical role not just as a preserver of old songs and tunes,
but as someone who is called to put her own
distinctive, deeply personal mark on every song she sings. With this fresh
inspiration, Susanne's concerts began to branch into new avenues. She spent
several years collaborating with other members of the Dynamic Singing Workshop
in a cappella concerts. Some of these concerts were called "Almost Totally
Unaccompanied Voices" - the title reflecting the philosophy that by singing
we call something into being, and that something is there with us while
we sing, and so there is no such thing as TOTALLY unaccompanied singing.
||Susanne Barkan and "The
Workshop" performing live on Continential Cablevision's "Cityfolk" concert
series, August 1989. Left to right: Susanne Barkan, Dave Davies,
Maria Robbins, Karma Martell, Mark Johnson, Paul Zimmermann.
here for an interview "Singing? Don't Worry, Be Happy!"
In 1992, collaborations with
her fellow workshop members,
most of whom were based in NYC, grew
scarce. Susanne was teaching Jazzercise and working part-time jobs. She
took a break from performing, got married, had a child, bought a house
with her husband near Greenfield, MA and waited for 'the next set of operating
In 1997 Susanne taught her
first session of Toast & Jam
vocal improv workshops at Hampshire
College. She wanted to create an environment in which singers could explore
the art of free-form improvisation. With a few ideas, lots of energy, her
nursing son tucked under her shirt, Toast & Jam was born. It was a
huge success with 30 students and unforgettable one-of-a-kind music.
Susanne continued learning, teaching
and building her curriculum since that first Toast and Jam Workshop. Her
newest project, The Toast & Jam Vocal Band, is also under way.
See What is Vocal Improv and Toast & Joam Workshops for the many
ways Susanne has continued her work.