When Leslie La Barre, DMA, was growing up in Pleasanton, California, there was always music in her home. Neither of her parents plays an instrument, but they had a large and varied collection of albums and tapes.
“My parents always played ’60s and ’70s music,” La Barre says. “They were very open-minded, so my brother, my sister and I were exposed to all these different cultures. I would listen to something and try to play it on the piano.”
And so the journey began.
An award-winning composer and conductor who has a background in jazz piano, percussion, oboe and English horn, La Barre is beginning her first year of teaching at Eckerd College after several years on the faculty at the Conservatory of Music at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California, and at Las Positas College in Livermore, California.
An assistant professor of music, she received her doctorate degree in composition from Claremont Graduate University and holds a Master of Arts in composition from California State University, East Bay. La Barre also is the founder and director of the Eureka! Musical Minds of California Graduate Conference, a nationally recognized multidisciplinary initiative aimed at showcasing statewide talent.
“My first month at Eckerd has been an absolute joy,” she says. “I was completely drawn to Eckerd and the idea of an interdisciplinary community. I grew up with a liberal arts background. It’s always been my outlook, and it’s very much in tune with me.
“But it was the college itself that got my attention. The reason I came here is because it’s so welcoming. And because of the students. It’s a special place.”
Like her colleagues, La Barre is excited to be back in a classroom, even if it’s one that’s sometimes unconventional. One of the courses she is teaching this fall is the history of rock. And for that, she goes deep into the vault. “We talk about the Beach Boys, for instance, and [their 1966 album] Pet Sounds,” she says. “I told the students how [Beach Boys founder] Brian Wilson built a sandbox inside his house so he could feel the beach under his feet as he composed.
“And then we went to [Eckerd’s] South Beach and listened to Pet Sounds out there.”
She also is teaching a theory course on music sound and structure, as well as directing a rock lab, which is an ensemble collection of student musicians and songwriters who come together to jam at various locations around campus.
When the pandemic hit and learning was done remotely, La Barre says, the impact was especially hard on those who teach music. “Live performances were shut down,” she says. “But you can’t stop your life. As musicians, we’re trained to accommodate. To overcome the hurdles.
“But now my goal has been to get in touch with the faculty and students here at Eckerd. I want to make new friends. That’s who I am. When I first got here, I took the student tours to see the campus. I’d meet first-year students and tell them, ‘Hey! I’m a first-year too.’ Hopefully, I get to see them throughout their career here.”