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Introducing Jessica Barbour, the one behind the OUP Summer Choir Session

This year New York Oxford University Press office started a Summer OUP Choir Session! Originally, it began as a holiday initiative in the Winter of 2014, ending with a spectacular performance at the holiday party. The purpose of the Summer session was to bring employees together for an exciting singing or listening session in the lobby conference room during lunch every week.

Here is an interview with Jessica Barbour, the one who spearheads both the Holiday Choir and Summer Choir Session.

Please describe a bit of yourself. How long have you been with OUP? What Department do you work in?

I’ve been at OUP since September 2010, nearly 7 years ago. I started in the Reference department, and now work as the senior sales data analyst for the Institutional Sales department.

What brought you to OUP?

I was hired at OUP the fall after I graduated with my master’s degree in voice performance. I got a job as an editorial assistant on Grove Music Online, where my specific academic background actually came in handy.

What motivated you to start the OUP Summer Choir Session? 

In 2014 I started the OUP Holiday Choir in conjunction with the social committee, because I knew a handful of people who loved singing in choirs, and because I thought it could be a nice thing to incorporate into the holiday party. We’ve done that for three years now, and it’s been very fun—two of our choristers unofficially named the group The Dulcet Tomes last year, if that gives you a sense of the personality of that group—but other people have come to me saying that they love singing but don’t enjoy performing, especially in front of their peers. So I wanted to form another choir that meets in the summer and doesn’t culminate in a performance; we’re just there to get together, have fun, release a little stress, and make music. It’s been great.

Growing up were you in a choir? 

Growing up in Syracuse, New York, I was in a lot of choirs! I was in two choirs in elementary school, the general chorus and the select chorus that you needed to audition for called the Notable Singers. (Har har.) I was also in an audition-only choir outside of school called the Syracuse Children’s Chorus, whose founder, Barbara Tagg, wrote a book for OUP recently called Before the Singing. And I sang in choirs at my church.

What is your favorite type of music?  

I love all kinds of music. My household soundtrack growing up was all Beatles, musical theater, classical music, and Tom Lehrer. My taste has expanded as I’ve gotten older; recently I’ve been playing a lot of folk and writing podcast theme songs, one of which Anna-Lise Santella, the Senior Editor for Grove Music Online, called “vaguely unhinged Victoriana”. Not sure that’s strictly a musical type yet, though.

What is your favorite piece of musical work and why? 

It would be completely impossible to pick a favorite musical work, but I will say that my favorite choral work is A Ceremony of Carols by Benjamin Britten. (My favorite movement from it is Balulalow, with its major-minor fluctuations, compound meter, and the soprano solo soaring over the harp and the choir; it’s deceptively complex and beautiful.)

Do you play any instruments? If yes, which ones?

I play violin, and bring it to the fortnightly acoustic group sessions at OUP. (There’s a lot of music here!) I also play the guitar and piano, badly, and recently got a mandolin that I’m slowly getting the hang of.

What is your favorite part about being in a choir? 

There is an incredible feeling when a group of people work together towards a common goal that’s dependent on listening to each other and collaboration. I get a rush when I sing music I love, and when I’m doing it with more voices, whether 2, 12, or 50, that feeling is only amplified.

What voice part are you? 

I’m a soprano. In choirs I like singing soprano II because you get to harmonize.

What do you hope to take away from the OUP Summer Choir Session? Or what do you hope others take away from this?

I hope that the choir gives us all a creative outlet in a relaxing, non-judgmental, collaborative space. We all need that sometimes. It’s good for the soul, or at least for the lungs.

Jessica Barbour is a Senior Sales & Data Analyst in the New York office of Oxford University Press.

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