One semester in Doug Barber’s early 40s, after he had been assigned to both study hall and hallway duty, he found himself, for two hours a day five days a week, doing absolutely nothing.
That’s when Barber, a music teacher at Seneca High School, decided to take advantage of the downtime by learning guitar and writing a few songs. It wasn’t long until he had a gig. Then another one, this time with his wife and close friends, who were surprised at the themes that his songs explored.
Ideas surrounding aging, forgiveness, death and fatherhood allowed him to write several songs in constant succession. He finished so many that in 2007, at the age of 42, he recorded an album titled “A Warm Place to Be.” Those were the first and only songs he’s written. Now, in his mid 50s, he imagines it would be much harder for him to write again, for it was that he “said everything I had to say.”
“Because, you know the songs are dark,” he said. “A lot of them are about death, you know, the things you think about when you get to the age of about 40. It’s not really fun to write about happy songs. My wife always says you’d never want to hear anything that she wrote because she’s such a happy person all the time. Nobody’s going to buy that. You got to write about the things people worry about.”
In the late ’80s, Barber began his career fresh out of college with a short stint at an elementary school in Audubon, filling in for a teacher on maternity leave. Then without a misstep, he landed a full time position at Southern Regional High School, located right outside Long Beach Island, a dream job for a guy who wanted to stay close to his summer hometown.
He stayed there for eight years, finally finding his way to Seneca in 2002. Since then, he’s had leading roles in the orchestra, jazz band, NJAJE Region III president, and most recently conductor of All South Jersey and Olympic Conference Bands.
As a teacher, he hopes students learn to love music and incorporate it in their life.
“The more you know about something like music, the more you’re going to get into it at a deeper level. I would hope that an English teacher would feel the same way, whether they want to teach them the love of reading or just appreciating it.”
Barber is aware that most of his students won’t play throughout their entire lives, however, he hopes that he might somehow influence his students to listen to the greats, such as Beethoven or Miles Davis.
But as his last year as a teacher nears its end, he’s beginning to wonder how his passion for teaching music will adapt to retirement.
“We were just talking about that at home the other night; how everything that I see, I see a good thing on TV, I listen to good music, I think immediately about sharing it with the kids, and now that’s going to be gone, so that’s going to be a little weird,” he said.
He explained, after he packs his things for the final time in June, that he would start teaching guitar classes to adults, writing his book out of its beginning stages, and even considering starting a blog.
Nonetheless, he doesn’t seem to be too worried about it. After all, he’s been known to do a lot when he has some free time.