2018-07-29 / Insight

Deb Barber’s enduring passion in life is music

‘I’m doing what I love’
Contributing Writer

Deb Barber, a gifted musician, gets great satisfaction is seeing youth take to instruments as she did at an early age. 
Photo by James Alt Deb Barber, a gifted musician, gets great satisfaction is seeing youth take to instruments as she did at an early age. Photo by James Alt LAPEER — Deb Barber is a fan of the 2001 movie Serendipity in which two people meet and then trust in fate to see if their connection was meant to be. She also loves the concept that chance makes life play out just as it should, and believes she has landed solidly where she belongs.

“Our lives are like that, if you just listen,” she said. “That’s where the magic happens.”

It took some time to bring the musician, 55, full circle and back home, though.

Barber grew up here in Lapeer, and it was when she was in elementary school that she first started exploring music.

“When I was little, my mom bought me a guitar and I couldn’t figure out how to get it to do what I wanted to do,” she said.

Deb Barber performs in concert. 
Photo by Catherine Honicutt Deb Barber performs in concert. Photo by Catherine Honicutt In sixth grade, she joined the school band and played percussion. She continued her involvement with music through graduation from Lapeer West in 1980, and later attended the University of Michigan- Flint, where she got a bachelor’s degree in music education. She intended to become a band director, but then she took a three-month substitute position at Zemmer Junior High when the director went on maternity leave, and realized that wasn’t what she really wanted to do.

“Oh heck no,” she said, laughing. “That was all I needed to know.”

Instead, she and Dawn Starking took their duo White Light on the road for a couple years in the Midwest, playing at high-end hotel chains. Her father fell ill in 1993, and she came home to be with him before he passed away that same year.

Life then took Barber and Starking to Las Vegas, where they lived and performed for 16 years. Of course, it’s never quite as glamorous as it sounds on paper, and Barber is good-natured when she talks of all the other jobs she’s taken on over the years — creating jewelry, making popsicles for Good Humor, working in a chocolate factory, a theater, a bank, and even roughing houses. Music, however, was always there, reminding her of her calling, as she performed and taught music to kids on the side.

Somewhere in there, Barber also put two album releases under her belt, including White Light’s Out of the Gray, and her own The Best of Life, which got four Grammy nominations.

In 2009, Barber returned to Lapeer yet again to care for her mother, who passed away a couple years later. Barber helped Jaime Marvin at her River Street Café for a few years before it closed, and started drum lines at Seaton Elementary, Zemmer and Lapeer High School.

She started a family in 2013 in the form of dB’s L.I.V.E., a music schoolhangout hybrid that not only gives students of any age an opportunity to learn music skills but also chances to perform in front of live audiences, should they choose to do so, and even record their music. The letters in the name stand for Learn, Imagine, Visualize and Experience.

“They don’t just play here, they create too,” she said.

Her particular magic isn’t just teaching kids the musical notes, though. It’s helping them in all aspects of life by showing them what they can accomplish by simply believing in themselves — something that can be difficult for many kids.

“Kids come into this world talented. They’ve got this gift that’s God-given,” she said, adding that she can see the changes that happen in her students as they gain confidence in their own abilities. “That’s the cool thing about helping these kids. It’s giving them their voice, their belief system in themselves.”

Her “kids” have quite the age range, too. Her youngest student is three, and one of her nine student bands has a drummer who’s in kindergarten. She’s had students up to their 70s in age as well, and also has formed a parent band for the parents who wanted to learn to rock out as well. That, she said, has made a positive influence on families by bringing back a connection over music.

That family connection has happened at dB’s L.I.V.E. as well. The kids aren’t just students, they’re her kids. And the parents, she said, are her village. After she sustained injuries in a car accident in 2012, she wasn’t able to do any heavy lifting, and the parents have done a wonderful job of filling in that role for her.

Barber has visions for the future of dB’s L.I.V.E., and it includes taking students on a tour — something she said is in the works. She also teaches band classes for the Lapeer Homeschool Partnership, fills in as a substitute band director, and she hasn’t stopped being a musician herself. Barber can often be found performing at local venues with niece Emily Barber in their duo, Untamed Beauty, which they formed in 2010.

“When I came home, I didn’t know that she could even sing,” she said. But when her mother took ill, they would sing to her to comfort her. Now they do four or five shows a month.

It’s clear that serendipity has led Barber to where she should be, and while she works hard enough to proclaim that she needs a clone of herself to get it all done, she loves every moment of it.

“Where does your passion lie? That’s where you should be. I work seven days, but it’s not work to me. I’m doing what I love,” she said. “If I didn’t do music, I don’t know what I’d do. I’d probably die. It’s who I am. I see that in some of the kids, too. It wakes them up. It’s not just that subject, it’s life.”

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