Louisville Magazine

NOV 2016

Louisville Magazine is Louisville's city magazine, covering Louisville people, lifestyles, politics, sports, restaurants, entertainment and homes. Includes a monthly calendar of events.

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34 LOUISVILLE MAGAZINE 11.16 He leads me down a staircase, past photos of him with Dexter Gordon, Dizzy Gillespie, Sammy Davis Jr., too many more to name, and into his base- ment workshop. An elderly little cat curls into a ball in front of La Barbera's jukebox full of about 80 jazz records. In one corner stands the little robot arm he's been working on with two servo motors, adjacent to cabinets full of old radio parts he orders from Russia and China. Somewhere around here is a case of San Pellegrino sparkling water, his "life blood." He always seemed to have a bottle in one hand as he walked to rehearsal at U of L, the little three- legged stool he sits on in the other. La Barbera heads through a door and sits at his desk. Two monitors light his face, one pulled up to the notation software he uses to create scores, play- ing melodies onto the page with a little electronic keyboard. He hands me the score from one of his earlier orchestral works — "Da Isola a Isola Suite," a three-movement concerto for euphoni- um horn he wrote for his father, who fell in love with the euphonium as a boy after emigrating from Sicily. One of his father's old parade hats sits atop a shelf. e story of La Barbera's introduction to music goes back two generations, to his grandfather in feudal Sicily, where a peasant's greatest commodity was their chil- dren. If a family needed money, their kids became collateral on loans they could never possibly repay. And so Pasquale La Barbera was sold to a baron. Pasquale had lost an eye as a child, and La Barbera figures that made him more expendable than the other kids. Every morning around 4 a.m. Pasquale submerged himself in the frigid waters of the baron's irrigation ditches, pushing the water along its path with his little body. He was just older than the baron's chil- dren, and he played with them after mass. Pasquale had learned to read in his three or so years of school, and he wrote fanciful stories about good and evil, God and the devil. e nobility was mostly illiterate, and the baron's children had no idea what Pasquale was doing, sitting with paper, scratching. So he told them, and then he taught them. When the baron saw his kids reading a book, he was dumbfounded. How did you learn this? he asked them. Pasquale La Barbera taught us, they said. Who? One of the servant boys. Bring him to me. e baron was so impressed with Pasquale's literacy that he forgave his debt and gave him a plot of land where he could build a home and farm wheat. Most of the crop went to the baron, but Pasquale made enough to buy a mule and a wagon. He felt like a wealthy man. He married and had three children. But in his 30s, all those frigid mornings in the water caught up to him, and he fell into poor health. His brother had moved to America and kept sending tickets by mail, but Pasquale was stubborn, refusing to leave his home. He sold the mule. He sold the cart. When there was nothing else to sell, his wife told him: Write your brother, tell him to send the tickets; I am taking the children to America. She rounded up her three children and boarded a ship. Giuseppe, La Barbera's future father, was seven years old. "Pop talked about that a lot, toward the end," La Barbera tells me, paging through "Da Isola a Isola Suite," written to commemo- rate his father's journey to the States. e captain of the vessel told the New York Times, "It was the worst weather I have experienced in 24 years at sea, which in- cludes 94 round voyages on the Atlantic." Waves swept people into the sea; the horn soars through the strings.

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