Story by Wesley Orser, one of Barry’s former Hofstra students who sat in on some recordings with an aspiring artist in her 80s.
There is a long-standing idea, especially in music, that creativity has an age limit. Perhaps the most common concern for an older aspiring artist is that it’s too late to start pursuing their craft. Those mental roadblocks can keep someone from finally taking up an instrument or learning to sing. They didn’t stop Anita Molinaro.
Anita is an 82-year old grandmother from Finland. She starting writing music at a young age, but never received any formal training. Recently, she was inspired to channel her natural talent into recording original songs for the first time in her life.
Anita has an advantage younger musicians don’t when they’re building a career: she only records for herself. Her only goal is to share her songs on YouTube for her family and friends. Even without pressure from label, Anita met with Barry almost twenty times, walking out with one song per session. That ambition generated more than enough recorded music for two albums.
All the new recording artist needs for each session is a sheet of original lyrics in English. Anita learned her first English words when she arrived in the United States at 15 years old, and the lyrics have always come to her naturally. “Once I learned the language, I started thinking of words also to make songs,” she says. “Mostly love songs.” Since she only prepares the words and a melody, Barry must rely on his ear training skills to find a suitable key. From there, he harmonizes the melody and sets a chord progression, allowing him to build a musical accompaniment. Anita may not realize it herself, but she almost always sings in a minor key and adheres to common chord progressions.
Capturing the magic
Even though Anita is a new recording artist, Barry’s approach remains the same. He follows the same processes he teaches to his Electronic Music students at Mercy College and Hofstra, the only difference being the digital audio workstation he uses. (In this case, it’s Digital Performer.) After recording the instrumental arrangement (Anita’s favorite part is the solos), Barry is ready for Anita’s vocals; he’s able to record, edit, mix and master the entire recording within a couple of hours. Anita often remarks how impressed she is with Barry’s ability to work efficiently on the spot. “He can fix everything, even my voice!”
The simplified process that meets Anita’s needs is perfect for a student to follow along with. Writing, recording, editing, mixing, and mastering are all part of every class that Barry teaches on professional recording. He assigns projects at the beginning of each semester so that every student will have a finished collection of songs by finals week. What Barry assigns over the course of a three-month semester, he can finish in a matter of hours; hopefully practice makes the process easier for students, so they can catch up.
Anita’s singing style inspires Barry to write mellow, soft rock accompaniments. Although Anita’s biggest influences are the traditional singers of her generation, such as Connie Francis and Perry Como, she’s open to any of Barry’s pop sensibilities. “Make it more modern!” she says.
Music has always been a part of Anita’s life, even if she never recorded until now. “It’s just in my heart, all the time,” she says. She advises aspiring singers, “If you have it in your heart, do it. No matter what.” Anita is modest, and very reluctant to call herself a great singer. “When I’m at home,” she says, “I’m singing all the time. No one can stand me!” She constantly insists she isn’t a good interview subject, but Barry and I both disagreed. Anita can inspire anyone who thinks it’s too late to pursue creating music or any other form of art.
One of Barry’s favorite books, The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path To Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron, has a fitting quote on unblocking creativity. Cameron is constantly asked by many a doubtful aspiring artist, “’You know how old I’ll be by the time I’ll learn how to play the piano?’” Cameron always has the same response. “’The same age you’ll be if you don’t, so let’s get started.’”