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Elizabeth Berry Barber ’63

Beth Berry Barber ’63 and Paul Hoyer ’64 install new control console in KRRC

Beth Berry Barber ’63 and Paul Hoyer ’64 install new control console in KRRC

[The organ] is the pre-eminent instrument of music, since the greatest number of voice parts, as many as six or seven, may be controlled by one man. It is customarily used in churches for the praise of God, to facilitate choral singing, and to refresh human spirits and vexations. It is produced with great and heavy outlay and expense, and certainly through ignorance it is easily wasted, ruined, and all the cost may be vainly expended.

—Arnolt Schlick, Spiegel der Organisten und Orgelmacher; translation by Elizabeth Berry Barber.

Beth Berry grew up in Forest Grove, Oregon, where her British parents made her a lifelong Anglophile. She arrived at Reed in 1958, and lived in the New Women’s Dorm (now MacNaughton) with Mary Klevjord Rothbart ’62. Mary remembers Beth’s astounding knowledge of and enthusiasm for the organ and for radio broadcasting. Beth introduced her to the Reed organ, with its pipes, reeds, exotic names, and the organist’s feet dancing on the pedals. It was clear that Beth didn’t just play the organ; she was a thoroughgoing scholar of the instrument.

Beth began taking organ lessons in high school and continued them at Reed with Valerian Fox. She was one of the heroic few, along with Prof. John Hancock [chemistry 1955-89] who attempted to keep the old Estey pipe organ in the chapel functional. (The battle to save the organ was eventually lost in the 1980s and the instrument was removed and sold.) Beth was also much involved with KRRC, where she valiantly supported the cause of classical music. Her thesis, The Pipe Organ in England: Tonal History from 1660 to 1914, was advised by Prof. Herb Gladstone [music 1946-80].

After Reed, Beth earned a master’s degree in music at the University of Oregon. For her thesis, she submitted a translation and commentary on the important 1511 treatise by Arnolt Schlick, Spiegel der Orgelmacher und Organisten, the first work published in German about organ design, building, and playing. Her translation, which was reprinted in 1980, is still the standard edition in English and is widely cited. She later completed a master’s degree in library science at the University of Washington, where she worked in the music library; she also worked for Olympic Organ Builders in Seattle, including assisting with the installation of the pipe organ in St. Mark’s Cathedral. She married Ted Barber, and together they pursued her interests in organ building and his in antique Cadillacs; they had one daughter, Christie.

[This obituary was provided by Prof. Virginia Oglesby Hancock ’62 with the valuable assistance of Mary Klevjord Rothbart ’62 and Gay Walker ’69.]

Appeared in Reed magazine: March 2016

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