A musical mind

Senior music major John Barone's life revolves around music, and he hopes to one day compose music for films or video games. Photo by Zach Castellini-Dow

On any given day, a melodic thought can pop into John Barone’s head.

Sometimes he’ll grab one of his guitars and fool around with the idea and then leave it alone – but sometimes something special happens.

When something really genius comes to the Castleton University senior music major, it can take hold of him for days.

Friends stop by his room to see if he wants to go to lunch or go out for a cigarette and he just looks up from his computer with a focused face and quietly says, “Nah, I’m good.”

This work isn’t for a class, either. It’s for the love of the music. Barone hopes one day to compose music for films and video games.

He first got into film scores when he was 16.

“The Bernard Herrmann score for Taxi Driver,” Barone said, “I thought was the coolest thing I’d ever heard.”

As his eyes light up, he says, “I like the way the music outlined the character’s inner-conflict. It’s dark, but it’s the first time I really noticed the play between music and characters.”  

Sometimes these musical episodes last for days. He’ll sit at his computer for countless hours over the course of four days, persistently playing with and tinkering away at a piece of music he’s hearing in his head.

Over the course of his process, Barone will say little to nothing, not because he doesn’t care, but because all he can think of is the piece he’s trying to write.

At first glance, most probably wouldn’t think of Barone as a classical composer. They’ll notice the Marlboro cigarette that stimulates him throughout the day or the black pair of Converse that he always has strapped to his feet.

Last, but not least, is the pair of headphones that always dangle around his neck. Every single one of his friends described that accessory when asked about him.

“Well – he always has his headphones on,” they said.

What they don’t imagine is that he’s a classical guitarist who picks up new instruments with scary proficiency. He doesn’t walk or dress like he’s incredibly musically disciplined, but according to his professors, Barone takes his music very seriously.

“He struggled at the beginning,” said Karen James, his professor teaching him piano. “But he worked and plugged away and he passed the proficiency just fine.”

When asked about him in class, James said, “He was always quiet in class. I never really heard him talk much until I sat down with him one-on-one and he started to joke with me.”

Even though he jokes, she had only positive things to say about her impression of him at the end of the day,

“He’s always here. He’s a stable person and when he says he’s going to do something he does it,” she said.

But what drives a person to become this musically inclined? When John was born in 1995, he arrived two months premature with complications to his heart. He stayed in the hospital for weeks hooked up to various machines that nurtured him.

“The only time all of his monitors were normal,” according to Jeanine Barone, John’s mother, “was when I was rocking with him, singing Elvis.”

The first instrument he learned how to play was the saxophone, in fifth grade. He learned how to play it well and practiced every day. He played in the school band until one day he quit. When his mother asked him why he quit, all he said was, “The band director is a dick.”

The first band he became enthralled with was the Gorillaz.

“When I first heard them, they were so unique,” he explained.

From there, John started his punk phase. He loved bands like The Dead Kennedys, all of the bands that came out of the Los Angeles punk scene like Black Flag – and last but not least was The Clash.

“He loved Joey Ramone,” Jeanine said laughing. “He even had the little red glasses.”

After John’s punk phase and a nearly foot-tall Mohawk that required Gorilla Glue, his musical palette kept changing. From Punk he went to Jazz and Miles Davis, while shortly after he was stunned by the work of Tchaikovsky. He was lucky enough to be born to a family that supports and nurtures his natural talent for music.

“Anything he’s been interested in playing, we’ve bought for him,” Jeanine said.

She first noticed John’s talent in 10th grade when he was taking a break from studying for a national Latin exam, playing his guitar.

“I heard this music,” Jeanine continued, “and I thought ’Holy Shit! That’s good!’”

John went on to be a national Latin Merit scholar, as well as having his original piece sent by his guitar teacher to the Vermont Symphony Orchestra. All of this seems very serious, but John is one of the quirkiest, funniest people you’ll ever meet. When he isn’t creating or listening, he’s making his friends laugh.

“One time John stopped me and said, ‘I need your help with something’ and the next thing I knew, John was laughing as we stole a sign well after midnight,” said Tony Reidel, a junior English major at CU, through fits of laughter.

“He’s always asking me why my stuff is on the floor before trying to knock it onto the floor,” said his neighbor Paige Harrington, a senior physical education major. “This year, we were in Huden and someone said something to John that he didn’t like so he stood up, got on his chair and looked around with his cup of water while people stared at him.”

         Recent graduate Vincent Guererra summed-up his friends feelings toward him saying, “John makes you cherish moments. I hope to have him in my life until the day I die.”

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