Barbara Ulman

Composer, Pianist
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Barbara Ulman began studying piano at age seven, and immediately enjoyed it. At age 12 she was hired to play the piano during a friend’s flute lessons. This was the start to her life as a collaborative musician. She accompanied her high school glee club and various soloists as needed, sang in a choir, and while singing Fauré’s Requiem, realized the power of music to move her deeply.

She graduated from Harvard/Radcliffe College, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with a combined concentration in psychology, anthropology, and sociology, while also studying piano chamber music at the nearby Longy School of Music. During those years, she was also privileged to sing with the Boston Symphony Orchestra several times as part of the Harvard/Radcliffe Chorus, both at Symphony Hall and at the summer music festival in Tanglewood -- among the peak experiences of her life.

A few years after graduation, a summer course in Musicianship at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music spawned her interest in composing, just as she had begun teaching elementary school. After completing ten years of teaching, including classroom music, she moved to a small town in the foothills south of Yosemite National Park in California. In 1989 she completed a second B.A., concentrating in Music Theory and Composition, at California State University, Fresno.

She continues to be an active chamber music player, for fun and for public performance. Her many years as choral singer, and also pianist for solo singers and for choruses created a special affinity for the human voice. She now composes art songs and music for small ensembles and for chorus.

High Mountain Visions

History of
Joy, Praise, Hope: Psalm/Mantra Music and how I became a composer.

My first exposure to the mantra was in Berkeley, CA during a speech by Ram Dass, when his book Be Here Now was first published. He taught the mantra to the audience, and we all said it together for a few minutes. I never thought of it again until several years later, when one evening, I “heard” the mantra in a chant spoken by thousands of people who seemed to be all around me -- in my kitchen.

During the next few years I meditated on that mantra. In the summer of 1976, I was backpacking in the Palisades, a dramatic range of 14,000-foot mountains on the east side of the Sierra Nevada in California (see adjacent photo.) One afternoon, I sat at the edge of our campsite (at 9,000 feet) to meditate. I gazed at the rocky peaks of the Palisades, with snow in their crevices; everything around me was gray and white except for the intense blue of the sky. In the total silence of that vast, pristine landscape, a powerful message came into my consciousness:
“Write music combining four Psalms with the mantra Adittya hridayam punyam sarv shatru bena sh’nam.” Translation: Evil vanishes from life for one who keeps the sun in his heart.

Hiking out a few days later, I began to hear the mantra as a simple melody keeping time with my steps. I sang it to myself all the way down, and have continued to sing it in meditation since then.

Though I had played the piano since age seven, I was not a composer; I knew that I would need more music education before I could write a large choral composition. That winter I enrolled in the Music Department at California State University, Fresno, and twelve years later completed my degree in Music Theory and Composition. During those twelve years, I also played the piano in chamber music concerts, served on the board of an arts organization, raised a son, and generally kept too busy. In the twenty years after graduating, I wrote only three new compositions; the idea for the four-movement choral work remained on the back burner.

In 2008, I returned to composing in earnest, with the help of friend/professor/composer Bradley Hufft. I learned to use notation software, created professional looking scores of my older compositions, and began writing new music. Finally, in the spring of 2010, I felt ready to write the composition that had inspired me to get a thorough musical education.
Joy, Praise, Hope: Psalm/Mantra Music is the result.

Since that time, with Dr. Hufft’s encouragement and empowerment, I have never stopped composing music. My love of poetry and the human voice keeps me focused on vocal music, though a recent project has been orchestrating eight of Kabalevsky’s short piano works.

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Published 2013 Barbara Ulman