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Community celebrates life of composer Barbara York

The Pittsburg community, especially the music community, lost one of its most active performers and composers, Barbara York, on Nov. 6, 2020. Because of safety concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic, her memorial was not able to take place until the following year.  

The Barbara York Memorial Concert took place on Saturday, July 10 at 7 p.m. at the Bicknell Family Center for the Arts in the Linda and Lee Scott Performance Hall. The concert featured performances from musicians who knew York while she was alive, and they performed music that she had written. The performers included former professor of voice Stella Lua, PSU alumni in music AJ Beu, Noey de Leon, Christine Lovell, Micheal Ogden, and Trey Waddell, professor of violin and Director of Orchestras at Pittsburg State University Raul Munguia, professor of music at Fort Scott Community College Denissa Rivas, professor of clarinet and saxophone at PSU Joanne Britz, and others. The concert was free, open to the public, and featured a reception afterwards. 

“These are my mom’s people,” said Megan Gabehart, daughter of Barbara York. “We’ve got some fantastic performers. They are all here playing for her, and they’ve come in from out of town and even out of state. They’ve given up countless hours of rehearsal time to honor her. The pieces that you’re going to hear tonight are all written by Barbara York and they were selected in a variety of ways. Some of them, I requested from the performers. Some of them, the performers themselves chose, and some of them, my mom chose before she passed away…” 

York was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba in Canada on Feb. 23, 1949. York began her career in music at age 4, taking piano lessons and eventually playing piano and cello in school. She also composed music starting at age 7. After high school, she attended McGill University in Montreal, Quebec and graduated with a degree in School Music at age 20. York taught at the Manitoba Theatre School before moving to Toronto. While in Toronto, she worked as a music director, composer, and arranger in a variety of theatre roles and worked with a number of actors such as John Candy, Andrea Martin, and Martin Short. After leaving theatre work to focus on family, she wrote her award-winning musical Colette. York eventually moved to Kansas City, shifting her career towards accompanying and education. After accompanying tubist Michael Fischer, she began seriously writing for solo tuba, an instrument she would become known for until the end of her life. York contributed more than 40 pieces for tuba and euphonium and has received numerous accolades for her compositions. After retiring, she worked as a staff accompanist for Pittsburg State University and maintained an active composition practice. 

“I hope that this (the concert) is healing for you,” Beu said. “Barbara was like a grandmother to me… I want to make sure that you guys know that she has made a lasting impression on the tuba community, and it will be my life goal to make sure that Barbara York will be played forever…” 

Beu created a website dedicated to Barbara York (barbarayork.com) and parties interested in learning more about her life and listening to recordings may go there for more.   

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