Performing and creating in Omaha: Interview with Stacey Barelos

photo of Stacey Barelos playing toy piano

Omaha native Stacey Barelos is a sound artist who actively performs, creates and teaches throughout the Omaha community and surrounding area. In 2023 Dr. Barelos released her third album in 2023, “Toy, Toy, Toy” featuring solo and chamber works with toy piano. As an educator, Dr. Barelos developed Soundry, an experimental music program encouraging all people young and old to explore and create with sound. In 2020, Dr. Barelos’s work as a composer, performer and educator was featured on Nebraska Public Media’s “What If” program.

ASN: You have multiple projects going, and one I’m really curious about is Soundry. How did this come about, and what about it are you most proud?

SB: Soundry was developed as the educational arm of the Omaha Under the Radar Festival (2014-2022) – an experimental music festival in Omaha. Starting in 2018, we started offering Soundry events throughout the year and have continued those separate from the festival ever since. From the beginning I insisted that the workshops be open to any adults whether or not they had music experience and that’s probably one of my most proud components. I also love that Soundry has existed in many spaces and in-person and online. In short, it’s a very fluid program that’s ready to happen in any place/time.

ASN: Tell me more about the arts and music scene in Omaha. What cool things are happening? (and what’s missing or could be improved?)

SB: At the local level, there are so many wonderfully creative people in the city! Everywhere I go, I meet like-minded folks with innovative ideas. We also have several mid-sized organizations offering space and support for artists:

  • Omaha Under the Radar Festival (active 2014-2022, on hold currently)
  • Soundry (run by yours truly)
  • Amplify Arts offers incubator spaces for ideas, various grants for locals and and “Alternate Currents”, an alternative to a traditional MFA program
  • The Union offers fellowships and grants to creatives
  • Bemis offers fellowships, grants and “Community Tracks”, a competitive grant to give musicians studio time and recording assistance
  • Kaneko is a large-scale warehouse-type art gallery that supports the arts (education and performance) at many levels

What’s missing or could be improved? To be honest, the financial situation in Nebraska is abysmal. The Nebraska Arts Council offers an individual artist grant but it’s only open to musicians once every three years. In other words, you have to be very creative to find project money!”

ASN: Last year you released an album focused on chamber music with toy piano called Toy.Toy.Toy. Tell me about your journey with toy pianos—how did you first get interested in this instrument, and what led you to recording this album?

SB: I first heard John Cage’s “Suite for Toy Piano” years ago and was fascinated. When I walked away from an academic job in 2014 I decided to buy a toy piano and explore the music available for the instrument. I began concertizing with the instrument (which soon turned into several toy pianos and other toy instruments) and the toy piano has taken me around the world in the last ten years!

While there are many people using toy pianos today, there is still not a plethora of repertoire. I wanted to record an album and contribute to the catalog. 

ASN: Can you tell me about the process of curating and recording this album? And what tips do you have for musicians who want to release recordings?

SB: I ended up recording more music than I released and that’s the first time I’ve done that, where I left some music on the cutting room floor. I wanted to only use music I felt completely satisfied with and while the initial repertoire I selected had good intentions, for various reasons, not everything made the cut. 

While my previous solo albums were released on labels, I went with Bandcamp for this one. There were some snags in the editing process and Bandcamp ended up being the easiest way to get the music out to the world.

Tips for recording:

  • Choose your recording engineer with care. Do they understand the music you’re recording? Do you trust them to get you from the beginning to the end of the project in a successful way?
  • Find a “producer” – someone who can listen in while you’re recording and give feedback.
  • Personally, I prefer to record music I’ve already performed live, music that I’ve really come to know, but that might be a personal choice.

ASN: In general, how do you balance your time with different projects, teaching, etc.?

SB: Haha. I do not do this well. Or rather, I’m better at this than I used to be, but I still need help. Honestly, I wish there was more art funding in the world and I didn’t have to work so hard just to have money to eat and live. What I really want is time to think, time to be creative, time to see the world and have that feed my creative process. It might also just be the American way. We all work too much: it’s not healthy or sustainable.

ASN: Thanks for sharing, Stacey! Readers, I invite you to check out this video about Stacey and a promo video for her keyboard duo, the Ludus Duo.

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