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ISSUE 118 VOL 8 PUBLISHED 11/12/2004

Barba gives talk

By Carl Schroeder
Staff Writer

Friday, November 12, 2004

The hidden songwriter inside Helen Nienhaus Barba 81, a current Northfield resident, was revealed in her Nov. 6 lecture/performance "Songwriting and Self Discovery" in Urness Recital Hall.

Barbas presentation, which included performances of 10 of her original compositions for piano, guitar, drums and voice, marked the culmination of four years of research into the use of arts in psychotherapy. Her study focused on the creative process of songwriting and the role of the "human shadow"  the dark side of the human personality, which she referred to as the "Darth Vader of our life."

Drawing on her own songwriting experience, as well as interviews with 12 other artists, Barba  who recently completed studies toward a doctoral degree in clinical psychology through Ohios Union Institute and University  investigated the ambiguous function of the "human shadow in the creative process.

"The human shadow can also be a golden shadow, a rich reservoir of talents," Barba said. "Songs are one way for images to push through from the inside."

Saturdays lecture marked the first public performance of many of Barbas acutely personal, pop-style works. For almost 20 years after completing her undergraduate degree through St. Olafs Paracollege  the forerunner of the Center for Integrative Studies  her original music served as a private outlet.

Finally, while beginning her doctoral work four years ago, Barba began looking critically at her songs for answers to the very questions she was studying.

"The major part of my research turned out to be a self-study," she said, noting that "the universal lives in the particular."

Early in Saturdays lecture, which required the assistance of local musicians Jean Thompson, Shelly Hayes and Darlene Rines, Barba performed "When I Was a Child," a love song she wrote during her time at St. Olaf 25 years earlier. The lyrics described a "dream fighting to get outside," which the closing verse revealed to be her lover.

With the benefit of a quarter-century of hindsight, Barba now believes that the songs "dream" actually represents her inner shadow, rather than her college paramour. "Because I could not bear to confront [my shadow], I projected it onto someone else," she said.

Many of Barbas other songs also addressed issues of relationships and hidden dreams. Two of her autobiographical works for solo guitar and voice, "There It Is" and "Its Over Now," were understated and poignant.

Toward the end of her lecture, Barba addressed some of the findings from her research into the creative process of other songwriters and visual artists. While acknowledging that each individual has a unique artistic method, her study did reveal some generalities. "There are certain right conditions for songwriting," she said. These include space, solitude, "a lack of pressure to write in a particular way" and time set aside for writing.

"Many people described a giver of songs," she said, alluding to the possibility of religious inspiration. "Also, everyone had experienced inspiration, oddly enough, while driving."

Barbas lecture was well received by a modest-sized crowd of friends, colleagues and evaluators of her doctoral work.

During her four-year research project, Barba also pursued clinical internships at the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Faribault and the Safety Center, Inc., in Bloomington. She is the author of "Follow Your Bliss: A Soul-Centered Guide to Career-Life Planning" and co-author of "Minstrels of Soul: Intermodal Expressive Therapy."

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