Robert Barwick – Percussionist


Robert Barwick

I am a West Allis native and have always been interested by the rhythmic sounds made by common household items, such as clocks ticking, the dishwasher going through its cycles, turn signals on his car, and rain falling on the roof or windows. He says that when he listens to music, it is not so much the melody or the words that I notice; it is the beat, tempo and cadence of the song that fascinate me.

While as a young child, my mother, a pianist, was the first to introduce me to music. I took some piano lessons, then some guitar lessons, but nothing excited me like the sounds and rhythm of the drums. Percussion lessons started in 5th grade, and I have not stopped playing since, from grade school through high school bands, followed by local wedding bands, and then playing with the West Allis Suburban Concert Band and the MFSO for the past 24 years.

Why I like playing with the Menomonee Falls Symphony Orchestra

I really enjoy playing along with the excellent musicians boasted by the orchestra. They make it a great challenge for me to keep up with their refined skills. I study the way the musicians in our orchestra and our unbelievably talented guest soloist prepare for a concert, and try to add some of their technique to my routine. I also enjoy the leadership of Mr. Michael Kamenski from the podium. I always seem to learn something new about music at each rehearsal. Mike continually challenges each musician and section to become better with each practice and performance.

My Role with MFSO

My role in the percussion section changes each year. In the past I have played timpani, and most recently I was playing many of the drum set parts. This year, my best fit within the percussion section is playing auxiliary percussion. This means I get to play an assortment of percussive instrument that are used primarily for the purpose of creating rhythms and accents. The variety of instruments played is amazing. For instance, just for the December 2021 Jazzy Christmas Concert I will play about a dozen different instruments, sometime three or four within one score. Some examples include: sleigh bells, bongos, congas, triangle, gong, tambourine, and the cymbals. The number and variety of percussion instruments are endless, as are the techniques of playing them. I am always learning new techniques from either other percussionist in this orchestra or through You Tube videos.

This year my role within the orchestra has increased with my appointment to the Board of Directors. As the orchestra’s Operations Manager, I make sure that our musicians have all the necessary equipment on hand for rehearsals and concerts. This can include chairs, music stands, podiums, and all the needed percussion equipment for a venue. The concerts we play outside of the Hamilton Fine Arts Center are the most challenging. My first assigned duty was to make sure that the orchestra follows all the Sussex Hamilton COVID related rules, so that the both the school and orchestra members could feel safe in attending rehearsals.

Favorite composer

While I like all types of music, when listening to classical music, I tend to listen to the Russian composers from the Romantic era. This would be the likes of: Glinka, Mussorgsky, Rachmaninoff, Rimsky-Korsakov, and Tchaikovsky. Their music is very dramatic and passionate, and this era of music seems to add quite a bit more percussion instruments than those from previous musical era. But truth be told, 80% of the time I listen to local sports talk radio.

For my living

For the past 23 years I have been employed by the City of West Allis as a Procurement Agent in the Finance Department. I make sure that all procedures are followed in the purchase of all items needed by the city. This includes everything from medical supplies and vaccines, vehicles such as fire trucks, police cars, and front-end loaders, to auto parts, office supplies, consultants, street lighting and anything else that you can think of that is needed to keep the city running smoothly. I am also a lead agent in a governmental cooperative purchasing and network group, VALUE for Local Government. Working together with other local municipalities and agencies we prepare contracts that save taxpayers in Southeastern Wisconsin well over 1 million dollars per year.

I have also been appointed to the City of West Allis Events Committee where we organize, set-up, and promote events within the city, throughout the entire year. I feel it is important that the City provides opportunities for the local citizens to enjoy gathering for music, arts, theater and other culture event. Some of these events include a stage for local musicians and school musical groups to perform, as well as an Arts Fair, Food Truck events, parades, and other celebration events such as the Independence Day Fireworks.

Events like this are important in developing a strong city identity by connecting patrons with similar interests, and encouraging residents to become more involved in their neighborhoods.

Other hobbies

About two years ago, I got involved with the local Rotary Club, and became a founding member of a satellite group of the West Allis Rotary Club. As a member of the Satellite Club, I have been instrumental in organizing a couple of projects.

The first project we worked on is in conjunction with The Milwaukee Homeless Veterans Initiative (MHVI), and their Bikes for Stripes program. The Bikes for Stripes program takes donated bicycles and distributes them to Veterans and their families at no cost. For many of the recipients, a bicycle may be the only form of transportation that they can afford. Before the bicycles are distributed, the Satellite Club repairs, adjusts and cleans the bikes. This makes sure that they are in proper and safe working order. My team has repaired and helped distribute over 100 bikes this year, and have ramped up production to handle at least 150 bicycles for the 2022 season.

The other project is a fundraising event for local non-profits that benefit dogs, such as rescue shelters and dog parks. The event is called Pawtoberfest. It is held on the last Sunday of September at the West Allis Farmer’s Market. We have dog related vendors selling their wares, non-profits that display their cause, contests, such as dog costume contests, best doggie tricks, and interviews with local rescue providers. This family and dog friendly event also includes food trucks, popsicles and beer. 2021 was our first year, and we had had about 500 people and 200 dogs attend, and we are looking to expand on that for 2022.

My Family

I am married to Becky for the past 22 years. She is a Special Education Teacher in the Greendale Public Schools. Together, we have one son, Braeden, who is starting his junior year at the University of Louisville, majoring in Sports Administration. He is also a goalie on the U of L Lacrosse team and works for the Louisville Cardinal Football team as an equipment manager.