Talk to Mark Barnes and it will most likely be about the latest festival and events at the Port St. Lucie Botanical Gardens where he is a board member. Or, he might be mulling ideas for a colorful new event poster. But he has a secret hiding behind all that. He is an award-winning composer and musician who performs live and in the studio, has numerous albums and owns many awards. His albums are on Spotify, Apple Music, iTunes, Pandora, Amazon and more.
Barnes has won awards for the 12 instrumental albums he created in 15 years of recording. One is the sound track of the docudrama City of Dreams, a movie celebrating the history of Port St. Lucie on its 50th anniversary, where he worked with two-time Academy Award nominee Carol Connors. The music and movie took both the Best Original Song and the Best Documentary awards at the Treasure Coast International Film Festival.
He hopes for a Grammy nomination for his latest album, Luminescence, which incorporates lines from famous speeches — from John F. Kennedy, Winston Churchill and others — in its instrumental songs making for some fascinating listening. It was released in October. With the spoken word intros and a stronger beat, the album differs from his previous ones. That is especially true for Luna Nocturna which begins with John F. Kennedy speaking.
Music critics’ reactions were everything a musician could want.
“Award-winning composer Mark Barnes has garnered recognition for his albums all around North America. His ambient/electronic music delves into other genres, but sometimes defies description,” wrote J.J. Lannan for Artisan Music Reviews. “Luminescence, using a variety of spoken word gems in combination with driving soundscapes, make his themes constantly interesting. Highly listenable.”
“Luminescence by Mark Barnes has to be the best work of the artist thus far; I seem to have been a fan of his music for so many years now, but here on Luminescence, and in my view, he has pushed himself harder and further, and really embraced the future,” wrote Steve Sheppard of Steve Sheppard Music Reviews. “This has to be one of the most powerful and empowering albums of the year so far, and one very easy to recommend to anyone with an open heart and mind, and a willing ear.”
Barnes, nicknamed Barnsey by his friends, is inspired by landscapes, weather, people, drama and change, he says. “I love a couple of gloomy days to put me into the mood. It helps pull the music out.”
One thing that baffles many nonmusicians is the art of composing music. How does one do that?
“It’s all done in my head,” Barnes explains. “I don’t write anything down. I just hear something in my head and sit down at the keyboard and let my fingers go where they want. Sometimes there is only silence and then I play a note.”
He does not compose lyrics — his music is all instrumental, sometimes known as ambient or New Age.
Interestingly enough, for his last two albums he said he created the titles first, then the art to go with the music, and finally created music inspired by the art. The two he is talking about are Luminescence, with a peacock whose vibrant tail is trailing behind him like a train, and The Path, in shades of gray showing a dirt road between trees with soft fog in the background.
Like many successful musicians, he started young — he was already playing the piano at the age of 3 and said his piano teachers called him a terror because he didn’t want to play the lesson, he wanted to play what was inside his head. He composed his first ballad when he was 15 for his father. He never had a formal music education other than six weeks of learning guitar chords that could be used on the piano.
Although he wanted a music career, he thought he could never compete so he went into mortgage banking and lending instead — for more than 25 years, until he dared to create his first album in 2008. To the casual listener his two aptitudes, music and math, may not seem related. But they are, Barnes says. “I listen to my music and I hear a mathematical process.”
But music is also very emotional. “Music is the window to the soul,” he says. “Put your negative emotions into being creative and never take them out on another human being.”
Lives in: Port St. Lucie
Education: Attended Daemen College in New York State
Hobbies: Travel and enjoying scenery
Who or what inspires you: People, landscapes
What most people don’t know about me: I started playing piano at the age of 3; that a couple of gloomy days help me start composing music.
Jan. 12, 2023