Barry Green likes to play games-games of music, games of sport, games of the mind-and though his most artful talent may be for the double bass, he is equally skilled as a juggler of careers: musician, teacher, entrepreneur, athlete, philosopher, author, and father.
When then-Music Director Max Rudolph hired him as principal bass of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra in 1967, Green became, at 21, the youngest principal player in the orchestra and among the youngest principal players in the country. A year later he solidified his musical citizenship in Cincinnati by joining the faculty of the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music.
Fifteen years ago, bored with the standard faculty recital format, Green inaugurated a curious annual event on the UCC-CM campus known as the “Big Green Machine.” Evolving through the years into a concert bordering on performance art, the “Machine,” presents Green and friends playing New Age, World, Jazz, and Classical music’s accompanied variously by synthesizers, a pride of double basses, and a 6,000-pound elephant from the Cincinnati Zoo named My Thai, who appeared while Green played Henry Mancini”s “Baby Elephant Walk.” (Fellow guest artists on the program were a kangaroo, a baby alligator, a snake, a chimp, and a toucan.)
Green says his “machine” concerts, named in tribute to the Cincinnati Reds I “Big Red Machine,” are “aimed toward the general public with the bass as the center of attraction.” Over the years he has accumulated a loyal following whose minds and ears (of all shapes and sizes) are open to whatever Green has to offer. “Real people come,” he says, distinguishing his fans from the more typical campus crowd. He produces the event and assumes all costs over ticket revenues.
Green’s unique approach to performing music has resulted in, among other things, a book called The Inner Game of Music. Published by Doubleday in 1986 and now in its second printing, it’s the result of applying, through personal experience and practical implementation with his students, the principles of W. Timothy Gallwey’s “Inner Game” methods to music. Gallwey first elucidated his theories with The Inner Game of Tennis, followed by The Inner Game of Golf and Inner Skiing.
As if to differentiate his highly intellectualized self-enhancement system from less-reputable commercial self-help theologies, Green emphasizes that “It really wasn’t draw to the Inner Game out of desperation.” Indeed, he was first drawn to it by his brother Jerry, who was disabled from birth by cerebral palsy but who, Green says, has “always managed to outperform me.” Their primary venue has been sports, where his brother regularly beat him in tennis and golf. In 1980, they took up skiing, but as brothers will dare, they set their pursuit up as a contest to see who could ski best first.
Green took “Your basic ten lessons” on bunny hills while his brother approached the sport in his own way. A few months later they met in California to match their new ski skills. “Once again to my chagrin he had managed to outperform me in every way,” says Green. “I was the one literally paralyzed. I knew all the answers but I couldn’t do it.” Jerry Green’s “own way” turned out to be Gallwey’s Inner Skiing.
Soon afterwards Green placed an admiring call to Gallwey to proffer an Inner Game approach to music. Gallwey challenged Green to pursue the fusion in his own playing and teaching. What distinguished Barry Green is that he accepted this challenge and didn’t speak to me about writing a book for nearly three years,” writes Callwey in his introduction to Green’s book. During that time Green spent thousands of hours in research on himself and his students. In so doing, Gallwey says that Green took Inner Game principles “out of the realm of clever theory” and into “a practical guide for improving the quality of musical experience.”
The book and its methodology have become an international cottage industry for Green. There are lectures across the U.S. and abroad, conventions, workshops, a video, workbooks, and an annual Inner Game of Music course at UCCM CM open primarily to music students interested in teaching and performing.
” It’s not a technique,” he emphasizes. “It’s an attempt to describe a natural way to learn and discover one f s own potential. It deals with overcoming doubts and fears by being in touch with the music.” Some musicians adhere to Inner Game principles naturally. Green cites CSO Music Director Jesus Lopez-Cobos as a classic example.
Green sees the failure to master inner concentration, despite years of expert training as the bane of many professional players. “If you’re trying to play your instrument well but getting nervous and then fighting your nerves instead of continuing that battle, you should listen to the sound, which develops your concentration for the music. It puts you to work rather than into a state of frenzy.”
While Green acknowledges there’s some controversy about his methodology he insists he is “not telling them how to play their instruments,” which he would see as failure on his part. Rather, he says’. he helps musicians get better at making better decisions themselves.” Awareness, trust, and will are the overriding principles, “The ideal,” He says, “is to reach a state of relaxed concentration.”
Aside from playing and teaching, Green has headed the International Society of Bassists and run an international summer bass school. He and his wife have three teenage boys. “I’m really lucky that the orchestra has always been very supportive and accommodating,” he says, noting that his Inner Game work takes several weeks out of his CSO schedule each year. Green has also brought his principles to CSO audiences through pre-concert lectures.
Although The Inner Game of Music does include a chapter on listening, this is one area where Green assiduously avoids spreading himself too thin. “There is an application to the listeners he says, “but that has not been the major focus of my work. The Inner Game is primarily of interest to musicians-which includes amateurs who have trombones in the closet or dust on the piano.”