I knew one piece by Seymour Barab: a duet for viola and harp that my father used to play with his wife during the early 1980s. My half brother (who was a baby when they were working on the piece) used to say "Ba-ba" whenever they would practice the Barab.
I wrote Seymour a letter and I included a couple of scores and a few recordings. He called me a week later, and told me that he would talk with his publisher about looking at my work. We talked about all sorts of things, and it turned out that he and I both had written operas that were settings of Hans Christian Andersen's The Snow Queen. We decided to exchange scores and recordings so that we could see what the other did with the story, and began a great phone friendship and many more score exchanges. Seymour invited me, Michael, and our kids to visit the next time we were in New York, and ever since that first visit, high points of our yearly trips to New York were the afternoons we spent with Seymour and his wife Margie having lunch at 3 Guys at 96th and Madison and hanging out at their apartment.
[Margie King Barab, Michael Leddy, and Seymour Barab looking at Labonfam abeber, a nonsense book by Jean Dubuffet filled with erotic drawings.]
Seymour and I continued to exchange scores and recordings, and he always went out of his way to try to get people he worked with interested in the music I wrote. Whenever anyone asked me to write something to play on a recital, I would suggest putting a piece by Seymour on the program too. Once I even got an oboe player (John Dee--a terrific oboe player) to commission a piece for oboe and string quartet from Seymour. It felt really good to reciprocate some of Seymour's kindness to me, but there was just so much to reciprocate. He wanted to hear recordings of every recital I played and every performance of something I wrote, and he would always call to talk about them.
Seymour's name came up while I was working with Bernie Zaslav on The Viola in My Life. Seymour and Bernie played together for many years in the Composers Quartet and hadn't been in touch since Bernie left New York in 1968. I got them back in touch with one another a few years ago, and Seymour read through a draft of Bernie's book and made many excellent comments (and corrections).
Seymour died on June 28th at the age of 93. The last time Michael and I saw Seymour was on Wednesday, May 21. We had lunch at 3 Guys. He brought me a couple of books: a memoir of Harold Coletta, and Nicholas Slonimsky's Perfect Pitch: A Life Story. I found a card inside the Slonimsky book written to Seymour from a person I do not know (it looks like the person is named "Don," but I can't be sure).
He or she writes,
"Happy Belated Birthday dear Seymour--On the inside of the book is written,
You are a national pleasure. Oops! I meant treasure."
"Dear dear Seymour--I couldn't agree more.
It is a joy and a privilege to know you--
Happy Birthday all year."