Barbara Zach didn’t grow up in a music-saturated house.
Her parents didn’t have a favorite band or music genre that they played for her and her five siblings, and they also didn’t own a TV.
It’s not that her parents were opposed to music or entertainment, it just wasn’t something that was ever emphasized.
But the Zach house wasn’t quiet either, Barbara said. There were six kids running around at any given time and as they got older the noise only intensified.
Music filtered into the house via piano lessons and a Christian rock band that her four brothers started. It was loud and a little chaotic.
So, just how did Barbara end up as the Executive Director of Lincoln’s Symphony Orchestra? Now, that’s a good story.
Barbara said a future in music was never on her radar as a child. Sure, she was in choir during high school, but a career in music? No way.
She was a highly focused and driven child, which led her to be a math major when she attended UNL. She loved the precise nature of all things math-related – it just made sense to her. While in school, she auditioned for the choir as another way to get involved. Barbara said she was surprised at how much she loved the experience and enjoyed being part of a musical group.
It was during her choir experience that she heard a song that dramatically altered her trajectory – Bach’s St. John Passion. Her choir practiced and performed the 18th century piece and Barbara remembers being overwhelmed by the emotion behind the composition. It was a feeling that she’d never experienced, and one she didn’t want to ever lose.
She became a Bach addict, letting her math-geared brain obsess over the musical perfection of his work and getting lost in the beauty and intricacy of each of his compositions.
Up until this point, Barbara was convinced she’d graduate and work as a high-level math teacher. She was a calculus TA, but decided to also join the School of Music and double major in math and piano performance.
Shortly after graduating, a job at the Lincoln symphony opened up and she jumped at the chance to be a part of something music-related. The actual position was basically three jobs rolled into one, and for a high-achieving and focused person like Barbara, it was the perfect fit.
After being in a secluded piano practice room for the past few years of college, she was suddenly flung into the music community. She loved the way 70 unique musicians could come together and create music that highlighted their collective skills, merging their individual talents into something that was greater than any one musician.
A few years later the executive director position at the symphony opened up, and Barbara was ready to take on a new challenge. It’s a role that involves a great knowledge of music, but also a lot of community interaction.
Some days are filled with meetings and community collaboration, others are more logistical in nature, but no two days of work are the same. The days are full and the hours are long, but Barbara said she loves it all. She loves how music is such a big part of her life, how she gets the privilege of intimately knowing the Lincoln music community and that she can see the work of the musicians and donors come together in a way that celebrates and impacts the city.
But it’s not a job without stress, and while she shuts off her work email when she leaves the office, she can’t shut down her brain. She’ll wake up in the middle of the night thinking about an upcoming event or trying to solve a work-related problem, because running a nonprofit takes a certain amount of personal investment.
After being in this role for the past 12 years, Barbara has learned a thing or two about herself and her work.
She’s learned the importance of rest, how to take her job seriously, but also take time to recharge.
She’s come to understand the power of music, the way it can unify a community and a city.
And she’s started to understand how her own story plays into all of her work. Sure, she didn’t grow up with music, but she thinks maybe that’s why it is so special to her.
She came to music on her own, with no preconceived notions about what was ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ She found what she loved, what made her think and feel and she went after it.
She still thinks about that moment when she heard Bach’s St. John Passion for the first time and her whole world opened up. There’s something about that moment that Barbara said she carries with her now and always will.
Her story is about finding herself through music. It wasn’t where she expected to find her story, or where she thought she’d be investing in her community, but that element of surprise has made it all the more special.