Spotlight: Tuned In with Eric Lane Barnes

A Seattle Men

Category: Arts + Events Articles


A Seattle Men’s Chorus Composer concocts holiday cheer

It’s hard enough to compose a song. But try writing a humorous holiday piece that captures the essence of the season, while staying clear of lyrics that seem too, well, “Jesus-y.” Welcome to a challenge that Eric Lane Barnes assumes annually as assistant artistic director of the Seattle Men’s Chorus, a group whose over-the-top holiday concerts are hugely popular (this year, running December 6–22 at Benaroya Hall; see Barnes is part of the team that crafts the chorus’s show-stopping songs. A tough job, but this mild-mannered 48-year-old embraces it.

Since moving to Seattle in 2000, Barnes has built a reputation for composing and writing witty—sometimes silly—pieces for the Men’s Chorus and its vocal comedy group, Captain Smartypants (which he directs). At this year’s holiday show, the ensemble performs a piece by Barnes titled “Nine Kings,” in which kings—from Elvis to Burger King—sing about being royal to the tune of “We Three Kings.”

How does this songsmith come up with his ideas? Growing up in Cincinnati he got an early start exercising his creative muscles. He learned that while an OK joke inspired a few giggles from his classmates, the really good ones were disruptive enough to land him in detention. “It’s like I always had this voice in my head that would ask me: ‘What if? Wouldn’t that be funny?’” Barnes says. It wasn’t until he moved to Chicago in 1985 (after earning a music education degree from the University of Michigan) that he found his calling while writing songs for a small cabaret company.

Though his résumé includes composing and writing for musicals that have played everywhere from Chicago to London’s West End, Barnes says Seattle audiences have impressed him the most. “It’s a kind of manic support that people have here. The kind that gets audiences to leap to their feet during a performance,” he explains. “I’ve finally found a place where that voice in my head no longer puts me in detention.”