Published: February 14, 2013
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Barbara Cohen is happy because she sings.
From the time she first picked up a guitar at 13 years old right through to today, music has not only been a passion for Cohen, it has been a source of joy and inspiration.
This weekend, during the Clarks Summit Festival of Ice, Cohen will perform three concerts with three different musical groups at various locations across town. Her first performance will be with the Barbara Cohen Quartet on Friday, Feb. 15, from 6-7:30 p.m. at the First Presbyterian Church of Clarks Summit, 300 School St. Cohen will then be on-hand as a part of the Von Storch Trio on Saturday, Feb. 16, from 9:30-11:30 a.m. at Citizens Savings Bank, 500 S. State St., and at Frontier Communications, 108 N. State St., from 2-4 p.m.
The Barbara Cohen Quartet performance is a part of the First Presbyterian Church of Clarks Summit's festival weekend events, which will also include an art show featuring works by Elaine Tweedy of Factoryville.
Cohen explained that her early musical influences were folk musicians like Joan Baez, Peter, Paul and Mary and the Kingston Trio.
"I always wanted to perform," she said. "I formed a trio with two friends of mine who also played the guitar and sand and we did covers of folk songs with some really cool harmonies. We played for PTA (Parent-Teacher Association) gatherings and other events in the community."
Cohen's musical tastes eventually shifted from folk to rock and roll, to the blues and even bluegrass. When she was 20, she began to take lessons with Peter DeMarzo, who introduced her to chord melodies and reading music. Cohen credits DeMarzo's instruction as the major turning point in her musical life.
"From that time, I started to seriously study my voice so that I could sing jazz standards, sometimes referred to as 'The Great American Songbook,'" she said. "It's hard to be a vocalist without an accompanist and it became apparent to me that I needed to be able to accompany myself. For the last seven years, I've been studying jazz theory and improv with master guitarist Bill Washer."
Washer, along with Cohen, Joe Cole, and Tom Hamilton make up the Barbara Cohen Quartet while she, along with Joe Cole and Julian Sparacino make up the Von Storch Trio. Cohen explained that although she is the front woman of the group, with more than 30 songs in her repertoire, the other members are her inspiration.
"I have a little talent and I work hard and persevere," she said. "But the other players in the quartet are the real heroes of this story. They are called 'sidemen' and they can play and improvise all types of music. Although I refer to them as sidemen, they are gifted soloists as well and I couldn't perform this music if it were not for the musical geniuses playing with me."
Cohen admits that her love for music is what keeps her positive in life.
"Someone once heard me singing to myself in a store and they commented, 'oh you're singing, you must be happy,'" she said. "I answered, 'no, I am happy because I sing!'"