The restorative, calming qualities of creating music on the guitar, drums or even the ukulele were like medicine for the soul.
As a young adult, Nate Barrow would use music — writing it and playing it — to help work through problems in his own life.
“Navigating my 20s, songwriting is therapeutic for me. So a lot of songs are stuff I was processing,” he said. “Sometimes, a song would just pop out.”
Story continues below gallery
Barrow’s songwriting has been earning him fans throughout central Indiana. But he never imagined his work would catch the attention of a Rock & Roll Hall of Famer.
One of Barrow’s songs, “When I Get a Little Money,” was so admired by legendary Byrds bassist Chris Hillman that he has recorded it and included it on his next album.
“It fits with his style. He loves songs that are honest and affirming and sweet. He doesn’t do songs that are really dark,” Barrow said.
Barrow, 32, started playing piano lessons as a child, then developed his musical talents once he joined praise bands at his church while in middle school. That continued throughout his teenage years and college.
After graduating from Anderson University in 2007, he would volunteer his time to teach others the joy of music. Students and other young musicians were looking for instruction on a particular instrument, or help starting a band.
So in addition to his job as a teacher at Greenwood Christian Academy, he started offering lessons.
“I just started doing it for a few people, and 10 years later, I still have people approaching me. I love it, and as a teacher, they naturally connect in a way that I didn’t think they would,” he said.
Barrow currently has 10 students of all ages, including children and adults, learning everything from guitar to ukulele to lap dulcimer to songwriting. At the same time, he has devoted time to his own musical ambitions.
Folk and Americana music are his forte, with artists such as Paul Simon, Bruce Cockburn and Joni Mitchell standing out. Rich Mullins, a Christian singer-songwriter originally from Richmond, was another one of his musical heroes.
“He was from Indiana, he played a lot of instruments like I did. I learned by mimicking his style a little bit and trying to internalize it,” he said.
Even as a young musician, Barrow started writing his own songs and self-recording them at home. His first homemade album was published and came out in 2010. “In The Meantime,” released in 2014, was recorded when Barrow was snowbound for a week.
Traditional American music exploring the themes of faith is the basis of “The Shadow of the Mountain,” and “Friend of the Wind” fuses bluegrass, West African, folk, country, gospel and classical styles.
He performs with a local band, King Sheriff, which dabbles in reggae and world-beat music. As a solo musician, he also does folk music at venues around the region.
Those creative developments were all things that he had been working toward for the past few years. But the relationship with Hillman came completely out of nowhere.
One of Barrow’s friends had mailed a copy of “The Hands That Hold Us” to Hillman, who she was related to through marriage. A few weeks later, Barrow received a message back from Hillman saying how much he enjoyed it. He also mentioned he wanted to record a version of “When I Get a Little Money.”
Hillman is one of the giants of country rock. He was a core member of the Byrds alongside legends such as Roger McGuinn, David Crosby and Gene Clark. He later played in groups such as the Flying Burrito Brothers and the Desert Rose Band.
His new album, which is being produced by Tom Petty, will come out this fall.
With that on the horizon and his own music performed locally, Barrow will be busy this summer. He recently started a weekly drum circle at Franklin United Methodist Church, and he’s also embarking on a cool project with some of his Greenwood Christian Academy students.
He mentors a middle school worship band, and between original songs that he has written and that his students have composed, they are ready to record an album. So Barrow will be assisting them in turning their songs into a polished recording.
“It’ll just be for our school, to have some worship songs that I wrote and that they wrote. Hopefully it will show them what recording is like, and give them some exposure to that world in a non-intimidating way,” Barrow said.
Occupation: Musician and teacher for Greenwood Christian Academy