Sensory Overload: Bella Ruse offers musical instruction to mark opening of new learning space

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From the August 21, 2014 edition

Musicologie, a Grandview music learning space founded by husband/wife duo Kay and Joseph Barker of the indie-pop band Bella Ruse, celebrated its grand opening on a recent Sunday with an intimate concert staged in the parking lot behind the building.

Considering the school setting, it seemed wholly appropriate when Kay Barker donned her teacher’s cap during the pair’s headlining turn, giving detailed instructions for a song that required audience participation.

In spite of the child-friendly confines — kids darted through the gravel lot and bubbles floated through the air as singer-songwriter Mary Lynn and Bella Ruse performed (Hebdo kicked off the festivities, though I arrived after the singer concluded his set) — the musicians refused to dumb-down the material.

The Barkers (Kay sang and played piano and ukulele, Joseph strummed guitar and stomped out the occasional beat on a single kick drum) opened with “The Kazoo Song,” a jazzy ditty whose playful title couldn’t quite distract from the weightier sentiments at its core. Between buzzing blasts of kazoo, Kay sang of tuning out a partner (“I heard it all yesterday, ‘Blah, blah, blah, blah’”) and downing liquor in a futile attempt to lighten a heavy heart.

Elsewhere, the duo navigated songs about being worn down by life’s many hurdles (“I am just so tired,” Kay, a classically trained opera singer, cooed in an eggshell-fragile voice on “Gumption and Guts”) and the need to focus on those brighter times to come (“For the Ancient Sun,” a delicate number Kay penned following a relative’s accident). “All of Us,” a simple love ditty Kay performed solo while strumming a ukulele, lingered on these better days, incorporating lines about buying a home and building a life together.

Mary Lynn, in contrast, tended toward songs about coming unraveled. “It makes me wanna die,” she sang on the appropriately titled “The Break.” Similar sentiments bled into a still-untitled new song, which found the singer repeating the line “I’m giving up” in a defeated tone suggesting she meant every word. Lynn, absent her usual backing band and accompanying herself alone on piano, noted the scene felt reminiscent of a childhood piano recital, and she called the decade she spent taking lessons “the best thing she ever did.” With a little luck, maybe the Barker’s new space can inspire the next generation of musicians in a similar manner.