Music professor dies unexpectedly
Barry Larkin, associate professor of music, was found dead in his home on Thursday from positional asphyxiation. Colleagues said Wednesday Larkin’s sense of humor and passion for teaching will be missed.. Photo Courtesy: Steve Jones/LAS Communications

Humor defined Barry Larkin, and it didn’t matter whether it was intellectual or slapstick.

“He knew how to inject a sort of teasing dry humor into situations,” said Christopher Hopkins, associate professor of music composition and technology. “Barry had an innate approach to life, with a bit of humor, and I think he understood the leveling value of irony — that irony put you both on the same level. In that way, he was easy to talk to and easy even to be the target of dry humor, because [irony] is something that operated above both of you.”

Sonja Giles, assistant professor of music, who worked with Larkin as “a duo of sorts,” said there is a large exercise ball in her office. Recalling Larkin’s sense of humor, she said she remembers him bursting into her office, belly flopping onto it, jumping up and yelling triumphantly, “booyah!”

Both Larkin and his humor will be missed in Music Hall after he was found dead in his home Thursday. Police identified the cause as positional asphyxiation. While the medical examiner could not be reached for comment, the First Nurse at Mary Greeley Medical Center, 1111 Duff Ave., described positional asphyxiation as a situation in which “some position they were in caused them to suffocate.”

Family, colleagues and those close to Larkin will pay respects to him at a memorial service at 2 p.m. Friday in the Martha-Ellen Tye Recital Hall, where his humor will not be the only thing they miss about him.

“He was very introspective and thoughtful on a personal level,” Giles said and recalled an unusual recital she gave in January due to the fact Larkin was not involved.

“He called me up afterwards and left a message right after. He was not one to stand in line and congratulate people afterwards, and he just left me a voicemail, just being the thoughtful person that he was, saying ‘thank you so much for playing this kind of music at our school’… and that was just the kind of person that he was,” she said.

Michael Golemo, chairman of the department of music, said Larkin was extremely proud of his daughter, Stephanie Larkin, who had just graduated from college, and “was always sharing stories and photos about her” with his colleagues.

Larkin, who preferred to be called Barry rather than Dr. Larkin, was extremely dedicated to his students.

“His studio door was always open, which meant that he was always open to people stopping by to ask questions or chat about something. He was just an invaluable resource for his students and colleagues,” Hopkins said.

Giles said Larkin was meticulous with his record keeping and working one-on-one with his students.

“He really pursued finding opportunities for his students through his own experiences,” said Matthew Smith, senior lecturer in music.

This was possible because Larkin performed often outside of the university and was able to share those experiences with his students, Smith said.

Giles, Smith and Golemo all agreed Larkin was constantly looking for ways to improve himself, whether it was his teaching or his musical ability.

Giles said it is typical of musicians to set the bar high for themselves as far as their performance levels go, but what made Larkin unique was that he kept taking lessons to improve his playing ability.

Larkin had teamed up with a teacher in Chicago to take lessons. Giles said his desire to learn was “just another example of him trying to better himself, being a lifelong learner, always trying to be better. He was a really inspirational colleague in that way,”

Hopkins worked closely with Larkin on various projects and said the two had big projects planned together for next year, but Hopkins now plans to put them off for a while.

“We all adjust and move on, but I would definitely rather do those projects with him, and not just anybody. I might just put them off for about a year,” Hopkins said.

He said because Larkin’s home was two blocks away from campus, “he was here all the time, so his absence is definitely felt.”

Beyond being missed by the music department, Larkin will also be missed as a professional musician who performed with many famous acts such as Liberace, Barbara Eden and Donny and Marie Osmond, according to the music department’s web site. He was also heavily involved with the Des Moines Symphony as principal percussionist, and played on several Broadway shows including “Grease,” “Titanic,” “The Full Monty,” “Annie,” “Little Shop of Horrors,” and “Hairspray.”

Hopkins said Larkin deserves all the credit people will give him.

“After they’re gone, most of the time you tend to focus, ceremonially, on all the good things and to build someone up, but in this case it seems, I’m sure what people are saying is unexaggerated praise,” Hopkins said.

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