Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Computers and Cellos: Barb Antonio Composes Her Life is a community of amazingly talented people, from the thousands of home cooks who visit the site everyday and share their cooking passions, to the staff who keeps the website vibrant and active. A key person on the behind-the-screen team is Barb Antonio, Allrecipes’ vice president of technology. Along with keeping the IT group functioning seamlessly to make the site look good and operate flawlessly, after hours she’s a cellist with a career spanning two continents. And she’s really, really good! 

Music has always been part of my life. Growing up in Cincinnati, I played classical piano from age five to twenty, and started learning the cello when I was nine. I majored in classical cello performance for one year in college, but at that time I decided to change direction and get a degree in English Literature instead, quitting music completely for a few years. I did a brief stint in grad school for English and then worked in book retail for several years.

One night I went to hear Nigel Kennedy, the British classical violinist, perform with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. His performance, which brought a punk rock spirit to his classical music, was a real inspiration and really made me miss playing music. That very same night I went to the local Laundromat-bar called Sudsy Malone’s to see a popular band play their “farewell” show. I talked to the lead singer after the show and mentioned that I used to play the cello. He said he was starting a new band and that cello was one of his favorite instruments, and he had always wanted to try working a cello into a rock band. Lightning struck, and thus was the beginning of our band Roundhead, a rocking indie band with experimental progressive overtones. We had a decade-long career, releasing two full-length albums and opening for all kinds of acts, from the likes of Matchbox 20 and Howard Jones to that of Marilyn Manson and Joan Jett. Playing rock cello was a really different musical endeavor for me – as a classical musician, you’re generally playing what someone else wrote….usually someone long dead that you can’t talk to! In this new realm I had to come up with my own parts and really listen to what everyone else was playing. Both kinds of playing are valuable and inspiring, and both have become a tremendous creative outlet in my life.

After my second gig (again at the Laundromat-bar!), I met Martin Atkins, an early collaborator with Sex Pistol’s front-man Johnny Rotten in the band Public Image Ltd., who was at that time leading and touring with the industrial rock “super group” called Pigface. He saw me play and asked me to get on their tour bus the very next morning to play a show in Cleveland. And so I took that leap, hopped on that bus, learned a few songs at sound check and played to a sold-out audience that night. Over the next couple of years I played on two of their albums and did a full eight-week tour with them in 1992. As it turns out, TWO current Allrecipes employees actually saw me play in Seattle that year! After that I had the privilege of playing on three albums with the Afghan Whigs (including their fabulous 1993 major label debut Gentlemen), and in 1996-7 I got to spend the year touring with them in support of their album Black Love, getting amazing gigs such as opening Neil Young in Madison Square Garden and appearing on the David Letterman Show.

Barb Antonio playing with Cobirds Unite

Along the way in Cincinnati, I got into corporate management for bookstores, but stopped doing that and started taking computer classes. I was hired as a programmer and loved it, mostly learning on the job. When 2000 rolled around, I played my last concert of the year and moved to Seattle the next day. Music had originally brought me to Seattle for performing and recording, which started my love affair with this city, and the tech boom gave me the opportunity to make it my home. The Internet frenzy was in full swing, and I signed on as web developer for Rocky Mountain Internet. I joined Allrecipes later in 2000 as a web developer, and within a few years I was heading up the software development team. It’s been the perfect place to work because my other passion is cooking—and eating! On the site I’m called “Always Cooking Up Something,” and you can find several of my recipes, including Salmon Rosemary Burgers, zesty Fiesta Slaw, and another for a quick bread using spiced-wine soaked raisins and almonds, leftovers from Norwegian glögg.

Allrecipes kept me busy, and I didn’t play the cello again until 2006, when I decided to get back into music. I started looking for people to play with – both rock and classical – and pretty much said “yes” to every opportunity that came my way. I’ve been burning the candle at both ends ever since!

For the most part, I feel like I’ve gotten to have my cake and eat it, too. Now after work days at Allrecipes I play with one of the handful of groups I’m in, including The Seattle Philharmonic Orchestra, Mark Pickerel and His Praying Hands, Half Light (three of whose members work at Allrecipes), Rusty Willoughby/Cobirds Unite, Visqueen, or Whiting Tennis. In 2009, I took a sabbatical and traveled to Florence, Italy, and Provence, playing chamber music with groups I’d researched in advance, and having my first cello lesson in 20 years from an L.A.-based teacher who just happened to be doing a seminar in a tiny hilltop town near Florence. This spring, I’m headed across the Atlantic again for a series of concerts with Maggie Bjorklund, a Danish musician who plays the pedal steel guitar. Can’t wait! And if that isn’t enough, I’ve just taken up electric bass, which I play in the band Gibraltar.

Barb Antonio in concert with Maggie Borklund
My advice: “If you want to do something like this, get used to getting through your day without a lot of sleep!”

5/9 De Unie, Rotterdam, Netherlands, with Maggie Bjorklund
5/11 Botanique, Brussels, Belgium, with Maggie Bjorklund
5/12 De Zwerver, Ostend, Belgium, with Maggie Bjorklund
5/13 Paradiso, Amsterdam, Netherlands, with Maggie Bjorklund
5/20 Meany Hall, Seattle with Seattle Philharmonic Orchestra
6/2 Tractor Tavern, Seattle, with Cobirds Unite
6/6 Sunset Tavern, Seattle, with Whiting Tennis
6/7 Comet Tavern, Seattle, with Gibraltar
6/8 Mars Bar, Seattle, with Half Light
6/28 Rat and Raven, Seattle, with Half Light

-- Barb Antonio


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