Skidmore Stars: Catching Up With Nathan Barr, One Of Television’s Most In-Demand Composers

While I’ve been writing for saratoga living and its website, I’ve gained a new level of respect for my alma mater, Skidmore College. It’s even more of an inspirational place than I could’ve ever imagined. Case in point: It’s where Emmy-nominated film and TV composer Nathan Barr (class of ’95)—best known for his complex scores of hit series such as FX’s The Americans and HBO’s True Blood—wrote his first serious compositions as a music and English double major. (Editor’s note: When he was growing up, saratoga living Executive Editor Will Levith had the lesson after Barr’s with then-Skidmore cello teacher Ann Alton.)

After finishing up at Skidmore, Barr’s graduation present to himself was a four-month road trip in a mid-size bus from New York City all the way down to Brazil. It may seem like a digression in Barr’s musical journey, but when the Skidmore graduate moved out to Los Angeles after the trip, the story of his odyssey through the Americas helped him score an interview for an auspicious assistantship with famed Hollywood composer Hans Zimmer, who won a Best Original Music Score Oscar in 1995 for The Lion King. “That caught Hans’ eye,” says Barr of his trip. “He told a friend of mine that anyone who does stuff like that was worth getting to know better.” The application process was narrowed down to just three candidates and, in Barr’s words, he and Zimmer simply “hit it off best.” “That was a crash course in the industry,” says Barr of his time working under Zimmer. “During that job, I landed my first agent—really, my only agent—and that launched my career.”

Barr’s come a long way in his nearly quarter-century on the job. In 2013, he became the first composer in Emmy history to be double-nominated in the Outstanding Original Main Title Theme category for his work on Netflix’s Hemlock Grove and the aforementioned The Americans. (For the latter show, Barr even got to write a song with legendary guitarist and songwriter Pete Townshend of The Who.) And Barr’s star hasn’t stopped rising; currently, he’s composing music for shows on Amazon, Hulu and a brand-new drama called Uncle Frank from True Blood creator and Oscar-winning film writer/director Alan Ball. “It’s been an incredibly busy year in a great way,” says Barr. Music to his ears.

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