Getting to know a person can sometimes be like following a recipe: Ingredients include two people, some questions, some answers, stealthy observations and a dash of awkward silences, but for Shakur Tolliver (’16) and Sam Barry (’16), all it took was a couple of guitars with vocals on top. “Music was our icebreaker,” Barry said. Tolliver and Barry were randomly assigned as roommates in the summer of 2012, and many people who know the two musicians were surprised to hear they hadn’t known each other before coming to Drew. With a “friendship built from music,” as Barry explained it, the two swiftly related to each other on something that’s always been a part of their lives.
From Morristown, NJ, Tolliver grew up with a supportive mother who encouraged him to pursue his love of music. He began to learn piano and guitar in seventh grade, where his music teacher was someone he greatly looked up to. Tolliver went through periods of dropping guitar playing and picking it up again. and in those intervals he took time to join the school band, learning the trumpet and euphonium. When Tolliver got back into guitar, he focused on acoustic. Playing acoustic guitar and starting a band opened up a new chapter for Tolliver, and he began to write his own music in his junior year of high school. Though his first performance at an open mike during high school didn’t go well, Tolliver continued practicing and writing his music, giving him “better confidence” for his future performances.
In Wilmington, MD, two musically-talented parents raised Barry. His mother played classical piano and his father was an accomplished guitarist who graduated from Berklee College of Music. Hearing his parents’ music, Barry was motivated to start piano lessons at the age of five, focusing on classical jazz piano. He picked up the guitar in seventh grade and began writing his own songs, inspired by John Mayer and Bruce Springsteen. Throughout high school, Barry played at community theaters, Rotary Clubs and was part of a band known as The Pleasure. Touring the east coast with his band, Barry acquired experience in front of varying sizes of crowds. Barry said that “it’s never easy to walk out in front of a crowd whether it’s 20 people or 20,000.”
From different backgrounds, these young musicians have come together to, according to Tolliver, “make some noise” on Drew’s campus. The two work as a collaborative team, coming up with new sets to play at open mikes and creating an environment for improvement and new exposure. “It’s like having an older brother, he pushes me to be better,” Tolliver said. And while performing onstage without the company of his band is different for Barry, he’s enjoying “trying new stuff out.” Though Tolliver and Barry aren’t set in their specific career goals, they couldn’t imagine life without music.
The world wouldn’t be what it is without the impact of music. Not only does it create an outlet for creativity, it’s a form of communication and a foundation for friendship, as Tolliver and Barry discovered from their first jam session. As Billy Joel once famously said, “I think music in itself is healing. It’s an explosive expression of humanity. It’s something we are all touched by. No matter what culture we’re from, everyone loves music.”