The Attitude of Gratitude

Barry L. Houser, director of the Marching Illini, answers the Proust Questionnaire.

Interviewed by Abigail Bobrow

Top photograph courtesy of Bradley Leeb/MarchingIlliniPhotos.com

Barry L. Houser
Director of the Marching Illini, Associate Director of Bands, Clinical Associate Professor of Music
Born in South Bend, Indiana
BME University of Florida, MMUS University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Among the dozens of tweets on Barry Houser’s Twitter account, one caught my eye.

“Look at that shine,” he posted next to two photos of gleaming linoleum floors in the Harding Band Building.

This shout-out to work done by the Facilities & Services staff is not a one-off. Scroll through his feed, and most—if not all—of them are in recognition or praise of someone.

Houser (FAA ’09) chalks it up to his modest upbringing in North Liberty, Indiana, a town of a little more than a thousand near South Bend. His parents impressed upon him and his younger brother and sister the importance of respecting others and having a solid work ethic.

He returns to those fundamentals every day as the director of the Marching Illini. He knows every member’s name, as in, the four hundred students who play, twirl, and manage one of the oldest college marching bands in the country.

Houser hails from a family that wasn’t particularly musical, yet there was always singing around the house and, as Houser got older, he sang at church. When it came time to play an instrument in elementary school, he landed with the trumpet after the percussion spots were already filled.

“A lot of people think, well, you must have a really musical family. Well, no, not really,” Houser shared in a recent conversation. “But I always loved singing.”

Once Houser turned sixteen, he took a job at a road paving company where his father was the superintendent. Houser spent hot summers hard at work saving money for college so he could pursue musical theater. Ultimately, this first-generation college student’s dreams of Broadway gave way to a full commitment to band and music education.

Barry Houser with his family
Barry Houser with his family on a recent trip to Ireland.

Now, at 44, with a wife and two children of his own, it is second nature to make sure to appreciate a job well done.

“It goes back to recognizing the people that aren’t always in the spotlight or don’t always feel valued. It is important to include them in the success of the Marching Illini or the university,” he said. “We would not be successful without the people that that help run this place.”

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We wanted to get to know Houser a little better, so we’ve asked him to answer an abbreviated version of the Proust Questionnaire for STORIED. Once a popular Victorian parlor game made famous by Marcel Proust, the Proust Questionnaire has been used by reporters over the century and across the globe to reveal a side of leaders, artists, actors, and public figures we may not usually see. You might recognize the format from the back page of Vanity Fair, which has had celebrities answer the questions since 1993.

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What is your idea of perfect happiness?
To use the gifts and talents I have gained throughout my life to improve the lives and experiences of others; helping to create a culture of positivity.

What is your idea of misery?
To have said or done something that negatively impacts the lives of others; something that can’t be undone or corrected.

Which talent would you most like to have?
The ability to play any instrument with great virtuosity.

What is the quality you admire most in a person?
Moral integrity; it is the foundation for solid and trustworthy relationships in life!

Who are your heroes in real life?
My parents followed by all of the teachers who have shared their passions with so many.

Who are your heroes throughout history?
Abraham Lincoln, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi, John Williams.

What is your most treasured possession?
I am not someone that values material things. The relationships I have with my family, friends, and colleagues are the most treasured “things” in my life – and then – any Apple products!

What is your motto?
It is my daily goal to commit to doing the ordinary things in life extraordinarily well!

What motivates you?
The opportunity to positively impact the lives of others each day, whether through music or any other vehicle. Hopefully we can each leave our mark on the world and leave it a little bit better than how we found it.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
There is no better group of people to ask than my students…so I asked them! Here they are in their own words…YIKES!

Along the way
As we look at the scope of things
Let’s get cookin’!
In the mix
It’s about the Attitude of Gratitude
And Again…
This is something that we GET to do
Take in the Sights and Sounds
Let’s do it LOUD and Proud

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
My family!

Who is your favorite musician? Writer? Artist?
Leonard Bernstein, William Shakespeare, Leonardo da Vinci.

Where is your favorite spot in the world?
I have three: Memorial Stadium, a warm sunny beach, and the country of Ireland.

The Marching Illini in Ireland in March of 2022.
This story was published .