Remembering Olimpia Farina Barbera

Statement from Melissa Dickson, Executive Director of External Affairs at the Jacobs School of Music:

It is with deep sadness that we share with you the passing of our dear friend, Olimpia Farina Barbera.

Raised in Argentina, Olimpia Barbera showed her interest in music at an early age.  When she was just 4 years old, her parents presented her with a miniature piano.  While her father would sing, Olimpia matched his tones on the instrument.  In the years to come, Olimpia would find an even greater joy in sharing her music with others. 

Before marrying Anthony Barbera in 1948, Olimpia supported music education in Argentina by establishing a free music school for underprivileged children.  Anthony Barbera was a General Manager for Eli Lilly and Company for 40 years.  After beginning married life in the United States, his position took the family to Puerto Rico, Uruguay, Brazil and Venezuela before returning to the United States.  Despite the changes in longitude and latitude, one aspect always remained constant in Olimpia’s life: her passion for music.

While the family was living in Venezuela, Olimpia formed and conducted a remarkable children’s musical group from the Escuela Taller de Sordos (School for the Deaf). The ensemble performed throughout the country, was featured on both television and radio and played for Raul Leoni, the President of Venezuela.  Her volunteer work was recognized nationally when Olimpia was named “Woman of the Year” in Venezuela. 

When the family moved to Indianapolis, Olimpia looked for ways to become involved in that musical community.  She became an active member of the Indiana Piano Teachers Guild, the Matinee Musicale and the American Pianists Association.  It was the rich musical life of the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music that drew Olimpia to Bloomington, after her husband Anthony’s death.

While in Bloomington, she was an active board member of The Society of the Friends of Music at the IU Jacobs School of Music, and a fierce advocate of music to all of her fellow residents at Meadowood Retirement Center. Olimpia organized the “Trying Our Best,” (TOB) ensemble while at Meadowood. An ensemble of residents whom she encouraged to pick up any musical instruments of their choice – and just start playing. The troupe could be found at Meadowood, trying their best, offering concerts to fellow residents.

Because of her desire to give young artists the opportunity to grow, she established the Anthony and Olimpia Barbera Latin American Music Scholarship in 1992.  "No matter where we lived or worked," she remarked, "our family always felt enriched by our ties to the Latin American culture. My life and work revolves around music, so establishing a music scholarship at the Jacobs School was a way of helping students from South America to further their education." In 1994, The Latin American Music Center office suite at IU was named in honor of the Barberas, and is formally known today as the Anthony and Olimpia Barbera Latin American Music Center.

Olimpia’s life shows that her greatest passion was also her greatest gift to share.  Wherever she took root she planted and nurtured the seeds of music. Every person with whom she engaged was immediately a friend, and she will be deeply missed by many.

Olimpia will be laid to rest alongside her husband, Anthony Barbera, at Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis. As we receive word on funeral arrangements, we will be sure to share those with you.