Musical families – Rhythm and Roots

The Barham Family of Middletown Has Music in the Blood

Writer / Julie Engelhardt
Photography Provided

Musical families are a part of our cultural landscape. Over the years we’ve become familiar with The Osmonds, the Jackson 5, and even the fictitious Partridge Family.

Locally, we have our own musical family – the Barhams.

This family of talented individuals includes dad, Spencer, mom, Jenny, their son, Easton, and their two daughters, Camille and Claire.

Spencer’s performance journey began in Nashville, Tennessee. His parents were musical, and his dad played trumpet, which is Spencer’s instrument of choice. He began his trumpet lessons in the fifth grade, and continued performing through middle school and high school.

He attended Middle Tennessee State University on a music scholarship, studying business administration. “I was very active in the music department, and I belonged to several ensembles while in college,” he says. “I also did a work-share program, working in the music library as part of my scholarship requirements.”

Spencer met Jenny at the university, which she also attended on a music scholarship, studying music education. The couple got married and moved to Illinois, where Jenny received her master’s degree in music education from the University of Illinois. Around the time Jenny was scheduled to graduate, Spencer received a job offer in Louisville, so the couple relocated to Kentucky.

Spencer has kept quite busy with his musical performances. He was a member of the River Cities Concert Band for 20 years. Currently, heMusical families plays weekly with the Hurstbourne Baptist Church ensemble and with the group called Caribou, which performs a combination of rock, funk and soul music. He also performs with Aviation Project, an ’80s and ’90s cover band, and with the Subourbons, a blues band

When COVID-19 hit hard and live entertainment began to shut down, Spencer and two of his Caribou bandmates began their own group, called 502 Horns. They contract with other bands that need to incorporate a horn section now and then.

On top of all of this, Spencer also serves as the band booster president at Eastern High School.

Like Spencer, Jenny also came from a musical family.

“I started in sixth grade,” she says. “I wanted to play flute because it was the prettiest, but my mom happened to have a clarinet in the attic because she played clarinet years and years ago. That’s the instrument we had, so that’s what we played.” Her father played trombone in his high school marching band.

Jenny performs as well, with the church ensemble, plus she has had a very successful career as a music educator. She began with a four-year stint teaching in Tennessee, and since their move to Louisville, she has been employed by Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) at the former Iroquois Middle School, Doss, Fern Creek, and Thomas Jefferson Middle School. She currently teaches music technology, which she explains.

Musical families“The idea is that 20% of your students, give or take, will enter your performance classes like band, choir, orchestra,” she says. “The rest of the children generally get a general music-type class, or something to that effect. This is a way to offer music that’s more hands-on than just learning about music history.”

Jenny just completed her first year of teaching middle school students through the Pathfinder School of Innovation, the virtual-learning option in JCPS.

“As a concept, it’s been around for a while,” she says. “It was the Jefferson County eSchool, which was mainly for high school students, but as a response to the pandemic, there were a lot of families who were not ready to go back in person. This is now an option for students who want to have a nontraditional education.”

Spencer and Jenny’s children have all followed in their parents’ musical footsteps. Easton began playing trumpet in the fifth grade at Middletown Elementary. He continued to Crosby Middle School, where he was under the direction of band teacher Joseph Stivers.

“I would say I wasn’t super passionate about band,” Easton says. “It wasn’t until about seventh or eighth grade when I started auditioning for all-county and doing [Kentucky Music Educators Association] ensembles. I thought, ‘Man, I’m kind of good at this.’ I found a meaning to playing trumpet.”

After Crosby, Easton headed to Eastern High School where he participated in marching band, jazz band and concert band.

“It was in my sophomore year I started thinking about college, realizing that I can’t imagine doing anything else besides music,” he says. “This is what I’m best at, and what I’m called to do.”

He currently attends Florida State University, studying music education, and after that he plans to work on a master’s degree in performance.

Easton has had the opportunity to compete in some fairly large music competitions this year.

“Earlier this year I was invited to perform at the National Trumpet Competition in Boulder, Colorado,” he says. “It was a great opportunity to be around other collegiate trumpet players and meet the trumpet professors. That was an invaluable experience.”

Easton also competed this year at the International Trumpet Guild Conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where they held lectures, master classes, presentations and competitions. “I applied to be in the orchestral excerpts division and I got into that,” he says. “Fifteen people competed in that division.”

Musical familiesCamille and Claire currently attend Eastern High School, where they are both involved with the band program. Camille, a senior, is in the school’s symphonic band, jazz band, and marching/pep band. Her primary instrument is the French horn, and she plays mellophone for the marching band, trumpet for the jazz band, and the piano in her free time.

Claire, a sophomore, is a trombone player in the concert band. “I was interested in it because it looked cool, and since my dad and my sister and my brother all play brass instruments, I wanted to play a brass instrument like they do, but something different,” she says.”

Claire is also involved in the marching band, not as a musician, but as a member of the color guard.

Like their brother, both girls started in band programs when they attended Middletown Elementary, graduating on to the Crosby Middle School program with Stivers.

“Middle school band was a lot of fun,” Camille says. “It gave me lots of opportunities to try new things, and to get better at French horn. Mr. Stivers was an amazing band director. He’s great at caring for students and teaching them.”

Claire agrees with her sister. “He was my favorite teacher at Crosby, and I had a really great experience doing band in middle school,” she says. “In seventh grade I had to do [nontraditional instruction] because of COVID. However, he still made it fun over Zoom.”

The girls have thoroughly enjoyed their time performing with the Eastern High bands.Musical families

“Marching band has always been a great experience,” Camille says. “The short season with the intense schedule makes everything so rewarding, and I’ve enjoyed it every year. I’ve also loved being in the symphonic and jazz band. The environment is very low-stress, and very focused on making music with everyone.”

Spencer and Jenny are pleased that their children have taken such a solid interest in music.

“I love it,” Jenny says. “Our kids grew up around music. We took them to concerts from the time they were sitting in strollers, and they’ve always heard it. It’s just something that’s always been around them, and it’s something that we share.”

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