Stuart Barham - Pianist

In another of this series on artists, performers and writers living in the area Patrick Middleton hears from conductor, organist and pianist Stuart Barham

Stuart BarhamStuart Barham has happy memories of his early childhood growing up in a Berkshire village but at thirteen he was packed off to boarding school. “Hated it. Too much sport, boring teachers. I only really paid attention in the music class. That got me one of my two ‘O’ levels and it gave my father the idea that maybe there was some talent somewhere and when I was sixteen he enrolled me at the Guildhall School of Music in London. I spent five years there studying the piano and flute and qualifying as a teacher. I had a wonderful time. When I came out I had to face reality. Young musicians don’t have an easy time and I had to teach. I actually spent one year in a comprehensive. Horrendous!”

“Outside the world of nine-to-fivery”

So how did he escape? “Well, I was keen to be a conductor and I worked with several amateur operatic societies. Then I was able – that was about twenty-five years ago – to turn professional, mainly with theatre orchestras. I did musicals mainly, everything from Kiss Me Kate to Sondheim’s Follies. I find a lot of people don’t really understand what you’re doing when you’re upfront. In fact, most of the work gets done in rehearsal – with things like timing and volume – and then in public performance you’re taking the players through what they’ve learned. It’s a very physical job – keeps you fit – and you also need people skills. Musicians come with egos ...”

Stuart has no regrets at doing so badly in school. “That’s right. If I’d have done what my headmaster wanted and worked at Latin and maths I could have ended up as an accountant. As it is, I’ve spent my life well outside the world of nine-to-fivery, doing things I’ve enjoyed. Along with conducting, I’ve entertained people at the piano and taken other opportunities that came up. I even toured for a year with the Bachelors. Then in the mid-nineties I moved into the cruise business. It’s a great job for a musician – you see a lot of places, meet a lot of people and usually get to eat quite well.”

“There’s so much I like ... ”

And now France, why? “Well, I can claim an ancestral link to start with. One of my forebears took part in the murder of Thomas à Becket and then did a runner across the Channel and founded the Gallic branch of the Barhams. What led me to follow some 800 years later? I was pushing fifty back in the year 2000 and felt I needed a new start. This seemed to be a good place to be and I moved down. I rented first in Beaulieu and then I bought a home in Nice, close by the Russian Cathedral. I didn’t know anyone here but I was made very welcome by Roger Greenacre and his congregation at the church in Beaulieu. I was invited to be their organist and now I’m editing their parish magazine as well. I go back to England, of course, for professional engagements and down here I get asked to play on social occasions which is always a pleasure and to help people who want to improve their musical skills.”

No regrets, then? “Absolutely not. I’ve been robbed, I’ve been swindled – par for the course, you’ll say – but there’s so much I like here I can – as any conductor has to – ignore the odd false note. As the old song has it, c’est si bon ... ”

Stuart Barham is always happy to talk to other locals with musical interests: 04 93 37 10 43.

 

From Reporter 113

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