News Column

Barberton band to perform original piece honoring two slain students

May 9, 2014

By Paula Schleis, The Akron Beacon Journal

May 09--BARBERTON -- There is anger in the first part of the musical piece. It can't be helped.

How can one tell the story of Ashley and David Carpenter, the Barberton siblings slain last New Year's Eve, without acknowledging the incomprehensible way their short lives ended?

But then composer Clarence Barber -- whose tribute to the teenagers will be performed by the Barberton High School concert band on Saturday -- allows the anger to be overtaken by two separate joyful melodies that blend together, representing the Ashley and David that fellow bandmates want to remember.

"I wanted something pretty, something that reminded us these were two great kids," he said.

The piece, titled With Time as the Unknown, will be the second to the last selection played at the school's annual spring concert, which begins at 6 p.m. at the high school's auditorium. The event is free and open to the public.

It's an emotional end to a school year that is winding down without the presence of Ashley, 18, a senior clarinet player, and David, 14, a middle school band member who had recently turned in his flute for the percussion.

They, along with their father, John Kohler, were killed by two Akron brothers during a home robbery.

The pain of their loss was deep and personal for band members, said high school band director Dan Fleischaker and middle school director Celeste Wagner.

"Especially with band kids, if you ask any of them, they will tell you this is home away from home," Wagner said. "This is their family."

Fleischaker fondly recalled when he started working with Ashley on her clarinet in the sixth grade.

"Over the years, we've seen her blossom and become the woman she was," he said.

And Wagner spoke of how David's friends were helping him learn his new instrument.

"To see the peer mentorship was great," Wagner said. "David was just starting to come out of his shell."

Saturday won't be the first time school musicians will honor Ashley and David. At a March event, they played David's favorite song, Journey's Don't Stop Believin', and the SpongeBob SquarePants song for Ashley, who was the cartoon character's biggest fan.

Fleischaker chuckled: "It's a silly piece, a silly cartoon, but it had such a different meaning for us at that moment."

The band will march to both of those songs at next weekend's Cherry Blossom Parade.

But the piece being performed Saturday is an original.

Barber, a 1969 Northwest High School (Canal Fulton) graduate and a retired band director from Lorain County, heard through the grapevine that the Barberton band directors were looking for someone to write a piece to honor Ashley and David.

"I responded right away because it's a worthwhile project," he said.

Barber said he's been composing nearly all his life. While he didn't know his subjects personally, he read about them and drew on his decades of experience working with young musicians.

The first two parts of the musical piece -- the anger, the joy -- came easily, Barber said.

It was the third part he struggled with, he said.

"I didn't want to end on a downer. I wanted something upbeat and hopeful. That's where I ran into trouble. I couldn't see anything upbeat about the situation," Barber said. "It was the worst writer's block I ever had."

Fleischaker sent Barber the school's alma mater to inspire him, and it worked.

Barber said it reminded him that Ashley and David left friends behind, fellow musicians who needed to heal and move on to the futures that awaited them.

Using some "heavily disguised" parts of the alma mater, Barber said he was finally able to complete his mission.

Fleischaker said he hopes the music will help in the healing process for the survivors.

"I want them to come away from this not remembering the gruesome details of Dec. 31, but remembering the wonderful music that we ended up making for them and with them and about them," he said.

The song, nearly five minutes long, includes a clarinet solo for Ashley and concludes with a single deep note from a tuba played by senior Dennis Meachem -- a mournful farewell and a "last note that brings everyone together," Dennis said.

That's what the whole experience has done, agreed some band members who lingered after a rehearsal session on Thursday.

"It shows that even after stuff like this happens, we can come together as a band family," said senior Mariah White, Ashley's best friend and fellow clarinet player. "It's hard. It's very hard a lot of the time. But at least we can come together and celebrate, which is what I'm pretty positive they both would want us to do."

"It's definitely made us stronger, and made us closer," agreed Jessie Greathouse, an 11th grade flute player and Ashley's cousin.

Asked if they hear Ashley in the song Barber wrote for them, Jessie's answer came quickly and confidently.

"Oh yes," she said. "It's hopeful and happy, and she was always full of hope and happiness."

Paula Schleis can be reached at 330-996-3741 or Follow her on Twitter at


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Source: Akron Beacon Journal (OH)

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