Pemberville church organist note-able
Written by DAVID DUPONT Sentinel Arts & Entertainment Editor
Saturday, 30 June 2012 07:55
PEMBERVILLE - Jacob Henry is a teenage musician with a deep well of respect for church tradition.
|Eastwood graduate Jacob Henry sits at organ in Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Pemberville. (Photo: Enoch Wu/Sentinel-Tribune)
Since spring Henry has been the full-time organist at Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Pemberville, a job he received as one of several organists who filled in since fall.
Pastor Matthew Musteric said that while Henry's age may be notable, what really sets him apart is his musicianship and abilities as a church musician.
"His talent level is on par with other more seasoned musicians."
Henry knows more than the notes, Musteric said. He has the ability to guide the congregation through the hymns.
Henry, who lives outside Luckey, just graduated from Eastwood High School, where he also played trombone in the school band. Indeed, his family has a tradition of brass playing. His parents, John and Linda Henry, both play trumpet. His older brother Kyle plays French horn and his younger brother Drew plays tuba.
But his musical passion is organ and piano.
He started playing piano when he was in second grade. His brother was taking piano lessons. "I was at an age that I wanted to do everything my older brother did," he said. That stage, he admits, didn't last long.
But his love of the keyboard has persisted.
He studied with Sharon Bitter, the organist and choir director at his home church St. John's Lutheran in Stony Ridge. Sometimes after his piano lessons, she would let him "mess around and tinker" on the church organ.
"It was a pretty interesting instrument," Henry said. "It's very powerful and has a lot of different voicings and great range, and it's not really an instrument a lot of other people do either."
He grew proficient enough as a musician that his pastor asked him to play for youth services, and he started substituting as accompanist for the Praise team. That introduced another instrument, the electronic keyboard.
In the past several years, Henry has been substituting in churches around the area, all Lutheran congregations except for Pemberville Presbyterian.
Each instrument is unique and has its own quirks that he has to work around. The weather can also play havoc with the instrument which is why he won't be using the trumpet stop this Sunday.
Though as a pianist he performed in recitals where the soloist is the focus of attention, he prefers his role as an organist.
"During worship your focus and other people's focus is on God," he said. Henry finds that playing for worship draws him closer to his own faith.
He plays both piano and organ at church. He said he doesn't have a favorite. Playing piano is "much more comfortable" because he only has to worry about executing two musical lines instead of the three on the organ.
Still the resources of the pipe organ are hard to match. "You can get such a variety of sounds out of it."
As an organist he must be "adaptable and responsive to the congregation so you don't overwhelm them."
"You're there as a support. You guide and lead."
Musteric noted Henry is able to make subtle changes in tempo and tone that bring the words of the hymns into sharper focus.
The pastor also praised his choice of hymns. He is able to select hymns that capture the spirit of that Sunday's readings.
Henry said that as in so many other aspects of being an organist, his teacher deserves credit. He's only been able to have the success he has, Henry said, because of the guidance of Bitter.
She showed him the resources available to help select hymns, and showed him how those could be connected to the readings.
Musteric said as well as his teacher, Henry's growth can be attributed to the congregation at St. John's.
"The whole congregation has formed him into an excellent church musician," he said.
This fall Henry will attend Bowling Green State University to major is supply chain management. He selected the major because BGSU's program has a national reputation and a high job placement rate.
Henry, who no longer takes lessons, plans to continue playing throughout his college years, but is not sure what lies beyond.
Though he has played contemporary worship and understands its appeal to some worshippers, he still favors traditional hymns. He loves the sound of the pipe organ. "It has a lot of reverence and a kind of awe," Henry said. "It's not something you hear anywhere else."