Originally created 06/08/01

Harry Jacobs: He was a musical man



I still remember the first time I saw Harry Jacobs.

I was on a field trip and, along with a small army of squirming schoolchildren, had been shuttled to the campus of what was then Augusta College to hear the Augusta Symphony perform under Mr. Jacobs' baton.

The music was difficult for me. It was long and complex and, unlike the diet of radio-ready hits I was accustomed to, had no words.

And Harry Jacobs kind of scared me. To my young eyes he seemed like a watchdog, a grim guardian of the music he clearly cared a great deal for. Tight-lipped and serious, he ran the orchestra through its paces, drawing invisible patterns with his gesticulating arms.

And then, just as the music reached its climax, Harry smiled. The warm, magnanimous grin that so many Augustans have been accustomed to. That was the moment that I understood that this was music to be embraced. It wasn't about identifying the themes and stylistic nuances, but enjoying a beautiful piece of music played well.

I can't remember the pieces the symphony played that day. It could have been Bach, Brahms, Bartok - anything. But I remember that smile, and I'd like to think that was the day I began my love affair with music.

While I considered my own memories of Harry Jacobs, a man who existed kind of at the periphery of my life, I became curious as to what the people who knew him, his many friends, remembered about the man. This was, after all, a man who was more than just a conductor. He was a gifted musician, a teacher. He helped found the public radio station, the symphony and the Harry Jacobs Chamber Music Society. He was a man, it would seem, happiest when he had a project before him.

Here are some favorite memories and impressions, given by the people who knew him. Some have known him for most of their lives, others, a few years, but all seem to have found their lives better because Harry Jacobs was in them.

DANIEL PATRICK JACOBS - grandson: "Most important to me was his love for his family. For 33 years I have enjoyed knowing and loving my grandfather with each passing day, knowing that my time spent with him would be my only possession once he passed. Now that the day has come, I feel happy that he has moved on to become better acquainted with the great composers that he orchestrated so well in his years as a conductor.

"I also feel sad that I will never again enjoy his loving embrace. But I know in my heart he will always be with us."

VIRGINIA ANN CATALANO - founding member, Harry Jacobs Chamber Music Society: "We loved to sit around and hear him talk about the great conductors and the people he had known. He told the stories, and he was always so humble about it. That's the thing I remember about him.

"As great an artist as he was, he was a much greater human being. ... He was a special, special person. The thing with Harry was, when you left him he had made you feel better about yourself. He sent you away skipping."

EMILY REMINGTON - musician: "He was a consummate musician first of all. I can't remember what the occasion was, maybe the music club, and we decided to play different instruments. I picked up the violin, and he picked up the double bass. That's how musical he was.

"I remember the first time I conducted, we couldn't find a timpani player and the same thing happened. People kept telling me they'd find somebody, they'd find somebody. And then, the night of the performance, I stepped up to the podium and who was behind the timpani but Harry Jacobs. He smiled at me and I smiled at him, and we played."

JACK BAUER - musician: "It's my favorite story. I was soloist with the orchestra in the spring of 1962.

"This was in the days of segregation. We were playing a concert that was targeted by the NAACP, and when black concertgoers came to buy tickets they closed the box office.

"They came back and asked Harry what to do. He asked, 'Do they have money?' and was told they did. Then he said, 'Well, maybe they like Bach.' I think that might have been the first integrated concert in Augusta."

Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or suhles@hotmail.com.