News Releases

Herbert Henke '53, Longtime Conservatory Professor, Dies at 84

August 22, 2015

Erich Burnett

Herbert Henke

Herbert Henke devoted 36 years to teaching as a member of the Oberlin Conservatory faculty, but his influence on students and colleagues spanned far beyond his conservatory years. He adored the life of an educator, and he embraced each opportunity he encountered.

“I always found great satisfaction in teaching: children or adults, any subject matter,” the professor of eurhythmics told Oberlin Alumni Magazine shortly after his retirement in 1998. “I love the variety that teaching offers, the search for new ways of imparting information, and the development of skills.”

Henke remained firmly rooted in Oberlin for most of his life, but he traversed the globe frequently to share his gifts. In 1973 he served as music consultant to the National Center for the Arts in El Salvador. Five years later, he worked with the National Youth Symphony Program in Costa Rica. He led the chorale at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music in Australia, and he filled in for former students as a teacher at the American School in London, in addition to stints teaching in Sweden, Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan.

"I didn't know I was going to come to Oberlin and see the world," he quipped at the conclusion of his final semester in 1997.

In his early years on the Oberlin faculty, Henke taught conducting, keyboard skills, and techniques in secondary music education. With the retirement of Oberlin eurhythmics professor Inda Howland in 1974, Henke began to devote great energy to the century-old Swiss approach to musical training that emphasizes movement. He became an internationally respected teacher of eurhythmics and found his expertise in great demand throughout the world. For nearly two decades before and after his retirement, he taught annual summer classes in eurhythmics at Carnegie Mellon University.

“Herb brought a gentle passion for music and music education to his teaching,” says Associate Professor of Music Education Jody Kerchner, whose Oberlin career began as Henke retired. “Herb remained committed to the cause of preparing future music teachers, frequently returning to our conducting and music education classes to share his expertise.”

Kerchner and her colleagues honored Henke in 2002 with the conservatory’s first Distinguished Music Education Alumni Award. “We have cherished and will now miss his friendship, collegiality, musical sensitivity, and calm wisdom that were his hallmarks,” she says.

Henke grew up in the Cleveland suburb of Parma and earned three degrees from Oberlin Conservatory—bachelor’s degrees in music and music education, and a master’s in music education—followed by a PhD at the University of Southern California. Initially a teacher in the Cleveland public schools, he accepted his first faculty position at the University of Maryland, where he taught for four years before returning to Oberlin to teach in 1962.

An accomplished singer who was active in the local community, Henke served multiple stints as music director of First Church and performed for years as a bass soloist in Oberlin and Cleveland. His well-rounded musicianship made him all the more beloved among those who knew and learned from him.

“Herb was a wise and generous presence among the faculty and a legendary teacher to countless students,” says former colleague Steven Plank, Oberlin’s Andrew B. Meldrum Professor of Musicology. “His teaching, be it of music education or eurhythmics, was inspired by a deep love of music-making and, I suspect, an instinctive understanding of the ways in which music touches our humanity.

“In this way, he touched us all, and he will be remembered with great fondness and admiration.”

Henke died August 16. He is survived by his wife, Sabra Lee Chambers ’53, whom he met at Oberlin and married the year they graduated; their daughter, Lia Lowrie; and six grandchildren. He was preceded in death by a son, Kevin Henke ’77, and daughter, Jeanine Neumann.

A celebration of Henke’s life will take place at 2 p.m. Saturday, September 12, at First Church in Oberlin.

In lieu of flowers, Henke’s family welcomes donations to the Herbert Henke Merit Scholarship in Music Education, which supports students who show great promise in the field of music education. Learn more at or call 800-693-3167.

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