Jeffrey Pannebaker's love for sacred music began in his teens when he was growing up in Altoona.
Now, he motivates youths to develop their musical potential at St. Luke Lutheran Church in Silver Springs, Md., where he is director of music. Pannebaker will be bringing two groups of high school students to Altoona to give a 7 p.m. concert Thursday at Trinity Lutheran Church, 408 N. Sixth St.
The Martin Luther Choir and the Augsburg Bell Choir go on a four-day spring tour annually with venues from Virginia to Connecticut. This year, the group is concentrating on states closer to Maryland with other concerts scheduled for an assisted living facility at Pleasant Gap and churches in Emporium, Pa., and Millsboro, Del.
(Courtesy photos) The Martin Luther Choir of St. Luke Lutheran Church in Silver Springs, Md., is directed by Jeffrey Pannebaker, formerly of Altoona. He will bring the choir to Trinity Lutheran in the Juniata section of the city for a concert next week
Pannebaker said students usually are in the choirs for four years, and he changes the tour to expose them to different parts of the country within less than a day's travel from Silver Springs.
The tour is about serving others.
"We go to small churches that might not have the resources we do with all the handbells, for example. There are certain things we do here that can be shared with people outside our congregation," he said.
The stop in Altoona was scheduled after Pannebaker contacted Tom Bradley, spokesman for Altoona Area School District, about another matter - an organ.
Pannebaker learned a few years ago that Roosevelt Junior High School was to be demolished when Altoona Area Junior High School was completed. He wanted to know what was going to happen to the pipe organ he had played for Christmas pageants and as students were entering and exiting the auditorium at assemblies.
Bradley said the organ was dismantled by an Ohio company that is seeking a buyer and will split the proceeds with the district.
While it was still intact, Pannebaker came to Altoona to play it one last time for an archival video the school district made to preserve Roosevelth and Keith Junior High Schools histories.
During his conversation with Bradley, Pannebaker offered for St. Luke's choirs to sing and play the bells at Trinity, where Bradley is council president.
"We're certainly honored that we were chosen by this group," said Bradley, who also was acquainted with Pannebaker during their high school years.
The musical groups have been touring for the 21 years that Pannebaker has served the 1,800-member St. Luke Church, and he said the tradition was started before his arrival. The tour came to the Altoona area previously when the groups performed at Zion Lutheran Church in Hollidaysburg and Evangelical Lutheran Church in Duncansville about 15 years ago.
Next week's concert promises to be uplifting and inspirational.
The 11-member Martin Luther Choir will sing "The Psalms - Songs of Prayer and Praise" and a concert version of "Godspell." The Augsburg Bell Choir will present a variety of selections.
Pannebaker said the songs are upbeat and audience members could find themselves clapping to the music.
Recalling his high school days in the 1960s, Pannebaker said it was then he began to develop his musical talents.
He first learned to play the piano but was fascinated with the organ that he would hear every week at First Evangelical Lutheran Church, 1401 12th Ave., where his family attended.
"We went to church every Sunday," he said. "It was a way of life."
In his teens, he became organist at First Evangelical Lutheran and added choir director duties during his college days at Penn State University.
"What I am doing now, the church had a lot to do with," he said.
As director of music at St. Luke, he oversees eight choirs. He directs the adult, middle school and high school choirs and his wife, Linda, directs the pre-school and elementary choir. The church has five hand bell choirs with volunteers directing four and Pannebaker taking one.
Before accepting the position at St. Luke, Pannebaker was director of music and Christian education at First Lutheran Church in Johnstown for 14 years. He earned a doctorate in historical musicology from the University of Pittsburgh and a master's degree in sacred music from Wittenberg University.
He also is an associate in ministry for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. He said it means he is among the rostered people in the ELCA, making him recognized as a professional with theological and musical training.
His position has given him some duties at the synodical level, including holding workshops in the Metro Washington, D.C. Synod when a new Lutheran hymnal was introduced a few years ago.
Pannebaker still has ties to Altoona and visits about five or six times a year to see his mother, a resident of The Lutheran Home at Hollidaysburg, and a brother in Altoona.
He is looking forward to this visit.
"It's a nice opportunity to come back to where you were taught your first music lessons, and you have something you can share with other people," he said.
Religion Editor Linda Gracey also contributed to this story