The Catholic University of America

Liturgical Musician and Composer


John Henderson, B.M. 2013, grew up in a family of six children in Pensacola, Fla. “Each one of us started piano lessons at age 5. Our mother was our teacher,” recalls Henderson.

By early elementary school, it was clear Henderson had a gift and his parents moved him on to other teachers for advanced training. “My aunt is a liturgical musician and she gave me my first opportunity to play in church at St. John the Evangelist in Pensacola. I was lucky. I found my passion very early in life,” says Henderson.

“I went to a small Catholic boarding school that had a rich liturgical life, including song and chants. I was given the opportunity to lead student music,” he says.

As Henderson started looking at colleges, he knew he wanted to focus on composition and liturgical music. The Benjamin T. Rome School of Music at Catholic University was a natural fit.

At CUA, he sang and played piano, organ, and bassoon. “I was surrounded by great musicians in my peers and my mentors. I received personal attention from the faculty that was pivotal to my development as a composer,” he says.

As a college freshman, his original chamber music was performed at a division recital on campus in Ward Recital Hall. In the fall of his sophomore year, his 1 Corinthians 11:26-27 was premiered by his peers at the New Voices at CUA new music festival. In the spring of his junior year, the premiere of his work I am the Vine was performed in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception by CUA’s Chamber Choir and conducted by Leo Nestor, Justine Bayard Ward Professor and director of choral studies and the Institute of Sacred Music.

“That was one of the most thrilling moments of my life. When you compose a piece, you have a hazy vision of a sound in your head. And no matter how hard you work on it, that’s how it remains until it is put in the hands of performers,” he explains.

“When you hear it go from concept to reality, sung by gifted musicians who are your friends, conducted by one of the absolute best, and in the beautiful Crypt Church of the Basilica — it really was a dream come true.”

Today, Henderson is working toward a graduate degree in composition at the Peabody Conservatory of the Johns Hopkins University. He is also the assistant organist at The Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington, D.C., and is the music director at Christ the King Catholic Church in Silver Spring, Md.

“My work there brings me back to my childhood dream of leading the music in a small parish. We have a strong faith community at Christ the King that is very supportive of beautiful, prayerful music in the liturgy,” says Henderson.

“That’s what I trained for at Catholic University — helping people come to God through music.”


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John Henderson

Hometown: Pensacola, Fla.

Degree: Bachelor of Music in music composition, 2013

Favorite place on campus to listen to and play music: St. Vincent de Paul Chapel

Other than music: “I love nature — sailing, hiking in the Shenandoah.”

Favorite book: Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis
Favorite movie: “Anything by the Coen Brothers.”