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Gifted pianist Jacob Barnes dies aged 21

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Jacob Barnes
Jacob Barnes

by Sian Napier

Gifted pianist Jacob Barnes has died after a two-year fight against a virulent form of leukaemia. He was 21.

Jacob, known to his many friends and family as Jake, died in his father Jonathan’s arms at the Royal Marsden Hospital on April 26, just nine days after giving a concert at Canterbury’s St Peter’s Methodist Church.

Jake, who lived with his parents Jonathan and Cherry in South Canterbury Road, Canterbury, was a scholarship student at the Royal Academy of Music in London.

He started learning the piano at the age of nine while at the city’s St Peter’s Methodist School where his father was head teacher and his mother was a special needs teacher. His musical ability revealed itself early on as Jake was also a a good guitarist, saxophonist and organist but the piano was the love of his life.

He won a musical and academic scholarship to Canterbury’s St Edmund’s School from where he won scholarships to all the major conservatoires in the country, choosing to attend the Royal Academy when he was 18.

His father, who now teaches at Canterbury Christ Church University, said:
“He was so talented and such a lovely boy. He filled this house with music and would just play and play and play and get to perfection in a piece really quickly. It was so effortless for him. When his illness prevented his getting to London his friends would come down here and they would all play in the house. We shall miss this so much.”

It was towards the end of his first year at the Royal Academy that Jake visited his GP complaining of chest pains.

What appeared to be a minor infection was quickly diagnosed as a virulent form of leukaemia and he was soon fighting for his life in the Royal Marsden.

Two years of gruelling treatment followed, including radiotherapy, chemotherapy and steroids before the family’s hopes were raised when his brother Ben was found to be a perfect genetic match and donated his stem cells for a transplant.

Although this did not save Jake’s life it prolonged it. Two days before Christmas last year Jake and his family were told his illness was terminal.

Jacob Barnes
Jacob Barnes

He embarked on a series of seven concerts between then and his death, often playing with his many friends and raising £15,000 towards a new teenage cancer unit at the Royal Marsden which he had a part in designing. He also won two major prizes in this time in the space of two weeks, including one for piano chamber music with his trio.

His father said: “Jake enjoyed playing solo but loved even more playing chamber music with others. He always wanted to perform piano in small groups and played with such huge maturity.”

Jake’s funeral will take place at 2pm on Monday, May 16, in the crypt at Canterbury Cathedral.

In addition to his parents Jake leaves his brother Ben and sisters Naomi and Esther.

See this week's Gazette for full story and tributes.

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