|David Johnson Chorus celebrates 10th year |
When the former Dresden High School choral director received the call from a former student, asking him to direct a one-time reunion concert, he had mixed emotions – not the least of which was the fear that he might have to pull the plug if the quality sound from years before was no longer there.
David Johnson Chorus
But the old magic was still there, both in harmony and spirit, and 10 years and about 150 concerts later, David Johnson can’t imagine his life without the chorus that now bears his name.
“Ten years ago when we began this, what I would call an experiment, little did I dream what it would come to mean to me, to the people who participate in it and to the thousands of people who have heard us and been touched by this element we’ve come to call ‘the magic.’ It is now quite difficult for me to imagine my life without DJC, and I suppose the same is true for many others,” said Johnson, as he pondered this very special musical/life journey, which began on May 2, 1998, with a Project Graduation fund-raiser.
Two of those “others” are the chorus’ general manager, Gail Crawford, who came up with the idea for the alumni chorus concert, and chorus President Tom Reavis, both former high school chorus members from the ‘70s who still live in Dresden. Johnson lives in McKenzie and has built a very busy and rewarding family counseling practice.
As she reflects on the last 10 years, Crawford, who as general manager handles the day-to-day logistics/scheduling for DJC, has seen her idea germinate into something that even she can’t believe. But it hasn’t always been easy.
“It’s been 10 years of hard work. It’s been 10 years of irreplaceable fun and memories as we have shared our passion for music,” she said.
The magic and family bond built around former students’ love for the music, one another and their high school mentor have always been there, but the finances and logistics were a major struggle at first.
“I remember the first meeting when a few of us got together and dug in our pockets for enough money to open a bank account. We bought what was really nothing more than a large jam box, placing the detachable speakers on boxes filled with sand bags to prevent them from tipping over. That was our first sound system,” Crawford said.
Now those sand bags are long since gone, giving way to a state-of-the-art sound system, but that came after years of fund-raising and upgrades. The chorus also has bought new risers, a digital piano and has most recently added a sophisticated lighting system. The days of hauling equipment in the back of pick-up trucks have given way to a travel trailer that bears a DJC logo. The longer choral trips are taken via the chorus’ official carrier, Brantley Bus Line.
But more important, the chorus has changed dramatically in its personnel and its concert venues. When the reunion chorus stepped on the risers for the ’98 concert, only about 25 former students were available to participate. One of the most significant decisions after the group decided to become permanent was to open the membership to non-DHS choral students who passed annual auditions.
That decision proved vital to DJC’s survival. Of that original ’98 alumni group, only Johnson and six others remain. In addition to Crawford and Reavis, they are Keith Kemp (now the DJC treasurer), Keith Gallimore, Jeff Higgs and Lana Ferrell. All but Johnson still live in Dresden.
They are joined by about 35 other folks from all over the Northwest Tennessee area. All who join are instantly a part of the chorus family.
“We are a family. One person alone can do a lot. Forty people together can do amazing things. We have found an outlet where we can join our voices and energies and give hope to each other and to those listening. That touches people, and we, in turn, receive so much. It is an endless circle,” Crawford said.
The personal and musical growth of new chorus members has been especially gratifying for chorus President Tom Reavis to observe. He’s seen the same thing in his life.
“I think it has enabled all of us to become more than we were … are … or hoped to be. It has helped just plain, ordinary people to become soloists, actors and actresses and helped people to climb and crawl out of their shells. It has instilled confidence and passion in us,” he said. “I just love to see our members ‘do good.’ To see that fulfillment in them is a treasure. It’s what life’s supposed to be like.”
From his perspective as director, David Johnson has marveled at the group’s sustainability and the improvement in its overall sound, brought by hard work on vocal techniques that he has taught and their constant desire to improve.
“Over the years there have been many who have come and gone, as far as singing with us, for a variety of reasons. But, amazingly, there always seems to be another person who takes that nervous first step to audition for the group because of their desire to give and share the gift of song,” he said.
Another area of major growth has been the chorus’ venues. DJC has expanded its reach from local schools to regional performing arts centers as far away as Bartlett, Murray, Ky., and Jackson, and beyond, including repeat trips to Memphis, Paducah, Ky., St. Louis, Washington, D.C., and The Biltmore in Asheville, N.C. The chorus is planning its first tour abroad next summer in Scotland.
But as life-changing and exciting as those trips are, the heart of the chorus through the last decade has been and remains its ministries to children’s hospitals in the Mid-South, especially the annual trips to sing at St. Jude’s and LeBonheur children’s hospitals in Memphis.
Thus, it’s altogether fitting that on the actual date of DJC’s 10th anniversary, this Friday, May 2, 2008, the group will be performing at those very hospitals in Memphis.
“One of our chorus members, Craig Rogers, says that he’d practice all year for that one day, and I know that we’d all agree,” Crawford said of the special ministry of hope and encouragement that the chorus provides for the children, their families and caregivers.
Such remains the heartbeat of the chorus.
“Through the years we’ve sung in some famous places – Walter Reed Army Hospital in D.C., the Lincoln Memorial, The Biltmore House, the Parthenon,” Johnson said. “But we’ve also sung in some difficult places, like St. Jude Children’s Hospital, where it takes all the willpower you have to sing, while retaining your composure, while a dying child lays their head on your shoulder, or a grieving parent squeezes your hand.
“We’ve sung with the Paducah Symphony. We achieved notoriety when we appeared in the pages of Southern Living magazine, but in all of this, this group maintains a tremendous sense of humility because of a sense of being used by God to bless people’s lives.”
That outreach has even extended to the chorus’ releasing six CDs, the most recent of which was recorded in mid-April. Three of them are devoted to DJC’s signature a cappella songs.
The last decade has provided a magic ride that all chorus members, many of whom are middle-aged or beyond, cherish more with each passing year. Their life experiences also teach them that this ride could end at any time, either for them or for the chorus. That begs a question that David Johnson ponders anew as he reflects on the past 10 years.
“How long will this last? People used to ask me this a lot when we first started, but they’ve learned my answer is always the same,” he said.
“It lasts as long as this moment lasts. Don’t take away any of yourself from experiencing the moment by thinking about the future. The moment is real; the future doesn’t even exist.”
For more information about DJC’s spring concert season, call Gail Crawford at 731-514-0167 or visit the DJC Web site at www.davidjohnsonchorus.com.