David Johnson Chorus celebrates 10th anniversary
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.
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 and has changed his life.
“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 that 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 of 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 of music,” she said.
The magic and family bond built around former students’ love for the music and their high school mentor has 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 and a digital piano and has most recently added a sophisticated lighting system. The days of hauling equipment in the back of pick-up trucks has given way to a travel trailer, which bears a DJC logo. The longer choral trips are taken by 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 hold open the membership to non-DHS choral students who passed annual auditions.
That decision proved vital to DJC’s survival. Of that original 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 members of the chorus family.
From his perspective as director, Johnson has marveled at the group’s sustainability and the improvement in its overall sound, brought by hard work on vocal techniques 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 Memphis, 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 a choral tour 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 and LeBonheur children’s hospitals in Memphis.
Thus, it is altogether fitting that on the actual date of DJC’s 10th anniversary, May 2, 2008, the group performed at those very hospitals in Memphis.
DJC is bringing its Spring concert, “Listen to the Music!” to the Dresden Elementary MultiPurpose room on Saturday at 7 p.m.
The program is an invitation to listen to a wide variety of music. Included will be familiar pop songs from the past (like “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”), some numbers from “The Lion King,” and songs from Broadway including a spectacular review from “Les Miserables.” Rounding out the program will be a patriotic tribute.
Children and students K-12 will be admitted free-of-charge. Adult tickets will be $10; no advance tickets will be sold. A reception will follow.
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.
Published in The Messenger 5.14.08