Deral Johnson

​Deral Jean Johnson, choral conductor, educator (born 17 August 1926 in Roosevelt, Oklahoma; died 24 March 2010 in Flagstaff, Arizona).

Deral Jean Johnson, choral conductor, educator (born 17 August 1926 in Roosevelt, Oklahoma; died 24 March 2010 in Flagstaff, Arizona). Deral Johnson was an influential choir conductor and educator. After conducting church and community choirs in Kansas, Texas, Colorado and Nebraska, he founded the choral music program at the University of Western Ontario in 1969. He conducted the 40-voice mixed choir, the University of Western Ontario Faculty of Music Singers, with distinction until 1989, winning numerous awards and influencing choir conductors and educators nationally and internationally.

Education and Early Career

Johnson earned a BA at Sterling College, Kansas in 1949, and received his MA from the University of Northern Colorado in 1953. He also studied privately with Brock McElheran and Jean Berger at the University of Colorado in Boulder. He taught instrumental and choral music in elementary and secondary schools in Kansas and Texas for 14 years, then moved to Boulder where he taught choral technique at the University of Colorado (1963–65). He also served as director of choral activities at Hastings College, Nebraska (1965–69). In 1969, he moved to London, Ontario where he joined the Faculty of Music at the University of Western Ontario.

University of Western Ontario

In 1969, Johnson formed the 40-voice mixed choir, the University of Western Ontario Faculty of Music Singers, which he conducted until 1989. The choir performed widely and won many honours. It gained an international reputation and recorded the album Un cri de joie (Audat WRC-233), which includes Mercure's Cantate pour une joie. In 1986, the choir won first prize in the CBC National Radio Competition for Amateur Choirs in the contemporary choral music category, as well as first prize for the best performance of a Canadian composition (R. Murray Schafer's Psalm 148). Also in 1986, the choir won the first place trophy in the BBC International Competition.

Johnson also conducted the choir in performances of such works as Bach's Christmas Oratorio, Beethoven's Mass in C, Bernstein's Chichester Psalms, Bloch's Sacred Service, Brahms' Requiem, Britten's Cantata Academica, Bruckner's Te Deum, Handel's Messiah and Utrecht Te Deum, Haydn's Harmonie-messe, Kalnins' Spring Song, Mendelssohn's Elijah, Mozart's Requiem, Poulenc's Gloria and Vivaldi's Gloria.

Throughout his career, Johnson conducted church and community choirs in all the cities in which he taught. In Ontario, he trained and conducted the London Pro Musica (1971–75; see Music in London), and conducted the Ontario Youth Choir in 1970, 1972 and 1977. He also served as conductor of the Manitoba Youth Choir, the Saskatchewan Honour Choir and the International Music Camp Choir. Johnson directed the first performance of choral works by Canadian composers such as Arsenio Girón, Barrie Cabena, Nancy Telfer, and Peter Paul Koprowski, and he was one of two conductors of the premier performance of R. Murray Schafer's Apocalypsis.

Legacy

Johnson retired in 1991 as professor emeritus at the University of Western Ontario, but continued to serve as an adjudicator, clinician and guest conductor. During his 20 years of teaching at Western, he gained a reputation as a strict disciplinarian regarding assignments but also as a sensitive and sympathetic educator, with a genuine respect for the abilities and talents of his pupils. He influenced choir conductors and educators nationally and internationally, and mentored a number of prominent choral leaders, including Robert Cooper, Ken Fleet, Brenda Zadorsky and Victoria Meredith.

A version of this entry originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada.


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