I can think of nothing more important in the life of a musician than a musical mentor. They occupy a very special place in the memory and experience of anyone who has ever had any involvement with music. For many of us, they are “the one” – the one who through some miraculous series of events brought the joy, the beauty, the magic of music into our lives. In so many ways, their influence on us is indelible. They are the one we think about when we perform. They are the one whose approval we still seek, whether they are in the performance hall or not. And they are the one we remember with gratitude for the time they took to share with us the magical secrets of the world of music. Whether or not we continue to pursue an active musical life, their influence is still felt each time we hear, talk about or experience a musical moment.
Recently, I lost perhaps the most important musical mentor in my life, Dr. Claiborne T. Richardson. So much has already been said in recent days about Dr. Richardson, that it is probably unnecessary for me to go on here about his myriad of accomplishments. For those who did not know him well, I can tell you that he was a truly great man, a great musician, a great teacher, and a cherished leader in our community. He was also the founder of the Reunion Music Society, Inc. and the first music director of the NOVA-Annandale Symphony Orchestra. In so many ways, what the orchestra has accomplished over its twenty-five year history has been the result of his vision, his generosity, and his love of music and music education.
In the days and weeks ahead, amidst all of the horrific news and changing world situations, I encourage you to take a moment to reflect on your musical mentor(s). I trust it will not take long for you to call to mind those individuals or “the one” who played that pivotal role in your life. The memories will most likely be both fresh and profound. As you reflect on the person or people who played that important role in your life, I encourage you to give thanks. Rest assured, as a member of the NOVA-Annandale Symphony Orchestra, you are in some way sharing the legacy of that special person who took the time to share the gift of music with you.
I believe that my friend Clai Richardson said it best, when at his father’s funeral he quoted the words of songwriter, Dan Fogelberg:
“The Leader of the band is tired, and his eyes are growing old, But his blood runs through my instrument, and his song is in my soul.”
I am, this day, most grateful that Claiborne T. Richardson’s song is in my soul!
To say that the past few weeks have brought change to our world would be a gross understatement. In a period of just a few weeks our world has been turned upside down: international borders have been closed, industries have slowed to a halt, grocery stores have run out of basic supplies, schools have closed and all of us have been asked to stay at home and practice “social distancing.” In the midst of all of these disruptions however, one inescapable fact seems to have emerged: that no matter how fearful we are and no matter what horrifying statistics the morning news may bring, we continue to have a deep and life-sustaining need for connection.
As a musician, I have based my life and work on the value and importance of connectedness. Although there are arguably some musical pursuits which are solitary in nature, it is in our connections – the rehearsals, the concerts, the conversations, the arguments, the sharing – that we experience the true meaning and value inherent in a musical life. I know that you are as shocked and saddened as I am by the circumstances that have overcome our world as a result of the COVID-19 virus. But while our priorities have been drastically reorganized due to matters largely beyond our control, I believe that we are still (perhaps now more than ever) actively seeking those moments of connectedness that bring resonance and beauty to our lives.
During this period that seems to be fraught with chaos, I would like to offer a recommendation for maintaining our collective sanity: continue in whatever way you can to enjoy and sustain your musical life. My personal prescription for my own sanity has been 1) to listen to music constantly, 2) to engage in daily score study, 3) to compose, 4) to rediscover an intense relationship with the piano, and 5) to engage with others online in musical conversations and activities. This regimen seems to be serving me well and I am recommending a dose of it for all of us.
I will look forward to connecting with all of the orchestra members in the days ahead. Please take care of yourselves physically and emotionally. Song and I send our best wishes and prayers for continued good health to each and every one of you.
We are now in the final season of our twenty-five year anniversary celebration. It has been a remarkable year, filled with many memorable events. It has also been a very emotional year for me. Many people who played important roles in the shaping of my life have taken their final bow over the past three hundred and sixty-five days – my father (an artist and founding member of the RMS and faithful supporter the orchestra), my uncle Lee Hale (producer of the famed Dean Martin Show and faithful supporter of me and my career), and, most recently, Dr. Richard J. Ernst, former president of Northern Virginia Community College.
On Saturday, I attended a memorial service for Dr. Ernst that was both deeply moving and inspirational in so many ways. I knew Dr. Ernst and his family well, and was reminded throughout the service of the rich legacy that Dr. Ernst left behind. As president of the college for thirty years, Dr. Ernst presided over the period in which the NVCC-Annandale Symphony Orchestra was inaugurated. His life was dedicated to bringing good things to the lives of so many people. As stated in Dr. Ernst’s obituary, “He was proud to open the doors of educational opportunity to all who were seeking it, regardless of their ability to pay or their citizenship.”
As I reflect on Dr. Ernst’s life and work, I am deeply grateful. Grateful for all those who gave so much to establish the NOVA-Annandale Symphony Orchestra, grateful to those who have sustained it throughout its twenty-five year history, and grateful to all of you who in so many marvelous ways continue to cherish and support the orchestra in its mission of bringing joy and beauty to our community. It has been one of the great blessings of my life to be your music director, and I look forward to the many wonderful things that the orchestra will bring to the greater NOVA community and beyond in the years to come.
Christopher E. Johnston,
September 2, 2019
Over its nearly twenty-five year history, the NOVA-Annadale Symphony Orchestra has often performed concerts celebrating the musical heritage of various cultures of the world. In keeping with that tradition, the orchestra’s spring concert will feature music composed exclusively by Hispanic composers. Entitled “¡Víva la Música! An Evening of Hispanic Music,” the evening will include works by composers from Spain, Argentina, Mexico, and Cuba. Highlights will include the Symphony in D by Spanish composer Juan Crisostomo de Arriaga (a contemporary of Beethoven), the fiery Danzon No. 2 by Mexican composer Arturo Marquez, and the haunting Concierto de Aranjuez by Joachim Rodrigo, featuring guitar soloist Matthew Trkula.
While the music of these composers is well-known and beloved in their countries of origin, is it is often under-programmed in contemporary American orchestral concerts. That is indeed a shame, for the music of these composers offers much to the listener as it is rich in rhythmic content, vibrant in orchestral color, and filled with beautiful soaring melodies. It is these musical qualities that the orchestra will bring to life for our audience on May 4th. While it is often great fun to talk about the inherent qualities in a musical composition, we know that it is always best to let the music speak for itself, so please plan to join us on May 4th.¡Viva La Musica!
-Christopher Johnston, NOVA-Annandale Symphony Orchestra Music Director and Conductor