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Johnson's one last sound of music

June 23, 2010 - For the past 28 years, chances are if you learned to play a musical instrument while attending Brandon Schools, you could thank Roy Johnson.

"I had the students play what I think I can get away with in regards to difficulty," said Johnson, who announced his retirement from Brandon Schools in April.

"In my eyes, the students always succeeded. The band program is better than what I found. I don't gauge success by how many of my students studied music in college. I gauge my success by asking the kids if they felt good about what they accomplished."

A Waterford native, Johnson graduated from Waterford Township High School in 1973 and earned a bachelor degree in music from Hope College. He also received some graduate credits from Western Michigan University.

Johnson's first teaching position was at Harlowton High School in Montana before moving back to Maple Valley High School in Nashville, Mich.

He started at Brandon High School in 1981, and later moved to Brandon Middle School.

"I was inspired musically in high school," said Johnson, who studied trumpet and also played euphonium.

"The students that may not have the most talent musically, but really want to learn, motivate me," he said.

Over the years he had two students who stood out as exceptional talent.

"Those students, all I can do is point them in the right direction," said Johnson. "Keeping them active and challenged is the key."

Johnson is currently serving on the executive board of the Michigan School Band and Orchestra Association as president of District III (the thumb area). And since 2007, Johnson has conducted the Flint Symphonic Wind Ensemble. Under Johnson's direction, Brandon bands have performed with 17 guest soloists and conductors from universities to members of the Detroit Symphany and Michigan Opera Theater. He has been the longest serving band director in Brandon School District history.

"I'm not happy about leaving," said Johnson. "I felt pressure from a lot of places including Lansing. I really don't have too many plans after I retire. I am however, proud of seeing the band program here in Brandon turn around in my first four years. I worked with Jill Thom, who taught elementary music here at Brandon for three years—she was not only professional, but was key in changing the program. The band when we started was not only inactive, but had no other association with other band."

Johnson said the help of area resident and former Brandon Fire Chief Bob McArthur sparked the Brandon band program with guest soloists and becoming active in the Michigan School Band and Orchestra Association.

"Bob and Karen McArthur were very involved and the program grew to what it is today."

The students produced a lot of humor over the years.

"One year I accidentally chopped my thumb off—the kids had a lot of jokes over that," laughed Johnson.

"There have been the tears, too—a student was diagnosed with a brain tumor and died about a year later."

Johnson recalled taking the band to a competition in Boston in 1988.

"We almost won in Boston," he said.

After the competition Johnson, along with band parent chaperones, accompanied the students on a dinner cruise in Chesapeake Bay.

"I told the bartender to keep a tab of Shirley Temple—the kids ran up $400 worth," said Johnson.

"They also went upstairs on the dinner boat, crashed a high school prom that was going on—the kids were dressed nice, too, so they fit right in."

Those same students finished second out of 33 bands on the Boston trip, said Johnson.

"It's been a good run," he said.

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