Mr. Johnson's opus spreads Christmas joy around the worldDaryl Johnson has been conducting choirs since the 1950s. Thirty-two of those years have been in Two Harbors, at the high school and in the community. He has taught and directed generations of students — some of whom are now in their 60s — and he shows no signs of slowing down.
By: Tammy Francois, Lake County News Chronicle
Daryl Johnson has been conducting choirs since the 1950s. Thirty-two of those years have been in Two Harbors, at the high school and in the community. He has taught and directed generations of students — some of whom are now in their 60s — and he shows no signs of slowing down.
This year, his community choir, Superior Sound, will present its annual Christmas concert, performing a piece written by Johnson in the early years of his career. “Oh Have Ye Not Known” has become a tradition among his choirs — a song that students and choir members have insisted upon performing.
“As kids came up through their grades and reached senior choir age, they would request that they be allowed to follow what is now a tradition. Every year the place was filled to overflowing audiences so I guess it became every effective and was the way Christmas would begin in Two Harbors every year,” recalled Johnson, who said he originally thought the piece could be used for a few years before it “got old.”
It hasn’t. This year, as the choir fills Bethlehem Lutheran Church with the beloved processional, it’s possible that people all over the world will be hearing the song — on a CD, sung by Two Harbors native and internationally known Christian singer Don Moen, on his album, “Christmas: A Season of Hope.”
“‘O Have Ye Not Known is a classic to every THHS concert choir alumnus. It was kind of ‘the moment’ for all of us as we marched into the auditorium singing that song,” Moen said in an email from Jakarta, Indonesia, where he had just finished a 10-day Asian choir. “I wanted to record this for Daryl. Daryl Johnson is one of the all- time greats in choral music … and Two Harbors was blessed to have a true legend in choral music investing his life into literally thousands of students who were a part of his choirs at Two Harbors High School.”
Moen said he originally approached Johnson several years ago about recording the song. Johnson readily agreed.
“I was very pleased that Don thought enough of this song, which he too had sung when he was a member of our high school choir, so I wanted to cooperate with him to help him fulfill his wishes in its use. It was an honor for me to be involved with him in this way,” Johnson said.
But the wheels turned slowly and the project didn’t take shape for some time.
“When it didn’t happen after five years, he probably thought it might never happen,” said Moen, but eventually all the pieces came together. Moen started his own record label, Don Moen Records, which placed more of the decision making under his control.
“ It’s hard to convince a record label to produce a Christmas CD because the selling season is so short,” Moen said. “I made an executive decision to record ‘Christmas: A Season Of Hope,’ making my dream a reality.” The album includes nine other songs, accompaniment by the Prague Orchestra and a message:
“Christmas should be a hopeful, happy season, but sadly, for many people it’s the saddest, loneliest time of the year,” Moen continued. “We can all make a difference in someone’s life this Christmas by reaching out to someone across the street or around the world, and sharing God’s love in a tangible way. We can’t change the world, but we can make a difference in someone’s life this Christmas and truly make Christmas a season of hope.”
For Johnson, there is an additional benefit to the collaboration — raising money for the Daryl and Vicki Johnson Foundation. Named for Johnson and his wife, now deceased, the foundation was started by their four children to raise money for scholarships for Two Harbors High School seniors who want to pursue degrees in music, he said. His children have driven these efforts, sometimes under the radar of Johnson himself.
“They, without my knowledge, took about 20 large reels of tapes on which were recorded 20 years of spring choir concerts and selected 25 songs which were put on a master CD. They then did a bunch of CDs of that master to put on sale to begin building a fund,” Johnson said.
The sale of the CDs from past concerts has raised some money and the foundation has been able to award two scholarships, he said, but the fund needs to grow in order to sustain itself.
To that end, Johnson along with his children Patty, Barbara, Doug and Jeff will direct proceeds from “Christmas: A season of Hope” to the Foundation. Don Moen Music will also donate its publisher’s share. Of the effort and commitment of his children to the foundation, Johnson credits his wife.
“A lot of the kids’ skills come from her love of family and kids,” he said.
In his interview with the News-Chronicle, Johnson spoke of Vicki Johnson, wiping away tears. He said he wanted readers to know the important role she played in any success he may have had. In an email Johnson wrote eloquently of the contributions of his wife and their years together.
“Vicki, my wife and total companion in life, was such a wonderfully gifted person in so many ways,” he said enumerating her service to the community, their church, choirs and the students he taught.
“In addition, and especially, she was the most important mom we could possibly have had in any such family. How lucky could a guy like me, who only needed to wave my arms and count to four for success — get! She meant the world to me, always.” He wrote.
“Christmas: A Season of Hope” may be purchased on iTunes or at donmoen.com, or from the artist at Don Moen and Friends, P.O. Box 158897, Nashville, Tenn. 37215
“Oh Have Ye Not Known” will be performed at the Superior Sounds Christmas concert Saturday, Dec. 15, at 7 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 16, at 3 p.m. at Bethlehem Lutheran Church, 601 Fourth Ave., Two Harbors. The concert is free, but an offering will be accepted.