PLYMOUTH — The New Hampshire Music Festival's legacy is rich with musical traditions, families and summer memories. About a decade after it began on Melody Island in Lake Winnipesaukee, Joel and Karen Johnson joined the Festival family, later sharing this tradition with their daughter, Heather. A fourth Johnson named Keith, no relation to the others, also happened to join the Festival around the same time.
This summer, they all celebrate 50 years with the Festival and continue this musical ritual as part of the Festival's 2013 summer concert lineup.
"All of the Johnsons' longevity with the Festival is an attest to their love of music and passion for the organization itself," said Festival Board Member Gene Bishop.
The Johnsons will be celebrating their 50th season at concerts in Plymouth and Concord. Joel will be joined by his Heather, as soloist in two special performances that culminate not only years of musical traditions, but of family ties ones as well. Keith will play as well. See them perform together in the Festivals fifth week concerts: August 8 at the Silver Center for the Arts at Plymouth State University, a night honoring Joel Johnson, and at the Capitol Center for the Arts in Concord on August 9.
Joel joined the Festival as a tenor soloist, later moving on to conduct the Symphonic Chorus in 1970. An award-winning educator, he has been Director of Music at Falcon Heights United Church of Christ for the past 47 years. He also served 32 years as the Director of Choral Activities and Music Department Chair at Roseville High School in St. Paul, MN.
In recent years, Joel has conducted the Festival's Symphonic Chorus in several pieces, including Haydn's Lord Nelson Mass and Beethoven's Mass in C and Choral Fantasy.
Karen is a retired Roseville music teacher and organist at Falcon Heights United Church who joined the Festival along with her husband in 1970 as accompanist for the Symphonic Chorus. She is a featured soloist in the Festival's Handel Organ Concerto No. 5 and the Saint-Saëns Organ Symphony and has also served as keyboardist with the orchestra, playing piano, organ, harpsichord and celeste.
Joel and Karen's daughter, Heather, was proud to grow up a "Festival kid," and has gone on to have her own musical career as a mezzo soprano in the Metropolitan Opera's production of Parsifal.
While still a student at the University of Illinois, Keith auditioned for the Festival in the spring of 1964 at the encouragement of one of his classmates. He played with the Festival that summer, was invited back the following summer and has been part of the orchestra ever since.
During his first year as a member of the orchestra, he met a young woman named Cecile LeBlanc who was working during summer break as a chambermaid in a hotel where members of the Festival were staying. They became friends and eventually married. Their two children, Andrea and Stephen, spent their childhood summers in New Hampshire while Keith played with the Festival. He is now a music teacher at the University of Northern Iowa, where he helps hundreds of students play the trumpet.