History of the Chorus
They seek the magic. And they seek to pass it on.
Why else would 40 adults from all walks of life spend 10 months of each year practicing two hours each Sunday night and listening to rehearsal CDs throughout the week? Most have spouses and children and lead incredibly busy lives, but they make the time.
Why would the same people spend their own money to buy music, tuxedos and concert dresses? Why would they take off of work and hop on a chartered bus to sing to gravely ill children at hospitals in Memphis and St. Louis? Why would they fly to Washington, D.C., to sing to retired and sometimes forgotten veterans?
Because they want to spread the magic.
Such is the motivation of The David Johnson Chorus, which in its 12-year history has established itself as a group of men and women from Northwest Tennessee who sing with a professional sound and a heart that its members, its director and many who hear them define as nothing short of magic.
Although they are headquartered in Dresden, chorus members come from Weakley and several adjoining counties in West Tennessee and West kentucky. The backgrounds of the amateur chorus members are as varied as one could imagine, and so are their musical abilities. Some cannot read music. But this eclectic group is bound together by a love of music and what it can do for the ear and the soul.
The magic began in 1974 when David Johnson, a music teacher at Dresden High School, launched an auditioned high school chorus that for nine years won numerous competitions throughout the region. It produced a sound and a camaraderie that none of its members expected to ever hear or feel again, especially when Johnson left Dresden High in 1982 to pursue what has since become a very busy and successful practice as a marriage and family therapist.
But the magic would not be denied.
Fast-forward 16 years to a steering committee planning session for Dresden High Project Graduation 98. One of Johnsons former chorus members, Gail Dyer, was among those brainstorming about entertainment for the spring fund-raising event. Others offered the usual suggestions for political or sports figures to return to their Alma Mater and regale the audience.
It occurred to Gail that other special aspects of school life that were worth revisiting and celebrating.
A light bulb came on the chorus. I asked for a few days to see what I might come up with for a chorus alumni group, Gail said, not dreaming what she was about to create.
She and her sister, Janet, excitedly pulled out nine years of DHS yearbooks spanning the time David Johnsons choruses were in existence and began making phone calls.
The response was unanimous: Yes. Wed love to get together, recalled Gail.
But the most important piece of the puzzle was still missing the director. During the previous 20 years, Gail had stayed in periodic touch with David Johnson, or Mr. J, as some of his students had called him. Hed moved to McKenzie and was very busy with his family counseling practice. And when she called her former choir teacher, he was also excited, but anxious.
Initially, I had lots of questions, David said. Were there even enough former students around who would be interested? Would they still have what it took? Did I still have what it took? What if we got together and it sounded really bad. How would I gracefully pull the plug on the project?
Gail recalls that she and the approximately 25 other chorus alumni who were available wondered much the same thing when they gathered for their first meeting/rehearsal.
We were all apprehensive about performing again and wondered if we still had it, she said.
They all wondered if the magic was still there.
The answer came quickly. When David called the reunion chorus together at the Dresden High School Little Theater on one Sunday night and gave the four pitches for the chorus to ooohhh a chord, the old magic filled the room.
The sound the sound that theyd learned years ago, was still there, David said. The look on everyones face, including mine, was one of astonishment. I didnt realize that was possible.
His former chorus members felt the same way.
The reaction was chills and tears. We still had it. We reacted to David as though we had just walked out of the chorus room yesterday, Gail said.
At that first practice, called to prepare for their one and only reunion concert, the euphoria already was taking on a bittersweet edge.
We cried, we sang, we were very quiet at the end, not wanting the moment to end and already dreading the alumni banquet night because that would be the end of something very special that we found to still be very much alive. Something that David instilled in us years ago passion and the love of music, said Gail.
David realized something else was going on.
Another surprise was that each time we rehearsed, when I looked into their eyes, what I saw was not 30-and 40-year-old adults. I saw excited kids, with spirits that were suddenly unshackled.
Amid the euphoria, David carefully urged the reunion chorus members to savor the moment.
I told everyone from the very first rehearsal that I would make no commitments beyond that one performance. I encouraged them all to not look ahead but to focus on enjoying the moment, he said. I had absolutely no vision that it would continue.
But again, the magic would not be denied only this time, it had a little help.
After the very successful reunion concert, the chorus members put together a scrapbook with personal letters or notes, reflecting on what the reunion experience meant to them, which they presented to David.
They hit him right where it counted.
They knew my weakness. I was deeply moved and shaken by what I read. I believe the most important thing in the world is being connected relationships. And this chorus thing had made a small group of people feel connected in a way that was ultimately therapeutic and healing for them, David said. That being the case, how could I say no to this opportunity from God to help others.
And that is the credo that has driven the magic of the chorus.
Its mission is simple: To provide people from Northwest Tennessee the opportunity to be part of a quality performing group and to expose them to quality performing arts. To ensure that the magic of this chorus does not end with the original membership, chorus members made a strategic decision to open membership to others who had not been in David Johnsons high school choruses.
The original chorus members were fearful of losing their special bond. It is clear that this decision was for the best. Ive been amazed at the response to the auditions, said David. People from 60 miles away have auditioned. People from all walks of life have auditioned because they heard about something that sounds a bit magical, and they want some magic in their lives.
So do the audiences.
The enthusiasm of audiences has been tremendously refreshing and speaks to the fact that people are starving for this type of experience, David said.
Even with all of this enthusiasm, it is a major logistical undertaking to organize, plan, raise funds for and maintain an adult touring chorus. David realized at the outset that the chorus needed a general manager, and Gail agreed. She has been integral to the success and the growth of DJC.
Gail is truly what keeps this thing rolling. Most of the group has no idea how much she does, and that is fine with her. She is unassuming and willing, David said of his former pupil.
And why does she devote those long hours year around?
I believe in the chorus. I believe it can touch lives in a way that many other things in the world cannot even begin to do. For a moment, even a brief moment, someones life can be a little brighter, a person might actually smile or another person might leave a concert feeling better, Gail said. The chorus can bring activities, concerts, exhibits to this area that some people will never see in their lifetimes.
During the last ten years, the DJC has already built a track record of doing that and more. Its first major coup was to sponsor and perform with the Paducah Symphony Orchestra in the spring of 1999 at Dresden High School.
The response was as overwhelming as the performance, and in those early years, David knew the magic was extending beyond even his wildest expectations.
The overriding feeling was and is tremendous humility. I mean, who are we to be able to accomplish such unbelievable things. Symphony concerts in Northwest Tennessee? Enthusiastically received? It was unheard of, David said.
But now it has become the norm. Wherever they have gone, chorus members have spread that magic.
This group is magical because we sing with our hearts, and I think we have a strong connection to David that will be hard pressed to upset. That connection somehow presents itself in strength and common goals and invites others to join, making for an extended family, Gail said. David has the unique ability to select those who sound good together musically and an almost uncanny ability to balance the chorus personality with that musicality. He stretches us musically and entices us to sing the music with our souls, to interpret the words with our hearts not just our voices and hes doing all of this with no pay.
And even she cannot believe what has been accomplished thus far.
I have been able to stand behind and sing with a symphony orchestra. Weve been to Washington, D.C. Ive held a child with cancer while singing a Disney song and the mother crying beside me. Ive talked with war veterans. Ive met with individuals whose paths I would never have crossed had it not been for the chorus. Ive found new friends, she said.
The chorus has also developed a reputation for performing music to touch all age groups and to satisfy all musical interests. Examples include:
songs from Disney movies, such as Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King, and other kids favorites from Shrek and Monsters Inc.
songs from other recent hit movies, such as O Brother, Where Art Thou?
hits from the 60s and 70s, such as the Beach Boys and Temptations, complete with choreography.
classical, patriotic and Broadway tunes, including classics from Andrew Lloyd Webber, Jerome Kern and Richard Rodgers.
a cappella gospel spirituals and hymns, a DJC trademark and crowd favorite
The musical venues or specific songs may change, but regardless of where they go or what they perform, one thing is sure:
Its all about the magic.
For information about concert bookings, sponsorships or tickets, call Gail Dyer Jercinovich, general manager, at 731-514-0167 or send an email.