An Ernest Goodbye

Choir Director Ernest Johnson, says farewell to his students at the 2014 Fall Concert

Staff photo

Staff photo

Claudia Santa Anna, Reporter

If you have never seen Ernest Johnson direct the West Potomac Choirs before, you have missed out on an extraordinary treatIf you haven’t heard already , Mr. Johnson will be retiring in December. As the director of the Bella Voce, Chamber, and Concert choirs for 25 years, Mr. Johnson brought out the best in each and every singer in all three West Potomac choirs, helping every student find their voice. On his very last, bittersweet concert at the school (Fall Concert 2014), which was held on November 11 in the Springbank Auditorium, the choirs performed multiple heartfelt songs with themes of life, love, and music with dancing and drumming. They were later joined by alumni students and former choir members for a surprise very last song; a song dedicated to him by this students.

Mr. Johnson, who has over 40 years of experience in teaching, performing and choral conducting started teaching at West Potomac High School in 1989. He also has taught chorus, piano and AP music theory. Mr. Johnson, who, right before coming to West Potomac was directing the choirs at Mamaroneck High School in New York, had met the students and parents of West Potomac through a choral exchange program. In the autumn of 1988, those parents met together and decided that they wanted Mr. Johnson as their next director. Though Johnson wasn’t planning on leaving his beloved New York, he decided to move his family down to Virginia if the job offer was officially offered to him, but only if it was at West Potomac and not at any other school in Fairfax County. Late into the 1988-1989 school year, he was offered the job, much to his delight and surprise.

Since his arrival in Fairfax County Mr. Johnson has accomplished much. Some of his hard work includes assisting in developing the current POS curriculum requirements for chorus, serving as a mentor teacher for many current FCPS music staff and student teachers, and presenting numerous workshops for VMEA and ACDA conferences.  He was twice selected as West Potomac’s Teacher of the Year, in 1993 and 2010 and is listed in four editions of Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers, and served two terms as VMEA District 10 Chairperson. Mr. Johnson was also certified in Dalcroze Eurhythmics, an international music education method.  He presented workshop sessions in solfege/ear-training, eurhythmics and pedagogical techniques at all levels in schools, colleges, teacher in-services and state conferences.

Being the director of the chorus has had a big impact on Mr. Johnson’s life. In between songs at the concert, Mr. Johnson told personal, heartwarming stories about how he met so many great people through teaching and how they feel like family to him. He told a particular touching story of how he proposed to his current wife, with the help of the Colonial Chorus, a former chorus at West Potomac.

Throughout the county, teachers retire every day without much of a fuss, but by just hearing the choir’s last concert with the director, you’d see that’s different with Mr. Johnson.

His last concert, The Fall Concert, was a last “thank you” from the school and community, yet Mr. Johnson was doing much of the thanking himself. He gave a generous thank you to his accompanist, Sue Torgerson, complete with a special plaque and roses. The choreographer, Gennifer DiFilippo was also warmly thanked and appreciated by Johnson. The Choral Boosters and parents were recognized with great gratitude. Family was thanked; his wife, Sherry and son, Grant were called up on stage by him as he praised them for unwavering support. His students and choirs past and present remembered fondly. Mr. Johnson was filled with gratitude and emotion.

Just by watching him at the concert anyone could see how much he cares for his students, and how much he loves what he did. “They may forget what you taught them, but they never will forget how you made them feel,” he wrote. “…Whatever we do, we must teach who we are.”   He ended the concert by making a heart sign to his choirs and declaring that because he knew them “he changed too”. While Mr. Johnson will be missed here at West Potomac, he will not be forgotten by the many students he taught and touched by his extraordinary 25 year teaching career.