This week’s drum blog was supposed to be about my wonderful experiences having just wrapped up an extended “show choir” gig on Sunday with Gilbert Players Theater. It was a cabaret involving six awesome singers. I played drum set in the pit band trio. My original lead was supposed to be something like this: Dr. Elizabeth Wrenn-Johnson (Beth) would be pleased to know I’m still doing exactly what she first gave me the opportunity and training to do many years ago.
Today is a sad day, though. Dr. Johnson died yesterday at age 67, God rest her soul. She was an amazing and talented woman who gave the gift of music to countless kids and adults in my hometown of Auburn, MA. I’d like to dedicate this blog to her memory and also today’s Trinity big band gig, previously scheduled coincidentally, at Auburn Senior Center.
As my single most fondest childhood memory, Dr. Johnson discovered me as a struggling trombonist practicing hard on my true love – the drum set – while playing in a practice room (closet) at Auburn High School. I still vividly remember her slowly opening that closet door, saying “Who is that drummer I hear”….. It was like she was opening the door to my future life, which today is mostly music thanks to her encouragement. As a lanky, shy, freckle-faced 13-year-old, I was waiting to be discovered, heard and inspired after putting in years of dedicated work behind the drum kit in private practice, lessons and junior high bands. Dr. Johnson “hired” me on the spot for her rapidly expanding chorus and jazz show choirs and sub acapella groups. At that time, she was superintendent of music for the entire Auburn School District, which is almost unheard of in today’s “arts come last” budgeting priorities. It was a golden era for music in Auburn Public Schools. Beth believed in live pit bands instead of pre-canned tape.
Dr. Johnson essentially gave me my very first chance on the drum set with several bands when all other traditional ensemble positions were filled by older drummers. I never forgot her kindness. Those teenage music memories are endless – from the many district and state competitions we attended – and sometimes won – to the endless after school rehearsals, parties and school concerts, and all the friends we made along the way.
Cancer is a terrible disease. Beth did not deserve to pass on this way. But it’s comforting to know that her music will live on in the thousands of children she inspired like me. Dr. Johnson was an amazing teacher, administrator, musician, pianist, vocalist, and mother and will be missed terribly.
Beth’s obit appears here: http://www.auburnmassdaily.com/2018/04/elizabeth-d-dearden-wrenn-johnson-auburn-educator-realtor/