Directing the last song

Published 4:53 pm Saturday, May 22, 2010

Brian Johnson has been there before — many times — and he’ll be there again.

The Austin High School choir teacher will be directing 116 students, all part of the AHS concert choir, at this year’s graduation June 4 at Riverside Arena.

For Johnson, graduation is one last time to see his seniors perform, a nice book end to their tenure in high school choir.

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“Graduation is kind of an exclamation point of having kids for sometimes four years,” Johnson said recently in his classroom. “So it’s not so much the graduation I’m honored about as much as just having the kids come through here. And if you help them just a little bit that’s a privilege because it will help them for a long time.”

Johnson has been teaching at Austin High School since 1987 and directing choir performances at graduation since 1992 or 1993. At that time, AHS graduations were always planned outdoors at Wescott Field and were moved into the school’s auditorium only if it rained. In 1995, however, both happened, as rain started to pour just before the outdoor ceremony began.

“We were in our gowns, and the orchestra was out there in their instruments,” Johnson said. “It was kind of a mess.”

The graduation was then moved into the auditorium, and the concert choir then performed.

“I remember the students going up on stage to perform and hearing all of the shoes swishing from the rain,” Johnson said.

Graduations have been indoors ever since. The ceremony is now held in Riverside Arena, which is where Johnson will be this year June 4 with another group of students, including 50 seniors.

The piece they will be performing is Morten Lauridsen’s “Sure on This Shining Night,” which Johnson said is a good fit for graduation.

“It’s about having a sense of wonder and excitement about the world and discovery, so it has a good message for graduation,” Johnson said. Johnson is proud of his students, a point that is highlighted by the dozens of senior photos that decorate his office window.

“The hard part is taking them all down at the end of the year,” he said.

But first comes graduation.

“I think it’s especially touching to have that last (choir) performance,” Johnson said. “I try to make eye contact with every senior during that performance. It’s a nice way to end the year.”