For 25 years, Joaquina Johnson has instructed the choral program for the Yuba College Music Department. That era is quickly coming to a close, as Johnson announced that she will be retiring this semester. She will by no means stop conducting choral groups, though. Johnson will continue to conduct the Yuba College Community Symphony Chorus and the Yuba – Sutter Youth Chorus. She also will be teaching voice privately from her own home.
The main reason for Johnson’s retirement is her love for her mother. “One of the most important things I have is my 87 year old mother living with my husband and me,” said Johnson. “I want to spend as much time as possible with her. I’m thankful that she is well enough that I can enjoy her company and care for her.”
When asked what she enjoyed about her career at Yuba College, Johnson did not hesitate to answer. “I think the thing that kept me here for 25 years was that I truly loved the students,” Johnson thoughtfully replied. “They’re so receptive, and they’re eager to learn. They never questioned the things I’ve tried to teach them, the vocal academia, if you will.”
“They were always open about the repertoire and what it took to develop good vocal technique, working and adapting to the program,” Johnson continued. “A good example of this is my Chamber singers. This year, we had three Baritones, two Tenors, one Mezzo-soprano and ten Sopranos, which is rather unbalanced. They worked at it, though, and it worked. We did lots of performances this year, and they were all well received.”
It’s no secret that Joaquina Johnson is very dedicated to her students. Dr. Robert Mathews, a Music Department instructor and colleague of Johnson’s, had nothing but kind words to say.
“I’ve been impressed with every single thing she’s done, and three things in particular,” said Mathews. “One, the quality when her choirs or students sing. She’s always after excellence. Also, her dedication. When I first came here, I couldn’t believe how many hours she was putting in.”
“And I want to stress hours she’s not getting paid for,” Mathews continued. “For example, she’s scheduled for two hours with the Applied Music students (one on one voice lessons), but she does many more than that!”
“Third, she has a great knowledge of music and voice,” continued Mathews. “She can literally take someone off the street and teach them how to sing, and she does it every semester. It’s because she’s a singer herself. She can both demonstrate and explain the music.”
“She’s very social, as busy as she is,” Mathews added. “She loves to get together and talk, to see what’s new and exchange ideas.”
In her time here at Yuba College, Johnson has had many interesting work experiences. “I loved touring the schools with my choirs, bringing children’s operas to both Yuba and Sutter counties,” said Johnson. “We reached anywhere between 2,000 – 4,000 children in a season. I would run into children in stores, and they’d point and say ‘Hey look! It’s the singing lady!'”
“We’ve also worked with many pianos,” Johnson recalled. “One year, the Chamber singers were performing at the Arboga Women’s Council, and the piano was completely out of tune and one and a half steps flat. Also, once while performing at one of the schools, we went to find their piano, and it was covered with mouse droppings. It reflected to me what many schools think about music and art programs.”
“The most important curriculum to me is the arts,” Johnson stated. “Music history, performance, drama, art history, it’s all important. The arts are an essential part of a student’s curriculum, and board members and administrators still don’t get it. You do not cut what is essential to the development of a child, because nothing is more important than the soul and creativity of a child. It affects every other facet of their lives. The signature of any civilization is their arts.”
When asked if there was one thing she wanted people to remember about her, Johnson had several insightful comments. “Perhaps I helped to make a difference in a students’ life and their perception of it. In order to communicate, affect, and obtain results, in my opinion, a teacher must have total passion for what they do, approach every single student as if they were the most important and unique individual on the face of the universe and to be a benevolent dictator with their studies.”
“When I came here,” reflected Johnson, “there were seven students in the entire vocal program. The choral ‘library’ was a pile and all the pages were yellowed. There wasn’t a tradition of excellence in the choral arts here. I didn’t find that there was a thirst for it. It has to make a difference anytime one is doing something important. I feel that teaching is the most noble profession on the face of the earth, and there is nothing I would rather do.”
“It’s very interesting,” added Johnson, “that nothing provides an educator with a greater breadth of knowledge than teaching at a community college. The resources are great, and the joy of positive feedback is always there.”
Reflecting on her colleagues, Johnson said. “I think there are some fine educators at Yuba College. The two ingredients that make a college work are the students and the professors. If we have those two components together, one could teach anywhere. It is the students and faculty that make an institution work. Students tend to create such excitement, such energy. It’s infectious, and it certainly keeps a person young.”