Johannsen has made music his ministry

November 01, 2004|by MARLO BARNHART

HAGERSTOWN - Little did Clair Johannsen know when he played his first Moller organ while a music student in Minnesota that he would someday wind up in Hagerstown, where the organs were manufactured.

On Sunday, Johannsen was honored at a communion service at Trinity Lutheran Church, 15 Randolph Ave., marking his 40 years as director of worship and music.

"Sacred music was always my calling, even in junior and senior high school. I really don't know why," Johannsen said.

With no musical influence from family members, he said, he read a lot of music magazines.

"It sounded like a great way to make a living," he said.

Johannsen graduated from Augsburg College in Minneapolis with a bachelor's degree in piano and organ.

"I've always done both. As a young boy, I had dreams of being a concert pianist," he said.

In 1960, he won the American Guild of Organists and Minnesota Music Teacher's contests.


Johannsen, 66, stressed that one needs a good background in piano before going on to the organ. Unfortunately, he said, few are taking that step.

"The American Guild of Organists is trying to reverse that lack of interest in the organ," he said.

After graduation, Johannsen headed for New York City, where he earned his master's degree in sacred music from Union Theological Seminary. While in school, he served as assistant organist at Episcopal Church of the Heavenly Rest and accompanied The Canterbury Choral Society there.

While in New York, Johannsen saw Trinity's advertisement in the placement office at Union saying it was looking for an organist.

"I took the job and said I'd stay five years if it worked out," he said.

It worked out.

As full-time director of worship and music, Johannsen directs the adult and children's choirs, plays organ at all services, organizes the acolytes, and plays for weddings and funerals. At least once a year, he performs a concert of organ music at the church.

"My tastes are very eclectic ... we do everything from chant to Renaissance to Baroque to contemporary here," he said. "It's a difficult but exciting time in church music."

Choir rehearsals are part of the job and one of Johannsen's joys.

"I also love the little children," he said. "Some of them have come up into the adult choir."

A church musician is almost a theologian, Johannsen said.

"The music and the liturgy go together. The music is not just there to impress the audience," he said.

But falling into the impressive category is Trinity's four manual, 58-rank Schantz organ, which was installed in the mid-1990s for $500,000. He says it is a dream to play.

In 1985, Johannsen earned his doctorate in musical arts/organ from Catholic University in Washington, D.C.

"When I was new, I asked myself where this job would take me," Johannsen said. "That was the wrong question. I should have been asking where I would take the job."

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