When Kristen Johnson learned that she would be the new choir director at Providence High School, she donned her old Providence choir dress to announce the good news on Facebook.
Johnson, who replaced Terri Setzer, just missed having Setzer as a teacher when she was a student at Providence. Johnson left Providence in her senior year to move with her family to Pennsylvania.
“She came the year I left,” Johnson, 36, said of Setzer, who served as the choir director from 1996 until 2015. “She built a huge program and left me with huge shoes to fill.”
Johnson is back to making music in the same room she sang in as a student, only this time she is conducting the choirs rather than singing with them.
“It brings back a lot of memories,” Johnson said. “It is cool to be in the same place where I hung out as a student.”
After graduating from high school in Pennsylvania, Johnson came back to North Carolina to attend Meredith College in Raleigh, where she majored in voice.
“I always knew I wanted to be a chorus teacher,” Johnson said.
I love to conduct. I love the interaction with the students and the level of musicianship that we can create.
Kristen Johnson, new choir director at Providence High School
She credits her music teacher at South Charlotte Middle School for instilling in her a love of music and of teaching.
“She made it fun and exciting,” Johnson said.
Armed with a 2001 Bachelor of Music in Voice and a K-12 Music Education Certification from Meredith College, Johnson began her career teaching music at Northwest School of the Arts, serving as the middle school choral director from 2001 until 2008.
In 2006, she married Derek Johnson, a WCCB morning show host, whom she met at a Charlotte Symphony Pops concert. The couple lives in Matthews with sons Tyler, 7, and Chase, 4.
Johnson took a year off in 2008 following Tyler’s birth, giving up her position at Northwest School of the Arts. When she was ready to return to teaching the following year, she found that there were not many jobs available.
She spent the next six years teaching at elementary schools, most of that time at Irwin Academic Center (formerly Villa Heights Elementary School) uptown, but her goal, she said, was to get to middle and high school levels.
In elementary school, the focus is on general music skills. As the students get older, Johnson said, “We are able to create with high-level dynamics and get deeper and more specific.”
Johnson also loves conducting choirs, something she gets to do in spades at Providence.
“I love to conduct,” Johnson said. “I love the interaction with the students and the level of musicianship that we can create.”
She oversees five choirs, comprised of 270 students, including a ninth-grade mixed chorus, a women’s choir, a men’s chamber choir, a concert choir and a chamber choir that upperclassmen are placed in following auditions.
Each choir performs in a concert at the high school once each quarter, but Johnson said she is taking her choirs all over the community to perform.
In December, the choirs will be performing on the WCCB Christmas show and at the Charlotte Community and Christmas Nativity. The chamber choir will sing for guests at the Grove Park Inn. In the spring, Johnson will take her choirs to sing for judges at the NC Music Performance Adjudication, where they will receive feedback and scores.
“It is like our EOGs,” Johnson said.
And she will also be busy in the spring helping with the school’s musical, “Annie.”
“The hope is that we can continue the tradition of excellence that Terri set forth,” Johnson said of inheriting one of the largest choir departments in CMS. “I want to keep growing it and keep building on it.”
She doesn’t expect her students to pursue music as a career, as she did, but she wants their time in the Providence High School choirs to be memorable.
“Whether or not they become musicians,” Johnson said, “I want it to be an experience that they will remember from their high school career, and a community and network of friends they will have for life.”
Katya Lezin is a freelance writer: email@example.com.