Mar 16, 2023
I first met Virginia Johnston when she was a teenager. In the early 1980’s, Ginny became principal clarinetist of the New Jersey Youth Symphony, which I was then serving as Music Director. From that time forward, it has been a joy to learn about and appreciate more of Ginny’s talents and accomplishments, one after another. Ginny’s tenure with the Symphony included the orchestra’s first European tour in 1983 to The Netherlands and Belgium where, I’m certain, her clarinet playing helped us to receive First Prize with Honors at the 32nd European Music Festival for Youth.
Ginny then went off to Syracuse University and off my radar screen. After receiving her Bachelor of Music degree, summa cum laude, Ginny went on to Boston University where she received her Master of Music degree with Honors in both clarinet performance and music composition. It was just our good fortune that in 1992, The Discovery Orchestra (known then as the Philharmonic Orchestra of New Jersey) was looking for additional administrative help. Telephone calls went out in that pre-email, pre-text era, and one of those calls was to Ginny’s mother, Mary Johnston, whom I looked on as a trusted advisor since 1979 when the Youth Symphony had been founded. Mary casually said: “Ginny’s back in New Jersey, why don’t you…” – and the rest, as they say, is history. But it was only thebeginning of my learning about all of Ginny’s talents, and what wonderful things she would create with those abilities.
When Ginny was engaged as Administrator at the Orchestra, it became immediately apparent that she could handle any tasks associated with the position with aplomb. But I think it was the first time she handed me a solo CD of songs she had written and recorded, with her both singing and playing the keyboard, that I began to appreciate the depth of her talents. Later came invitations to attend live performances by her folk-rock band Mosaic. Whoa! And I thought Ginny was justa very fine clarinetist … which would be a big enough accomplishment for most people. “But wait – there’s more!” as the commercials say.
In 1992, the same year Ginny had come to work with us, she and some of her closest friends founded the Triad Arts Ensemble, a multidisciplinary performing arts organization which proceeded to mount both musical concerts and theatrical productions. Did I mention that Ginny also studied choral conducting at Westminster Choir College in Princeton in her spare time? (I don’t know what spare time that would have been.)Part of Triad since 1995 is the Triad Vocal Ensemble… enter Virginia Johnston, the conductor! In 1997, in response to the ongoing AIDS crisis, Ginny co-founded the annual Canticles for Life benefit concerts. These concerts, featuring a wide range of music including choral works, original pieces for jazz ensemble, and guest artists such as the Newark Boys Chorus, have raised over $200,000 – all of which has been distributed to New Jersey organizations serving members of our community who are dealing with AIDS and AIDS-related issues.
In the late 1990’s, after I had retired from the New Jersey Youth Symphony, one of Ginny’s compositions for symphony orchestra was featured on a Youth Symphony performance at Alice Tully Hall! These days, Ginny serves as Assistant Conductor of the Garden State Symphonic Band and also appears as a conductor with the Maplewood Community Band. She still does live performances as a singer and has recorded some of these on YouTube. Oh, and did I mention that “on the way to the forum” Ginny became Managing Director of what was still the Philharmonic Orchestra of New Jersey in 1999, Executive Director of The Discovery Orchestra in 2009, and remained in that position for 13 years? And this past fall, Ginny became our Finance Director.
I have not even scratched the surface. Her work in improv comedy, which I have enjoyed very much, is one of the “newer” vehicles for her creativity. Ginny and the love of her life, husband Dan Crisci, have raised two boys who are now teenagers! Is “amazing” a strong enough word?