By Ginger Dawson
I’ve always thought that people who read music and perform it have a little something extra going on in their brains that the regular person, no matter how educated or intelligent, does not.
It seems to be a blending of the right and left brain, that when in sync, is able to perform a communication of emotion, intellect and beauty all combined in one aural communication.
When you realize that this is all taken from the beginning to the end by written symbols on a page via the manipulation of some type of musical instrument (which is its own challenge), to a finished piece, it is a pretty amazing thing.
Taking this all in, it’s not too big of a step to see that this is a very similar process to that of computer programming: symbols written, an instrument used and a finished piece to enjoy. Except, in this case, it’s not music, it’s an amazing portal to information.
It is no surprise then, that musicians are naturally poised to be good with computers.
Gary Johnston happens to be one of the first musicians, that I know of, who proved this synchronicity. He was at the vanguard of this culture-altering new technology.
He was into it so big (being an admitted tech freak) that he was an early member of Applesiders of Cincinnati, a computer group, founded in 1979.
This group was very influential in the Cincinnati area, in these early years, and they invited Steve Wozniak (“The Woz”), the co-founder of Apple, Inc. to come and speak.
It was a major brush with greatness. During this visit, The Woz stayed at Gary’s house and slept on his couch! It is gratifying to know that even the most talented among us were also young and poor once.
A souvenir from this event was bequeathed. The Woz autographed an old Apple power supply from one of Gary’s early computers. This is a cherished artifact, of course, and has acquired the collector’s status of a signed letter from Abraham Lincoln—21st-century style.
Over the years, Gary has been a go-to interviewee for local news sources on computer issues and is a member of Northern Kentucky University’s Advisory Council and the Dean of Informatics Advisory Committee.
He was in on the ground floor, hard-hat and all, for the construction of NKU’s newly built Digitorium, the auditorium in the heart of Griffin Hall, the home of NKU’s Center for Informatics.
All of this, and in 1979, I was still 20 years away from my forced march to adapt! I never cease to be amazed by the stories I discover writing this column.
First and foremost, however, Gary Johnston is a musician and an educator.
His father was an Ortho Pharmaceutical salesman and travel was a part of that lifestyle. Gary came in to this word in Indianapolis, Indiana, spent a short time in New Jersey, and ended up with his family in Erlanger, Kentucky by the second grade.
Erlanger was close to the airport; perfect for a traveling salesman. Roots were established.
Music showed up early in Gary’s life. By fourth grade he was so involved with playing the trombone, that his teacher at the time tried to discourage it because she felt it was interfering with the rest of his studies.
Fortunately, Gary’s wise mother understood her son better and intervened in this line of thinking.
By seventh grade, he was back on track and until he graduated from Dixie Heights High School he was lead trombone for the Dixie Cool Colonels, an Jazz ensemble that performed widely and had the distinction of recording on vinyl. The name of the LP was “Cool Colonels on Tour.” Dig it!
After high school, he attended Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee where he acquired a Bachelor’s in Music Education.
He distinguished himself by insisting on becoming the best musician he could be, in addition to being a good teacher.
Gary believes, and I paraphrase: “How can you teach a subject, if you are not an expert on that subject, yourself?”
It is this guiding attitude that has underpinned a 46-year teaching AND performing career.
He has taught high school and college. Among them: Boone County High School, Walnut Hills High School in Cincinnati, the University of Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music, Miami University, Oxford, Ohio and finally, a 36-year term at Northern Kentucky University where he was an Associate Professor of Music.
Professionally, he has performed as a trombonist or conducted and directed with these organizations:
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