Share memories and get updates

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14 thoughts on “Share memories and get updates

  1. Janet

    Marc is heavily in my mind and heart as the Curtis Summerfest Chamber Music for Adult Musicians starts this Thursday. This is the third year of the Summerfest. In my first year, 2012, I as a pianist learned that Marc was a strict, stern, and dedicated coach from my colleagues. But I did not get to know him until last year. We ate all our meals together–and chatted about everything in the universe. He also seemed to return to a recurring theme–his love of Maine and family. I was amazed that he was able to hop back and forth from Phila. to Maine so easily! I can barely drive to New Jersey from Philadelphia.

    He coached our trio in its St Saens during the sound check before our recital. His instructions to me were so precise that I’ll never forget them. Yes, I will always remember Marc!

  2. Donald Pistolesi

    I learned the sad news of Marc’s death only yesterday. On another page of this blog, Ronald Leonard mentions Marc’s beautiful sound. I remember first hearing it in the opening phrase of the Fantasy Pieces in the fall of 1965. We were 18 years old, but he was a much older 18 than I was. Marc came to be a good friend during my student years, someone to look up to and emulate.
    We did not stay in close touch, but Marc was good about looking me up whenever the Vermeer came to town, every two or three years, for an instalment of the conversation we had been carrying on for decades. One of those times, he was playing the ex-Romberg Tecchler. He repeated the story of how Beethoven had offered to write a concerto for Romberg, who declined. Marc seemed genuinely sheepish about this (if I had only one word to describe Marc, it would be genuine). However, there does not seem to be any basis for that story (see Walter Grimmer, Warum hat uns Beethoven kein Cellokonzert hinterlassen?, Dissonance, June 2003). This would have been fodder for the next instalment of our conversation, now sadly interrupted.
    – Donald

  3. Kayl Soukup

    I’ve been reluctant to post a memory, for it seems mine pale compared to many of the others. Do I write about the bag of M&Ms on his desk during one lesson and how he couldn’t resist ‘discretely’ reaching in, time and again, as he listened to me play? Or the time I’d realized right before a lesson, that my nails were too long, so I tore and chewed them down, until one of them was bleeding? As he opened the door to invite me in, I explained what I’d done and he warmly admonished, “Well, don’t do that!”

    These are insignificant everyday things, but I treasure them because it was such a blessing to have that student-teacher relationship with Marc. During my senior year at NIU, I excitedly told him, “I found your vibrato!” For a fleeting moment, his warm, round sound had come from my hand. He replied that (after nearly four years together) it is probably good that I’ll move on to another teacher for grad school. He didn’t want his students to sound like mimics of him. He wanted to guide us in finding our own voice, our own sound. Of course, those few moments believing I might occasionally sound like him were a high point for me and I’ve been trying to replicate his vibrato for the rest of my days!

    Marc’s childhood teacher was Carol Work. I, too, grew up (a generation later) in Lincoln, NE, and studied with Carol. In fact, I auditioned for NIU by playing for Marc on a Saturday night at his parents’ home. When Carol passed away in 2002, Marc and I played in a cello ensemble in her honor, and Marc played the Allemande from Bach’s 6th Suite. What a gift that was!

    Of course, I dearly love Marc and I cried a lot when I heard he had passed away. Then the next day I resolved to live more like Marc: to treat people with respect,humor, and love; to use music to say something and touch others; to work intelligently, always striving to do your best; to share freely. Most remarkable about him is how he treated people. The ripple effect of Marc’s love is beyond my imagining. His is a life beautifully lived.

  4. Joan Welsh

    Although I always felt that I was the least of Marc’s amazing students (a retired, intermediate cellist, returning after 30 years), he was always so patient, generous and inspiring, helping me through challenging passages and techniques. But even more, we were friends and lessons were filled not only with music, but about family, politics and philosophy. I shall so miss driving down to the river, entering his and Kathie’s beautiful home that they loved so much, and having time that took me away from my day to day busyness.

    As I practiced yesterday, I could hear his voice guiding the music, and even his humming the counterpart to the passage I was practicing, as he often did. The six years with him are a blessing in my life. We are all so lucky to have known him and to have received his caring, encouragement and love that he gave to all of his students.
    Joan Welsh

  5. Jennifer Elowitch, Artistic Director, Portland Chamber Music Festival

    Marc was a treasured cellist at the Portland Chamber Music Festival since 2009 and was to have played here again this August. We remember Marc for his warmth, generosity, passion for music, humor, wonderful friendship — and his unforgettable sound.

    One great memory I have of Marc, among many, is this:

    I was asked the play in a bank lobby for one of our festival sponsors. With some amount of embarrassment, I asked Marc if he would join me despite the long drive down to Portland and the less-than-important venue we were to perform in. In his inimitable way, Marc happily agreed and schlepped down to Portland with his Strad. We had a ball.

    PCMF will honor Marc’s memory at a concert here in Portland on Thursday, August 21st. The program will include a performance of Boccherini’s Sonata in A major for Cello and Harpsichord, performed by Chicago Symphony cellist Brant Taylor and renowned harpsichordist Peter Sykes.

  6. Katri Ervamaa

    I was lucky to study with Marc in DeKalb, first with the Finnish Owla Quartet and later “just” as his cello student. I am even luckier to have had him as a life-long mentor, one, whose e-mails give me such solace in the moments of grief. It is difficult to put into words what I feel for him, other than exceptional love. I can’t count with one hand the times I have mentioned him to my students even in the last few months – and I realize that his stories have become my stories, too. Now, reflecting on all the things I learned from him in the last 22 years – 4 out of the 6 Bach Suites, most of the Popper Etudes, most of the core cello repertoire I know, almost everything I know about teaching, and certainly everything I know about shifting (plus a few other things) – I know that the most important is how to be a good person.

    I have so many favorite memories it’s hard to pick just one or two to share – the first one of course is meeting him for the first time in DeKalb, riding up in the elevator with Richard and my Finnish colleagues, when he said “to our faces, we want you to call us by our first names. We don’t care what you call us behind our backs”. I imagine this is a ride others have taken with them. We had lobsters in Maine with the whole family (not without drama, of course – it seemed to come along wherever we went those days), dealt with traumatic cello issues when my Op.18 No.4 part got infused into the back of my cello (and thanks, Nicole, for the use of the “Johnson” cello while my Hubicka was being repaired so expertly by Ron – Hi Ron!), there was a failed attempt at a coat hanger sound-post adjustment…and that was just in the first week of the first summer. For five glorious years, he indulged my OCD about the position of my right pinky, feeling my vibrato through my toes and other strange things – although, after three weeks of just long tones, he did say, “at some point, could we also play some music?” I love that he always had hair ties and tissues on hand for (mostly girl) students, and I remember feeling very honored in my last year as his student to be assigned the task of replenishing the stock. A lifetime later, just a few months ago, I sat at Trader Joe’s parking lot for two hours talking on the phone with him about gardening, Popper Etudes, relationships, marriage, parenting and writing books. I very much miss the way his blue eyes flashed when something in particular amused him, or when he was about to say something witty and dry.

    Just like any encounter with Marc, I could go on for days and would not run out of things to say, or things to tell him “the next time we meet”. Kirsten and Nicole, you shared your dad with all of his students, and I know we all are eternally grateful. He truly had the biggest heart of anybody I have ever met, and I always felt there was room, and love, for all of us in it. I haven’t yet figured out how life is going to be without him – certainly less magical. But he lives on in you, and Seb, and all of us who were so lucky to be his students, and on whose lives he had such a profound effect.

  7. David Barber

    I had the fortune to study with Marc in the early 70s when he was in the US Marine Band. He was an incredible performer and a warm kind man, who helped me at a time of great uncertainty in my life. I will always cherish his advice and caring nature and I carry it with me to this day.

  8. Monica Kelly

    A message from Bay Chamber Concerts:
    On behalf of the Board, Staff and Faculty of Bay Chamber Concerts and Music School we write today of the passing of Marc Johnson, beloved member of our community, our concert series and our music school.
    From our founder Tom Wolf:
    Marc Johnson came to us at Bay Chamber Concerts in 1974. It was part of our attempt to transform what had been a series featuring a collection of student musicians into a venue featuring world class talent. Marc’s arrival, along with those of his colleagues in the Vermeer Quartet, put Bay Chamber Concerts “on the map” and encouraged big name talent to Rockport.
    Over the course of the next four decades, Marc’s presence had much to do with the artistic growth of the organization not only in his role as a member of the Vermeer but, as one musician described it, “perhaps the greatest living chamber music cellist.” Everyone wanted to play with Marc which is why he appeared more often than any other musician over the 50 years plus of the organization. It was partly his superb musicianship of course. But it was also something else. Marc’s way of working brought out the best in other musicians and they simply loved being part of any concert he was involved in. Chamber music is an intimate medium where personalities can augment or impede the music-making. Marc’s way was always to encourage what was good rather than to focus on what was bad (one of the reasons he was also considered one of the finest teachers in the field). One left a rehearsal with him – even one that didn’t go especially well – feeling optimistic. It was often capped with a meal, news about colleagues, suggestions for new concert ideas, and always a dash of humor. The old Corner Shop in Rockport was a favorite watering hole.
    Only one thing topped Marc’s commitment to music and it was his love of family. He and his wife Kathie were a team in so many things – the raising of two superb musician daughters, the establishment of the Next Generation program, and a special chamber music prize in their name to encourage young talent. Marc’s untimely death, coming so soon after Kathie’s, was a shock and a tragedy. It is now up to the rest of us to carry on his and their legacy of music making at the highest level, a commitment to music education, and an optimistic and supportive approach to the world and to other people.

    From Manuel Bagorro, Artistic Director and Monica Kelly, Executive Director:
    The news of Marc’s death has shocked the music world far and wide, but it is here, in Maine that we were privileged to have this renowned cellist as a neighbor, teacher and friend. A few years ago, at one of the Thursday night Rockport Opera House performances, Marc was presented with a certificate, honoring him as the artist who had performed on more concerts here than anyone ever before – over 275 performances in more than 30 years. We sincerely doubt that record will ever be broken.
    Marc, with his beloved wife Kathie, started our Next Generation program in 1990 which celebrated a 20 year history of chamber music educational programming for young Maine musicians. This program was often referred to as the “jewel in the crown” of Bay Chamber’s offerings. This summer Benjamin Beilman returns to Rockport for the third time: twice on the summer concert series and once, at age 12 as part of the Next Generation program. The impact of Marc’s legacy lives on in the myriad of students who have studied with him.
    Marc and Kathie were also influential in the founding of the Odeon program. Inspired by the success of Next Generation, they helped create a year-round orchestra where Maine musicians could meet weekly, build their skills in ensemble playing, perform and create their own musical family. In 2008 a young cellist, Nikolai Renedo, was one of the shining stars of the Odeon program. Marc, in his consummately generous way, offered to play the Vivaldi Double Cello Concerto alongside Nikolai for the Odeon Winter Concert. The house was packed with over 400 people to see this historic event. After a momentus standing ovation, as the crowd was leaving the hall, a lady remarked “Whose grampa was that?!?!?!? He is pretty darn good!!!” When the story was shared later with Marc, he had a good, hard laugh, as only Marc Johnson could do.
    The following is from an email we received from Josie Davis, a former Odeon member and current student at Oberlin, to a group of young musicians who were part of that infamous performance.
    “Sophie and I were shocked and deeply saddened to learn of Marc’s passing. He touched our humble Maine community of musicians in so many ways. Some of our most treasured memories are with all of you in his company. These memories are so connected with this community of people – a community that continues to be very special and one that has shaped music in Maine in an important way.
    We wanted to send you this recording from 2008 when Marc and Nikolai played a Vivaldi concerto for two cellos with Odeon. We remember that concert very distinctly. Marc always played with so much vibrancy, love, sensitivity, and warmth. He was one of our most treasured mentors. We always admired his humanity, sincerity, gentleness, patience, and his kind, wise face.”
    Truer words were never written.

  9. Ron Pinkham

    I was out in my orchard this afternoon with a friend, pruning the young trees, and talking when I remembered to tell him of Marc passing. We were both flooded with memories of our time with Marc, Eric having meet Marc a half dozen times at the shop. The most resent being in the shop on the Saturday before last, when Marc was picking up a cello we had been rebuilding for one of his students in Boston. As always, Marc was full of life , telling us a few jokes and stories of his varied life as a musician on the road. The instrument had had the top off, neck set, new bridge and post, the works, and that of course required a final sound post setting. Marc and I have done this dozens of time on his and other shop instruments and in short order he was satisfied. We asked him to please play us something, gracias as always, he started to play a Gavotte from the 6th Bach cello suite, then a slower movement, all movement stopped, everyone in the shop mesmerized, when he finished we profusely thanked him, and he for the first time I ever heard, said he could feel the slowing of his hands, a slightly naked moment.

    I’ve known the Johnson family for almost 35 years now and I can’t quite place the year exactly that this happened, 1981 or 2, but this stands out and flashed through my mind as I stood there in the bright sunshine of spring. I had a shop on the Public Landing, hidden away in basement of the old Camden Herald building, facing the parking area. I was outside on a beautiful early summer day in my 25 square foot garden, stripping the finish of an old German cello that someone had put over the original turning the instrument almost black. My head was down, consentrating on just removing the hideous top layer, when I heard this voice above me like the wrath of God, asking me just what is was doing that poor cello. Looking up, there sat Marc and Kathie, having tea on the deck of the Owl & Turtle books store. Marc, grinning down at me, knew he had just pulled my chain from the look on my face, Kathie immediately asking me up for tea, covered in black varnish and all.

    For me, there are a thousand memories of both your mom and dad and you kids too, I can never say how much they did for me, we had our ups and downs and always came out friends. To you girls, my heart goes out for your loss, I will always care for the both of you, even if I can’t quite get past the picture I keep on my bench, of the two of you when you were in your middle teens. Right about then in time, Kirsten, saying she was not sure about a life in music and Nicole saying to her, “But what else are you going to do.” Well, you have, both of you, talented like your parents, I imagine there will always be pieces of music that will bring them home in your memories. May they live long and deep in your hearts and lives, they surely will mine.


  10. George Work

    Marc is a big part of my earliest memories. He was the heart and soul of my mother Carol Work’s studio, the one we all looked up to and wanted to emulate. I well remember how awestruck I was, a beginning cello student aged eight, hearing eighteen-year-old Marc effortlessly toss off the Squire Tarantella I had been struggling to master. He was unfailingly generous and supportive, traits that only grew stronger as he passed through conservatory and went on to win competitions and eventually become the cellist of the Vermeer Quartet.

    As a young professional myself, it was a great pleasure to bring Marc to Iowa State to perform and work with my students. He was an inspiring presence in every way, and watching him teach always opened new musical vistas for me. I can still mentally hear his voice from time to time as I pass on a particular musical insight I first heard from him.

    Marc was always one of the brightest stars in my personal heavens, as he was for many others. We are all sorely diminished by his loss.

  11. Carole Brand

    So many of us knew and loved Marc as a talented and generous performer and teacher, but I knew him best as a colleague on the Board of Bay Chamber Concerts. Despite his busy schedule, he agreed to be a member of the search committee which I chaired when we were seeking a new Artistic Director to follow Tom Wolf. No small task….but Marc’s insight into the qualities that would be needed to be successful in this role, and his many musical community connections were invaluable in helping us come to a successful conclusion. And when we were done, he was certainly not done….he continued to check in with help and guidance to make sure that we were upholding the standard of excellence that characterized his whole life. Go with God, Marc.

  12. Siri Hoogen

    I have been flooded with wonderful Marc memories for the last day. One of my favorites is around how I came to get my (then) new cello, which Marc found in a shop and brought into school for me to try. I loved it, and I (disloyally) started disparaging my old cello. Marc, looking for something diplomatic to say about the old one, allowed that “it did at least have a certain quality of loudth.” His irrepressible kindness and inexhaustible humor have been my go-to mental models when I work to be a decent human being. But for Marc, these qualities came effortlessly. Our world is less bright without him here.


    I have many wonderful memories of hearing Marc perform. One in particular has stayed with me: The Vermeer Quartet gave a great performance of Britten’s second quartet at NIU that I was fortunate to hear. In the middle is a solo cadenza for the cello. The sound that came out of Marc’s cello was so beautiful and so warm, and for a few moments, time stopped and the only thing that mattered was this music. This was truly thrilling to hear, and was a wonderful reflection of Marc’s personality – his intelligence, his warmth and his generous spirit. Thank-you Marc for giving us so much joy through your music and your life.
    Peter Swenson

  14. Cora Swenson Lee

    Thank you both so much for giving everyone an opportunity to remember Marc as a community. There are too many memories to share, but I’ll start with one that I have revisited frequently over the years. In 2009 I spent a weekend at the Johnson house in Cushing when I was considering following Marc to BU for my masters. I had 8 hours of lessons in 2 days, but Marc never ran out of energy. Every time we would finish a session, he would walk to the stairs and start shouting excitedly: “Mrs. Johnson! Mrs. Johnson!” He couldn’t wait to find Kathie and put his arm around her, still so proud to be with her after many years of marriage. I always feel so warm thinking of them standing there together. Marc was my role model in every way, not just as a cellist, and the love he showed his family and everyone he met was an inspiration.


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