Jubilation Fellow Geoff Johns

Geoff Johns

Percussionist-Vocalist
Fellowship: 2009 / 2012

We lost an important musician, teacher, and scholar when Geoff died in 2013. He made an enormous impact on the lives of his friends and students. While there is deep sadness from his passing, we now also have the skills and appetites – thanks to Geoff – for making the world a more joyful one.

“I like engaging others,” says Geoff, cross-cultural musician and enthusiastic teacher. “Traditional forms of music stress participation, inclusion, and community.” It’s his mission to help people sing, dance, and play percussion, and to encourage collaboration. He himself plays a vast array of instruments and sings in several languages.

“Arts are for a purpose,” he says. Using world music to bring people together, he also teaches the historical, cultural, psychological, and spiritual contexts of these traditions. He serves as an artist-in-residence at public schools throughout Washington State.

Geoff was also a driving force in the Vashon Island elementary school. Each year the students took a story from the Amazon and composed a soundtrack to it, then produced a CD. “They create a professional-level recording,” said Geoff. “It looks good and sounds good, and the kids are proud. The project fosters appreciation and understanding: they matter.”

He recruited and trained a group of boys, ages 8-12, to perform as a percussion ensemble in a theater production. “Their mission was to practice and perform multi-part drum music without any adult assistance during the performance. They were responsible for remembering their parts and stopping and starting on cue.” At the first rehearsal with all the assembled dancers and actors, Geoff brought his drummers in. “We set up our drums, then I cued them to play. They sounded great!” When everyone turned to look, Geoff watched a new idea occur to his young charges. “They saw themselves with the eyes of their admirers. They sat up taller. They focused more intently on what they were doing. They were proud.”

In addition to building community on Vashon, he hoped to start an online school. “I prefer personal connection,” he says, “but my young students admonish me not to be afraid of technology. It isn’t separation, but global connection.”

Links: Geoff teaching at the 2012 Jubilation Fellows retreat
Geoff’s students at Emerald Park Elementary perform Coco de Roda

Recordings:
DRUM! How to Play the Rhythms of Africa and Latin America
Bakongo, Drumming for Dancers
The Conga Drummer’s Friend

Inspirations:
Pete Seeger, for using music to make a better world
Joni Mitchell, for staying true to her vision
Ram Dass, for showing us a path of service and compassion
My granddaughter Isabeau, for being curious and irrepressible

(photo by Glowing Heads)

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