Have you heard the name Melvin Johnson? If you have attended any of Walla Walla University’s music programs in the last three decades, you may be familiar with his work — but not in the way you might think.
Melvin is a former WWU student. He studied music here in the early 1940s, and played the violin with the university’s music groups as well as the Walla Walla Symphony.
Like many of the men of his generation, World War II interrupted his education, and he was drafted into the Army. After his two years of service ended, he completed music studies at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Ore., and began his life’s work.
Although he did teach from 1951 to 1955 at WWU, he would spend most of his career in Lincoln, Neb., teaching at the collegiate level.
In 1982, when retirement called, he returned to the Walla Walla Valley. Ever the musician, he rejoined the Walla Walla Symphony and performed until 2003, playing a total of 32 years with the symphony.
Melvin continued to contribute to the music community through work as a professional piano tuner. His perfect pitch, ear for tone, and unmatched patience have made him a much sought after piano tuner, especially at WWU, where our Music Department has employed his services for the past 30 years.
So while our professors Kraig Scott and Leonard Richter — and many of our piano students — may be on the stage, Melvin’s work serves as an unseen accompanist.
This year, at age 90, Melvin is packing up his tool kit and retiring.
I want to thank Melvin for his excellent work. Our students have benefited greatly from his passion for music, as I hope our community has, too.
Melvin embodies one of the aims we have for our students and our campus community: a commitment to “Beauty in Expression.” We hope we can instill that love in our students so that they, like Melvin, will have an appreciation for the arts and share it with their communities.
I hope you have been in one of our audiences and been inspired and entertained by our students and professors. During our last school year, the Music Department presented more than 50 concerts and recitals, including a performance by our new harp ensemble.
WWU musicians also contributed to other music groups in the community, including, of course, the Walla Walla Symphony.
But as prolific as our musicians and their artistic efforts are, we know many in our community still have little or no access to music. We hope to change that in the coming years.
One of the objectives in Walla Walla University’s 2013-2023 institutional plan is to extend our commitment to “Beauty in Expression” by deploying faculty, staff, and students in an effort to bring the arts to underserved communities in the Walla Walla Valley, with particular attention to children with little or no access to music, literature and visual art.
We envision students and staff bringing the arts to more children in their schools, churches and neighborhoods.
While we are making these plans, our music events are here for all to enjoy. If you haven’t attended a WWU music event, I invite you to join us. Performances range from the traditional classical music programs to the rhythms of the Steel Band and the Big Band.
And maybe — just maybe — you’ll be lucky enough to snag a seat next to Melvin so he can expound upon the beauty in the expression.
John McVay is the president of Walla Walla University.