Classically trained concert violinist and Wellington resident Gareth Johnson believes that people don’t have to let their special occasions go uncelebrated in the COVID-19 era — and he has been using his impressive musical abilities to help.
At an age where most kids might grasp a favorite stuffed animal, Johnson was putting his arm around a violin, working toward becoming a virtuoso player.
At age nine, he saw famed violist Itzhak Perlman perform and discovered his true passion. “I bought my own violin at a pawn shop for $80,” he recalled.
A year later, he was taking master lessons with Perlman. By age 11, he was jetting around the world performing and was in the Juilliard pre-college program receiving the best training available.
At age 16, Johnson moved with his family here to Wellington, with several boxes of worldwide awards, and the family would have to find space for the many more to come in his career.
Johnson has won numerous competitions and prizes throughout the United States and Europe. He was the 2002 junior winner and the 2010 senior winner of the international Sphinx Competition, and he earned the International Career and Business Alliance (ICABA) Salute to Living Black History Makers Award in 2016.
Today, Johnson holds a master’s degree from the Lynn University Conservatory of Music in Boca Raton and attributes much of his success to his mother Linda, who holds a doctoral degree in music education. “She was always there sitting at the piano,” Johnson said. “You find that the greatest musicians all had that parent musician spurring them on.”
Today, at 34, Johnson is director of The Parlor Series in Lake Worth, which is devoted to developing and showcasing both world-class and local artistic talent. He has two studios for private lessons, one in Lake Worth and one in Wellington, and he is regarded as one of the most technically superior violinists of his generation. He currently plays on an 1840 J.B. Vuillaume violin and has performed with his catalyst, Itzhak Perlman, as well as Joshua Bell, Pinchas Zukerman and other world-renowned string virtuosos.
Before COVID-19, Johnson traveled the world as a soloist, master teacher and educator. He is an accomplished arranger and gifted composer of classical, contemporary, new age and hip-hop music. While he is waiting for things to return to normal, he has been teaching and playing.
“Not everyone who is a great performer is a great teacher,” noted Johnson, confident, yet humble, as he is empirically both. “I have been thinking, and I don’t think people should let special occasions get away without a celebration — and that celebration needs music… I want to open people’s minds to things that can occur with music, even now.”
Picture this, a mother’s 80th birthday in a nursing home, sealed due to the virus emergency. “We couldn’t go in to visit her, so they arranged for me to set up outside, and they opened the drapes and the windows, and everyone, especially the mom, could hear violin music played outside on the sidewalk,” Johnson said.
When performing, Johnson is fully COVID-19 compliant.
“I set up with my mask in a taped-off area, most have been outside, often on the beach, just me and the instrument, with a custom-designed program, fighting what comes, to keep the music alive,” he said. “My mom says I am the lone violinist fighting for a good cause like the Lone Ranger.”
With all the great concertos in his fingertips, Johnson has a huge repertoire from Bach to pop to hip-hop. Maybe it should be Bach to Zeppelin? “I take recommendations, and I can play almost anything,” said Johnson, who has played for weddings, anniversaries and birthdays. “It is so important not to skip special occasions with loved ones.”
Another recent situation was arranged for Johnson to play some favorite songs to a 10-year-old girl who was ill in a hospital in Washington, D.C. Johnson played an online concert just for her. “She was so happy after I played for her,” he said. “She came out all right. That’s the power of music. I like to think it helped put her in a positive frame of mind.”
Another recent recital was for a Heat basketball coach’s 10th anniversary. “They had seven or eight people on Zoom, and I played for the family, and now we are all friends,” Johnson said. “The kids want to play violin.”
And as a former artist-in-residence, distinguished lecturer and master string instructor, who better to provide those private lessons?
Johnson also works with children who are less fortunate. “I enjoy assisting kids who are talented, practice and work hard,” he said.
Critically acclaimed for his playing, Johnson served as artist-in-residence and distinguished lecturer at Albany State University. He has performed as a soloist and held residencies with numerous orchestras in the United States, including Annapolis, Atlanta, Baltimore, the Boston Pops, Cincinnati, Detroit, Hartford, Memphis, Pittsburgh, Rochester, Seattle and St. Louis, and he has had several performances at Carnegie Hall.
Johnson also performs for major market international corporate events as an electric violinist. In recent years, he has taught and performed in Johannesburg and Durban, South Africa, as well as England, the Netherlands and elsewhere in Europe. Past tours have included mainland China, Taiwan and Hong Kong, as well as El Salvador, Germany and Austria.
To arrange to have Gareth Johnson perform, he can be reached through his web site at www.garethjohnson.org, where you can also check out his videos.