A final farewell to CEO James Johnson


April 19th, 2018


Johnson: “I grew up in a place where there weren’t orchestras around every street corner and it wasn’t accessible. When I first heard an orchestra as a teenager, my world changed. The sound, in fact, just the tuning note of the orchestra was unlike anything I had ever heard. And then of course, the music these musicians made, un-amplified, acoustic music, nothing in between the listener and the instrumentalist and a conductor to shape the sound, that changed my world.”

CEO James Johnson ends his last week with the Omaha Symphony before heading off to continue his musical journey as CEO with the Indianapolis Symphony. A music man who knew where it could take him from a young age.

Johnson: “As a kid I played in youth orchestras but also continued my passion for other kinds of music, so as a bass player I played in rock bands and jazz groups and never saw there were any barriers between the different genres. As Duke Ellington said, there are two kinds of music, good music and bad and I’ve always pursued the good music in my life, but really being most inspired by the sound of an orchestra.”

Johnson grew up the Pacific Northwest in the Seattle/Tacoma region in a rural community and didn’t get exposed to orchestras and professional musicians.

Johnson: “We didn’t have access to professional musicians and really when you hear a professional musician it’s different because they brought a lifetime of music that you cannot get listening or playing in your school band. It’s one of the reasons I have such great respect for professional musicians and because they have had to make several sacrifices to perfect there craft and the fact that they are sharing that with us, makes me feel special as a listener and I hope other listeners will feel the same. “

With growth in ticket sales, annual contributions, new film series and educational programs and outreach, Johnson really got to know the city of Omaha and reflected it in his work.

Johnson: “We go out into the community with our education programs and throughout Nebraska in our educational residency’s to reach people in really meaningful ways. And that is a reflection of what Omaha is and what Nebraska is and the values that we hold dear in the city”. Omaha is also fortunate to have people who care about other people. This is not a city of anonymous citizens jostling on the subway or crossing on sidewalks. These are people who care about their neighbors; they care about people in town and people that they don’t know. They really do have deep concern for the welfare of the citizens of the city. We try to reflect that in the Omaha Symphony in the fact that we present programs of all kinds for everyone to appreciate and enjoy.”

His colleagues also helped shape his role.

Johnson: “Thomas is somebody who wears his passion on his sleeve. You can tell immediately the music he loves and when he is engaged. He shared with me the importance of expressing yourself and the feelings you have for your colleagues in this orchestra. So, my relationship with the musicians is one of always trying to empower them as artists and human beings to be their best.”

You don’t have to force the passion or the music out of him, it’s what he’s all about.

CUT 9: “Besides spending time with my family, the things that I really love, number one I love attending concerts. I have to say when I am hearing the Omaha Symphony play I am never prouder than hearing what they can accomplish on the stage. And that is genuine, I attend most of the concerts and so there are a countless number of concerts I have attended here in Omaha and it’s been a thrill to see the growth in the orchestra and to witness the artistry on display for our audiences.”

Chief Executive Officer James Johnson. He’s been a tremendous asset to the symphony and our entire community. We wish him continued success.

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