Neil Johnson receives ACE award for fantastic fundraising

Nominated by: Arne Everson, ACDA-MN member, Cambridge

Presented and Written by: Richard Robbins, ACDA-MN Northeast District Chair 

Photo l-r: Richard Robbins, District Chair; Neil Johnson, recipient; Arne Everson, nominator

It is my great pleasure to acknowledge Neil Johnson of Cambridge, this year’s ACE award recipient for the Northeast District, nominated by ACDA member Arne Everson. In his nomination, Arne emphasized Neil’s fundraising acumen on behalf of the East Central Minnesota Chorale, and Neil’s joyous life in singing, saying of Neil, “An enthusiastic advocate of choral music as performer, listener, civic leader and patron, Neil Johnson is an ideal ACE award candidate.”

And after hearing more about Neil, I think you’ll agree. I asked Neil to share some reflections about his love of choral music. His interest in choral singing was most influenced by Dr. Maurice LeGault, Cambridge High School choir director in the early to mid-1960s, who started the men’s glee club and made it okay, even “cool,” for male athletes like Neil to sing.

Neil sang leads in musicals — including Curly in Oklahoma and Harold Hill in The Music Man — and performed with the 1965 All-State Choir, and continued singing while at Carleton College; the University of Minnesota, and with his church choir as he embarked on his career in his family’s retail business, the Leader department store.

In 1981 (40 years ago), Neil and his neighbor (and Cambridge High School Choir Director) David Clarke launched the East Central Minnesota Chorale with a combined Christmas performance with his church choir of sections of Messiah. He has cherished his many performances with the group.

Neil also has a gift for fundraising, which we choir directors know is vital to our mission — and on that subject Neil says, “Like many arts organizations, ECMC has experienced its share of funding challenges. However, I saw that my connections with fellow local business owners as a path to raise money through donations, program advertising, and annual patron drive. Not everyone (in fact, hardly anyone) enjoys soliciting money, even for a favorite cause. I am the rare bird who does.”

David Clarke, former director of the East Central Minnesota Chorale, sent his hearty congratulations and shared the following with me. “Neil has been essential to the ongoing success of the chorale. His business sense, passion for community singing, and musicianship have been and will continue to be wonderful gifts to the civic life of east central Minnesota.”

Finally, these words from Neil summarize his spirit and his feelings about choral music.

“Choral singing is “good for the soul,” both as a listener and performer. It is a privilege to rehearse and perform well-written compositions, some hundreds of years old, some recent. The love of music is my passion and has provided me with a satisfying life-long pursuit.”

Neil Johnson, thank you for your lifelong support of choral music in the northeast district!