The late Mildred Johnson, an elementary school music teacher from Marquette, and Milton Olsson,the Director of Choral and Orchestral Activities at Michigan Technological University, were the recipients of the 2000 U. P. Choral Leadership Award.
Mildred Johnson received her Bachelor’s Degree in Music Education from Northern Michigan University in 1954. After teaching tenures in the Escanaba Public Schools and the West Hartford, Connecticut school system, she worked for the Department of State–Foreign Services in Washington, D.C. from 1958 to 1965. Milly returned to Marquette and joined the Marquette Public School System in 1966 as an elementary music teacher. From 1966 through 1986 she taught at the Whitman and Fisher Schools, retiring in June of 1986. Ms. Johnson died in November, 1998.
For many years at Ms. Johnson’s initiation all five of Marquette’s elementary choirs participated in a joint concert each spring at Kaufman Auditorium. Milly’s choirs also took part in several community wide choral concerts held at the Marquette Senior High School and selected students of hers were
accepted into Northern Michigan’s productions of “Noah’s Ark”, “Hansel and Gretel”, and “Scrooge”. Her Fisher and Whitman choirs sang for countless school programs during her many years of teaching.
She was a recognized expert in the Kodaly method of teaching music, readily sharing this knowledge with other area teachers. Milly was responsible for bringing an internationally known Kodaly leader, Sister Lorne Zempke, here to conduct workshops at Northern Michigan University.
Ms. Johnson was an active charter member of the Redeemer Lutheran Church in Marquette serving in many capacities of music leadership. Over the years she directed the Children’s Choir, established the Handbell Choir, and was a member and part time accompanist for the Adult Choir. She was also a charter member of our Marquette Choral Society and served both as secretary and ticket chairman. For many years she made the beautiful wreaths which decorated Kaufman Auditorium for our Christmas Concerts.
In 1994 Milly took on the challenge of spending one year as a volunteer missionary for the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. She was placed in Vyborg, Russia with the assignment of teaching English in the public schools. She brought music into her curriculum using folk songs to enhance her work with the children.
One of Milly’s outstanding attributes was her unwavering dedication to bring quality music to her students. She guided them into becoming sensitive listeners to, literate consumers of, and joyful participants in music. She responded to her students accomplishments with enthusiasm and encouragement expressing special delight in the sweet sounding voices of the children, frequently exclaiming, “Did you hear that beautiful sound?”
Dr. Milton Olsson received his Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees from Wayne State University and his Doctor of Musical Arts Degree in Choral Performance from the University of Colorado–Boulder. In 1976 he joined the faculty at Michigan Technological University as Director of Choral and Orchestral Activities. His current position is the Chair of the Fine Arts Department at that institution.
He is founder and conductor of the Michigan Tech Chamber Chorus which is made up of Tech students, faculty, community members, and high school students from the Houghton area. Under Dr. Olsson’s direction, the Chamber Chorus, which began with sixteen members in 1980, has grown into the present Concert Choir of ninety voices. The choir has appeared at professional conferences and has concertized internationally with professional orchestras in the Baltics, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, and Mexico.
Dr. Olsson served as music director of the Keweenaw Symphony Orchestra from 1976 to 1984 and is a past president of the Michigan Chapter of the American Choral Directors Association. He is in constant demand as a clinician and adjudicator for choral, solo, and ensembles festivals throughout the state.
In addition to the full schedule of conducting and work that the Fine Arts Department requires, Dr. Olsson has composed and arranged choral and orchestral music for the Chamber Choir, the Michigan Tech Jazz Singers, the Festival Chorus, and the Concert Choir.
As an example of his enthusiastic support and encouragement to choral groups, in 1999 he invited the newly formed Marquette County Teachers Chorale to sing as the guest choir at Michigan Tech’s spring concert.
Dr. Olsson has been a paramount booster for quality choral performance. Both in his role as Chair of the Fine Arts Department at Michigan Tech and in his private life, he has made a difference in the availability of and public awareness towards choral music in the Upper Peninsula.