Michael Ray Johnston, 64, of Charlotte, North Carolina, died February 22. Born July 3, 1956, in Charlotte, he graduated from North Mecklenburg High School in 1974. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Mars Hill College, Mars Hill, North Carolina, in 1978 and a Master of Music degree in church music from Westminster Choir College, Princeton, New Jersey, in 1980. After piano study with Flora Neely and vocal study as a teenager with Harvey L. Woodruff, he studied voice with Julie Fortney and William Thomas at Mars Hill and Marvin Keenze at Westminster. His organ study was with Donna Robertson at Mars Hill and William Hays at Westminster, and conducting studies were with Joel Stegall at Mars Hill and Joseph Flummerfelt at Westminster.
Johnston exhibited interest in music from an early age and sang solos and in the local children’s choir of Mallard Creek Presbyterian Church. He was selected by Michael Pittard, his high school choral director, to attend the Governor’s School of North Carolina over two summer sessions. During this time, he became the youngest member and section leader of the Sanctuary Choir of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Charlotte under Richard M. Peek. It was here that he began to develop his tenor and countertenor voice (singing the Evangelist part in J. S. Bach’s St. John Passion), as well as being inspired to compose and to be trained as a church musician. While in Princeton, he was a member of the barbershop quartet The Nassau Blend and was director of the barbershop chorus. On his return to Charlotte after graduate school, he served primarily as a section leader in four Charlotte churches (including Covenant Presbyterian) and worked at the Rasberry Insurance Agency. For a week each summer between 1971 and 1988, Johnston attended and later was a faculty member of the Wildacres Music Camp, Little Switzerland, North Carolina, which his voice teacher Harvey Woodruff founded and directed.
Johnston composed choral, vocal, instrumental, and organ music, including a cantata, The Mountain of the Lord, for the chapel dedication at Wildacres Retreat, and a triptych, Manifestations of the Spirit, for the Ben Long fresco dedication at St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Charlotte. He organized Ye Queen’s Carrollers, a vocal quartet dressed in Victorian costume, for regional Yuletide events. In 2001, Johnston founded Michael’s Music Service (michaelsmusicservice.com) with organist and friend John Apple, primarily to restore and publish organ music, continuing as business and website developer/manager until his death.
Michael Ray Johnston is survived by his mother, Katie McAllister Sigmon; his brother, Timothy Gray Johnston and wife, Ronda; a niece and a nephew. His funeral service (including music of Bach and Johnston’s compositions) was held on March 2 at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Charlotte. Contributions in his memory may be made to Bach Akademie Charlotte, 3527 Providence Road, Charlotte, North Carolina 28211, bacharlotte.com.
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