James Hart School band director Matt Johnson has been named a 2023 Outstanding Music Educator Award recipient recognizing his contributions to music education.
“It’s a huge honor,” Johnson said. He was nominated by a fellow music teacher and selected to receive the award by past winners. He will be honored at a June ceremony hosted by Quilan & Fabish Music Co. The award has been given to more than 200 music educators since its founding by the company in 1989.
Johnson joined the District 153 staff in June 2016. He directs the Hart symphonic band, the marching band and is the director of the jazz program working with seventh and eighth graders.
Johnson received a bachelor’s degree in music education from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He moved to central Ohio while he and his wife were students at The Ohio State University. He received a master’s degree in music education from OSU. While attending school part time, he had a number of teaching positions, the last being with a unit district that allowed him to work with students at the elementary, middle and high school levels.
He was happy to have the experience “but I realized how much I enjoyed working with junior high students,” Johnson said. “It’s just that first level of teaching them what it’s like to be part of a music ensemble and fostering that first love of music in them.”
Johnson sees musical training as giving students a chance to work as a team, take ownership of a creative performance, have accountability and responsibility “but it’s also trying to be creative and express yourself.”
“Especially a musical ensemble. It’s like no other activity. It’s teamwork like you get in a sport, but it’s creativity like you get in the arts. You have all different kinds of kids who come together,” from sports, the arts, academically focused and eager, he explained. “You really bring together a wide variety of students.”
There are 165 students fifth through eighth grades in band and orchestra in District 153.
As a past member of the U of I Marching Band, Johnson joined other alumni on the field during football season this fall and was excited to find three James Hart graduates who were members of the band.
He is delighted when his students’ performances are recognized. This year the symphonic band got its third superior rating at state competition. They performed May 13 at Six Flags Great America in Gurnee.
And, Johnson recognizes the work of Parents Music Association members who volunteer to raise funds for the program and for individual students. This year 12 District 153 students will be attending summer music camps thanks to PMA scholarships.
Outside of work, Johnson is an avid runner. He ran the Boston Marathon this year for the second time.