Richard Johnston was a founding member (1956) of the CFMS (CSMT) and (1959) of the CMEA and president 1958-9 of the OMEA. He studied music education in eastern Europe extensively, meeting and working with Zoltan Kodály in Hungary 1965. As director 1962-8 of the RCMT Summer School, Johnston supported courses in the Orff and Kodály teaching methods and established the CAPAC-MacMillan lectures. Dean of Fine Arts 1968-73 and professor of music 1973-82 at the University of Calgary, he also was a founding member, and president 1971-3, of the Alberta Music Conference. He instituted the composer archives at the University of Calgary and fostered its steady growth. He was editor-in-chief of Songs for Today (Waterloo, nine vols, 1954-70) for schools, of the WBM piano series Horizons (Waterloo 1973), of Folk Songs North America Sings (Caveat 1984), and for the Kodály Society of Canada's three volumes titled Kodály and Education (Avondale 1986). A vice-president 1971-4 of the Canadian Music Council, he was appointed to the council's publications committee in 1977. That same year he became the first president of the Alberta Composers' Association.
Johnston's exuberant Symphony No. 1 (1950) has been performed in Canada, the USA, and England; Portraits: Variations for Orchestra (1972) was commissioned and performed (1973) by the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra. Other commissions include Trio for One Third Ninth, Sextette for the University of North Carolina and the International Double Reed Society, The Irish Book (perhaps his best-known work) for the CBC and Lois Marshall, Missa brevis for Alan Reesor, and Folk Love Canadian Style and Answer Back for the CBC. His style is marked by elements of romanticism tempered by a certain astringency resulting from a disciplined use of 20th-century compositional devices. CMC's website (2001) quotes Johnston on his style: 'As a composer I am an incurable romantic ... I insist that technique must always remain the servant of the idea. And for me there is little importance in music that is not related to line and to the exploration of line ... The other principal element in my music is form - and while there are elements of classical forms in most of what I write, I rarely substitute formula for organic form. Form for me is a matter of controlled growth of ideas.'
Richard Johnston was an associate of the Canadian Music Centre. He was instrumental in the establishing the CMC prairie region branch in Calgary in 1980. A concert of his compositions was presented 16 Oct 1987 at the University of Calgary, in honour of his 70th birthday; the university had already named him professor emeritus in 1985. A 75th birthday concert took place May 1992. He was appointed a Member of the Order of Canada in February 1997. After his retirement, he continued to be active with the CFMS and other committees as well as the CMC, and to compose. He gave his last speech at the 1997 Kodály Summer Program in Calgary. Many of his papers, manuscripts, and transcripts are held by the University of Calgary, in its Richard Johnston Canadian Music Archives Collection, which is named in honour of his role in developing that collection. Original fieldwork tapes and transcripts are held by the Canadian Museum of Civilization.
Richard Johnston was married to the pianist and teacher Yvonne Guiguet, who predeceased him in 1988.
Suite for Bassoon and Piano. 1946 (orch 1946). Mel SMLP-4032 (Weait)
Symphony No. 1. 1950. Orch. Ms
3 Suites for Piano. (No. 1, 2 1965, No. 3 1988). (No. 1) BMIC 1965, (No. 2) Ber 1969. (No. 2) CCM 1 (Cavalho)
The Irish Book (S. O'Sullivan, A. O'Shaughnessy). 1971. High voice, piano. Wat 1971
Portraits: Variations for Orchestra. 1972. Orch. Ms
Answer Back (arr of folk songs). 1973. Bar, soprano, piano. Ms
Folk Love Canadian Style (arr of folk songs). 1973. Med voice, piano. Ms
Trio for Violin, Cello and Piano. 1978. Ms
5 Duo Concerti (1979-89). (No. 1) Vn, (2) bsn, (3) fl (piccolo), (4) trumpet, (5) saxophone; all with piano. Ms
Poème for Orchestra. 1981. Orch. Ms
Missa Brevis. 1984. Org. Ms
Sextette. 1988. Ww quintet, piano. Ms
Many other works, some listed in Contemporary Canadian Composers
'Opera and the Canadian Indian,' Opera in Canada, 15 Feb 1962
'Canadian String Quartet,' Music Across Canada, Feb 1963
'Summer schools in transition,' CanComp, 2, Aug 1965
'Zoltan Kodály: a true citizen of the world,' PfAC, vol 5, Spring 1967
'Music education today in Ontario,' Music Education and the Canadians of Tomorrow, CMCouncil report (Montreal 1968)
'Tribute to Sir Ernest MacMillan,' CMB, 7, Autumn-Winter 1973
'Towards a definition of folk music in a polyglot society,' and 'Tribute to Helen Creighton,' CMB, 9, Autumn-Winter 1974
'CBC broadcast to the Applebaum Committee' and 'President's message,' Composers West, vol 4 no 1, March 1981
'The CMC - the first 25 years,' Prairie Sounds, vol 3 no 1, Winter 1984
Kodály and education III: Zoltan Kodály in North America. (Johnston, ed.) Willowdale, Ont, 1986
'Kodály in Canada - A review,' Kodály Society of Canada, vol 12 no 2/vol 13 no 1, 1987
'In the beginning,' Alla Breve, vol 18 no 1, Oct 1993
Author Keith Bissell, Betty Nygaard King
'Folk songs of Canada,' CBC Times, 30 May-5 Jun 1954
'The spotlight,' Recorder, vol 1, Mar 1959
Du Wors, Luella. 'Inner self exposed through composing: Richard Johnston,' MSc, 271, May-Jun 1973
PRO Canada Ltd. 'Richard Johnston,' pamphlet, 1979
'Kodály pioneer receives Order of Canada,' Alla Breve, vol 21 no 2, June 1997
'And that's how it began ... : Richard Johnston,' Canadian Folk Music Bulletin, vol 31 no 3/4, Sept-Dec 1997
Links to Other Sites
Edith Fowke 2000 Folk Alliance International Lifetime Achievement Award Recipient
Watch a video devoted to Edith Fowke and her passion for collecting and preserving Canada's folk music heritage. From YouTube.
(Albert) Richard Johnston, C.M., Ph.D.
A brief profile of Richard Johnston, music teacher, administrator, composer, editor and critic. From the Office of the Secretary to the Governor General.
The Richard Johnston Canadian Music Archives Collection
The website Richard Johnston Canadian Music Archives Collection, which documents and preserves archival fonds of composers and musicians of national and international stature. From the University of Calgary.