Todd Johnson, Cal State San Bernardino professor of music, has established the Todd Johnson Percussion Endowment Fund after giving the university’s music department a six-figure gift to support the operating needs of the Percussion Ensemble and applied percussion courses.
“I would like to secure the future success of percussion students by ensuring that there is ample funding for maintaining the percussion instrument inventory, and possibly also provide some scholarships for those students,” Johnson said, who has been part of CSUSB’s music department since 2006 and served as chair for 10 years until 2016.
Johnson acknowledges that maintenance, repair and replacement of percussion equipment is expensive, noting that when he first arrived at CSUSB, most of the percussion equipment dated from the construction of the performing arts building in 1977. Funding for upkeep of those instruments, let alone replacement, was very limited.
“Having up-to-date instruments in good repair is vital to the success of percussion students,” he said.
Although the funding situation has improved since he first arrived on campus, Johnson said there are still a lot of ups and downs from year to year, especially with events like the 2008-09 recession and the current COVID-19 pandemic.
“Despite what limitations we have, our percussion students work very hard to be successful, and I find that dedication inspiring in the face of whatever challenges the students, or the university, occasionally face,” he said, adding that he has had the privilege of working with “a lot of really fine percussion students in the past 15 years.”
Many of his students have gone on to very successful careers as teachers, performers, and in various areas of the music business and industry. In fact, two of his former students play with him in a trio called Spark Percussion, a professional percussion ensemble in residence at Cal State San Bernardino and for which he serves as artistic director.
“I see the clear difference that CSUSB has made in the lives of those students, and I want to do what I can to ensure that future students have the same opportunities long after I’ve left the university,” said Johnson, who measures his personal success by the success of his students.
“What they contribute professionally and to their communities after graduating is, I think, probably the most important thing to most professors,” he said. “I feel lucky to have had a chance to teach at CSUSB, and I’d like to pay some of that back by leaving a legacy for future CSUSB students. I’m sure many other CSUSB professors feel the same way, and I would hope that they too would consider making a contribution to future students’ success.”
Before joining CSUSB in 2006, Johnson taught percussion and music history at McMurry University in Texas, as well as James Madison University, Washington and Lee University, and Eastern Mennonite University in Virginia.
As a soloist, his premieres include David Maslanka’s Concerto for Marimba and Percussion Ensemble and Michael Colgrass's Déjà Vu for Percussion Quartet and Wind Ensemble, and he has recorded for Albany Records and for broadcasts on radio stations WQRS and WBLV.
Johnson’s orchestral background includes positions with the Oklahoma City Philharmonic Orchestra, the Chicago Civic Orchestra, and numerous regional orchestras in Michigan, Texas, Oklahoma and Virginia. He has also performed with the internationally recognized Millar Brass Ensemble of Chicago, the Robert Hohner Percussion Ensemble, and with California’s Inland Percussion Group.
Most recently, Johnson formed Spark Percussion, which draws members from CSUSB’s faculty, alumni and current students. The group vigorously explores a repertoire of ever-growing complexity and ever-varying genres.
True to its name, Spark Percussion actively pursues the creation of new music by encouraging compositions from promising new composers, including its own members. The ensemble also seeks to generate interest in percussion music and support percussion education through interaction with students of all ages and with the larger community. Spark Percussion has performed at a variety of regional venues including the California Percussive Arts Society’s Southern California Day of Percussion, the San Bernardino City Arts Night, the Redlands Bowl, and both CSUSB’s San Bernardino and Palm Desert campuses.
To learn more about CSUSB’s Percussion Ensemble, visit the Percussion Ensemble website.