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Farewell to ‘warrior for the arts'
They shared the gift of music Joaquina Calvo Johnson had given them.
St. Isidore Catholic Church filled to capacity Wednesday morning with singing as nearly 500 mourners gathered for the Mass of Christian Burial and official farewell to the long-time vocal teacher and mentor.
"Joaquina loves a good overture," noted Rev. Loreto "Bong" Rojas, who said he had been given clear and detailed instructions from Johnson herself about her funerary preferences.
Johnson died Aug. 11. She was 74.
"I really want the best celebration of the Mass," Rojas recalled her telling him.
The celebration on Wednesday included a powerful rendition of Mozart's Requiem "Lacrimosa" ("Requiem of Tears") by 85 current and former members of Johnson's Yuba Sutter Master Chorale.
The chorale had been one of Johnson's numerous vocal groups, cultivated during her 35 years of teaching and musical direction in Yuba-Sutter.
Known for her commanding presence, urbane speech and ambitious musical expectations, Johnson held near cult-figure status among performing arts students and fans.
"She had a look that could make you shake with fear and laugh until you cried," wrote one former student on the Appeal-Democrat website after her passing.
"Such a tiny lady with such a strong presence," wrote another, who called Johnson a "warrior for the arts."
Several soloists who performed at the funeral service had been regular performers with the Borgamaria Lyric Opera Company, which Johnson founded in Marysville shortly after she retired from the Yuba College music faculty a decade ago.
Born in the Los Angeles enclave of Westwood in 1938, Johnson — then Calvo — moved with her parents and two brothers to Sacramento in 1943.
She studied violin and piano as a child and took private voice lessons while studying music at California State University, Sacramento, and later earned a master of music degree in vocal performance from the Indiana University of School of Music.
Widowed nine years after her marriage to Thomas Jensen in 1961, she went on to continue her music studies, including stints in London and Austria. She performed as a vocalist throughout Europe and with several US symphonies and opera companies.
She began her local teaching career at Yuba College in 1977, and married fellow music professor Howard Johnson in 1978.
Among her teaching accolades is a 1995 National Award for Excellence in teaching and contributions to music education.
She was a charter member of the Yuba Sutter Regional Arts Council and a member of the St. Isidore congregation.
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