Norman Johnson’s genius has shaped some of today’s best church music.
When a church musician of such stature that he is considered by his peers to be an outstanding role model for the church is stricken with “Lou Gehrig disease” (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS), his loss is felt by the entire church music community. In 1975, Norman Johnson was diagnosed as having this terminal disease, which has no known cause or cure.
Johnson has significantly influenced evangelical church music for over a quarter of a century. During this time, his work has had an impact, although perhaps unrecognized, on nearly every evangelical singer. Characteristically, he disclaims personal glory. “I tried to do what the Lord wanted me to do,” he says.
Since 1963 until his recent retirement, he was senior music editor of Singspiration Music. According to composer Don Wyrtzen, a long-time colleague, Norm probably was the “best music editor evangelical publishing has had.” Publisher Fred Bock credits him with almost singlehandedly establishing a standard of editing excellence for evangelical music publishing.
His editing abilities are legendary. He can look at a composition and analyze it simultaneously on several levels. Says Wyrtzen, “It was said of Norm that he could spot a missing comma from three miles away.”
A prolific choral arranger, Johnson also is an acknowledged authority on hymnody. He helped edit six major hymnals: Crowning Glory Hymnal (1964); Great Hymns of the Faith (1968); The Folk Hymnal (1970); Living Praise (1974); and Praise! (1979). He also helped edit The Covenant Hymnal (1973), widely regarded for its balance and accuracy, and possibly the most error-free hymnal ever published.
As a church musician, Norm combined pastoral love ...1
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