Dave Johnson

Violist brings wealth of experience to music department

Dave Johnson never knew his dress shoes could double as ice skates. As dark clouds blew in from the sea, he felt like Scott Hamilton—if Hamilton carried a viola case and was trying to skate to the bus stop.

“I was sliding like a sail. The winds were, supposedly, close to 100 miles-per-hour,” Johnson said.

Johnson made it to the bus stop, as the wind whistled down the Icelandic coast. The impending storm had cut short the dinner party at which he was playing. He waited for the last bus, not realizing the line had already stopped running for the night.

The one-year stop in Iceland was the first in a professional career that led Johnson to The College of Idaho, where he now forms one-third of the C of I’s Langroise Trio. After earning his master’s degree from Indiana University, Johnson was appointed principal viola of the Iceland Symphony. He went on to serve as principal violist at the Fort Wayne Philharmonic in Indiana and as assistant principal violist of the Grant Park Symphony in Chicago before moving west to Caldwell in 1992.

Johnson was first introduced to music at five years old, when he started studying piano. He switched to the viola in fourth grade because of its deep, resonating tones.

While baseball and math also traded punches for Johnson’s attention, music won the fight. During his junior year of high school, Johnson auditioned and won a seat in the Fort Wayne Philharmonic. He remembers playing his first show, under the watchful gaze of his conductor—a skinny, Italian man with dark eyes.

“When he looked in your general direction, you thought he was staring at you,” Johnson said. “So, I was really scared. The rest of the season went pretty well, but that first concert, I was deer-in-the-headlights a little bit.”

After college, his Icelandic adventure, and a few other pit stops, Johnson found himself back with the Fort Wayne Philharmonic. When he first heard about the chance to become part of the Langroise Trio in 1991, Johnson passed on an audition—all his family lived in the Midwest, and Idaho seemed far away. But his fellow Fort Wayne musician, Samuel Smith, auditioned and won. Johnson helped Smith load his moving truck, not knowing he would eventually follow suit.

“Being able to not only play orchestra, but also also teach classes and give lessons in a college environment,” Johnson said of his decision to audition. “But the Trio part of the job was the most intriguing. That calls you to a higher level of responsibility and musicianship.”

For 20 years, Johnson has used his musical expertise to crescendo the musical talent on the C of I campus and in the Treasure Valley. The Langroise Trio—which still includes Smith on cello as well as Geoffrey Trabichoff on violin—regularly plays concerts on campus and in Boise, and Johnson also serves as the principal violist for the Boise Philharmonic Orchestra. Under his tutelage, C of I students such as Aurora Torres ’12 also have found professional success. Upon Johnson’s urging, Torres auditioned for a spot in the Boise Philharmonic. She now plays alongside Johnson in the orchestra.

Every day, current students get to tap into the vast musical experience and knowledge that Johnson and his fellow Trio members bring to The College of Idaho—and maybe even learn a phrase in Icelandic along the way.

“I learned ‘Ég tala ekki íslensku,’” Johnson said. “Meaning ‘I don’t speak Icelandic.’”