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Craig Hella Johnson

Craig Hella Johnson

Grammy-winning conductor, composer​ | Artistic director, Conspirare​ | Class of 1985

Three-and-a-half decades later, Craig Hella Johnson still savors the gifts his most influential Illini bestowed upon him in the mid-'80s.

“A special source of inspiration, choral Professor Chet Alwes, was a most important and influential teacher in my life from my time at the University of Illinois,” says Johnson, music director of the Cincinnati Vocal Arts Ensemble and artistic director of the Austin, Texas-based Conspirare.

“What I remember so vividly was how real and raw he was as a human being and how deeply in love and devoted he was to the choral repertoire. He did not appear to be invested in any of the show-boating aspects that can sometimes be a part of the modeling and teaching of conductors.

“He was entirely given to the music — it was so clear that he was always in it for the music itself.

“It was an incredible gift to experience his deep knowledge of the repertoire and his lifelong curiosity and desire to know and understand more. His dedication and example has had lifelong staying power and influenced me greatly.

“He was a huge container for all of this repertoire and it was such a joy to see this depth of knowledge be transferred lovingly into his monumental two-volume work — ‘A History of Western Choral Music.’ He was there for the music and for the students.

“He taught in that mystical way of the saying — ‘the true teacher leaves no tracks.’ He left for me lasting gifts in my musical life.”