Craig Hella Johnson

Craig Hella Johnson

Craig Hella Johnson, a critically acclaimed composer, arranger, educator and conductor, will receive Wartburg College’s annual Graven Award on Tuesday, Jan. 23.

He will accept the award at 11:30 a.m. in the Wartburg Chapel. The public is invited. Johnson also was selected as the 2024 Meistersinger Honor Choir guest artist and will work with Wartburg music students as an artist-in-residence following the festival.

Johnson is the founder of Conspirare, a Grammy Award-winning choir from Central Texas committed to new music and diverse programming. Its first recording, “Through the Green Fuse,” featured a Gaelic hymn, African American spirituals and works by Stephen Foster and Eric Whitacre, among others. By commissioning new works by living composers, Johnson hopes to ensure that all voices are heard in the great choral masterpieces of the future.

“Craig Hella Johnson is a visionary in the realm of music and has demonstrated a transformative influence on a new generation of musicians. His commitment to creating spaces for reflection and unity around impactful compositions and performances is commendable,” said Lee Nelson, Wartburg’s Patricia R. Zahn Endowed Chair in Choral Conducting. “He has ignited the imaginations of students, performers and audiences to seek ways in which they can use their talents and resources to better themselves and the world around them. We recognize not only his exceptional talent as a composer, educator and conductor but also his unwavering commitment to the power of unifying diverse ideas, thoughts and voices through music.”

In 2016, Conspirare premiered “Considering Matthew Shepard,” Johnson’s concert-length composition. Since then, it has been performed by more than 40 choirs across the world. The Wartburg Choir will perform part of this work on its 2024 tour.

Johnson has said this about the composition: “Matthew Shepard and his story have led me on an inspiring, challenging and deeply meaningful journey that I continue to this day. In composing ‘Considering Matthew Shepard’ I wanted to create, within a musical framework, a space for reflection, consideration and unity around his legacy.”

Johnson has previously served as the music director of the Cincinnati Vocal Arts Ensemble, artist in residence at Texas State University and director of choral activities at the University of Texas at Austin.

“The Graven award highlights the many ways we are called to serve. ‘Considering Matthew Shepard,’ in particular, captures this spirit of compassionate care for the other by utilizing the beauty of music and storytelling to inspire listeners into action,” said the Rev. Maggie Falenschek, Wartburg’s Herbert and Cora Moehlmann Chaplaincy Endowed Chair.

The Graven Award, now in its 34th year, honors a lay person “whose life is nurtured and guided by a strong sense of Christian calling and who is making a significant contribution to community, church and society.” It is named for the late Judge Henry N. and Helen T. Graven of Greene, whose lives reflected those same commitments.