Detroit School of Community Music Appoints New Principal: Detroit Native Kristopher Johnson


When College of Music director of jazz studies Rodney Whitaker was looking for a new director of the Community Music School in Detroitor CMS-D, he and the rest of the hiring committee were looking for someone familiar with the Detroit community.

Christopher Johnson – a Detroit native, Michigan State University alumnus, educator and Grammy-nominated composer, arranger and trumpeter – is the person they were looking for.

“He’s a very smart person; very articulate and really knows the lay of the land, and (is) already so connected within this community,” Whitaker said.

Whitaker said Johnson has the qualities needed for the manager’s job.

“When you run a college outreach program, you have to be prepared to partner with the community,” Whitaker said. “Not coming in as a big university, and ‘we’re going to bring these programs to you,’ but what can we do to help the community with what they’re already trying to accomplish.”

About MSU Community Music School

The MSU Community Music School in East Lansing opened in 1993 as an outreach tool for the College of Music. It offers music education and therapy to everyone, regardless of age and ability.

CMS-D opened its site in 2009. It provides lifelong education from kindergarten to adult learning to students in the Detroit metro area, Johnson said.

“What’s really wonderful about this program is that we serve students from a very large, diverse group, in terms of age groups,” Johnson said. “We really try to provide opportunities for as many people as possible.”

Johnson’s journey and goals as a director

Prior to becoming the director of CMS-D on Nov. 15, Johnson worked for the Motown Museum of Detroit, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra Civic Youth Ensembles, Ohio State University, University of Utah and more.

Growing up in the Detroit metro area, Johnson attended Southfield-Lathrup High School. His group director was an MSU alumnus Damien Crutcher.

“(Crutcher) really instilled in me a lot of excellence as a musician, and also really encouraged me to be part of as many youth programs as possible,” Johnson said.

At Southfield-Lathrup, Johnson was drum major, section leader, and participated in youth bands through MSU, the University of Michigan, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, and the Michigan School Band and Orchestra Association, or MSBOA.

“For me, it was really important to be in the community as much as possible and to really interact with people from different organizations,” Johnson said.

In his new role, Johnson said he is focused on helping young people in Detroit, as well as making sure the community knows about CMS-D’s mission and the work it does.

“The power that the arts have to transform lives and to provide purpose, to be a means of self-expression and to be a means that we can use to improve ourselves – that was my experience with music in growing up,” Johnson said. “Anything I can do to help students find something similar is just something I’m passionate about.”

Additionally, Johnson wants to make sure CMS-D has the financial backing it needs.

“Making sure we’re on top of the latest grants,” Johnson said. “To be able to offer our courses and programs either at a subsidized cost, or in some cases even completely free, depending on the needs of the community.

Whitaker said the College of Music is thrilled to have Johnson join them as the new director of CMS-D.

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“We know it will be a rewarding opportunity to have him on the team,” Whitaker said.


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