Feast of Thor Martin Johnson (June 10)   Leave a comment


Above:  Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, December 1907

Copyright Claimant = George R. Lawrence Company, Chicago, Illinois

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-USZ62-53414



U.S. Moravian Conductor and Music Director

Thor Martin Johnson entered the world at Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin, where his father was the Moravian minister.  When our saint was four years old the family moved to Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where his father became the pastor of Friedberg Lutheran Church.  Young Thor learned and came to value the musical heritage of the Moravian Church; he lived accordingly.  Our saint’s enthusiasm for music was a characteristic many people noticed throughout his life.  It influenced many of them to love the music also.

The professional education of our saint was impressive.  He studied at the Universities of North Carolina and Michigan before spending years in Europe during the 1930s.  There he traveled, meeting and learning from luminaries of classical music and connecting with the continental roots of the Moravian Church.  These luminaries included the conductor Bruno Walter and the composers Richard Strauss and Bela Bartok.  The 1930s being what they were, Johnson returned to the United States.  He led the North Carolina Symphony Orchestra, taught at the University of Michigan, and conducted the Grand Rapids Symphony Orchestra before enlisting in the U.S. Army in 1942.  The Army assigned him band leader duties, enabling him to continue his travels and meet more luminaries of classical music.

Johnson’s accomplishments continued after World War II.  From 1947 to 1948 he served as the Conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, becoming the first U.S.-born conductor of a major American orchestra.  In 1952 he founded the Peninsula Music Festival at Fish Creek, Wisconsin.  Two years earlier he had conducted the first Moravian Music Festival.  He conducted the first eleven such festivals.  The earliest Moravian Music Festivals led to the founding of the Moravian Music Foundation in 1956.  Johnson taught at Northwestern University from 1958 to 1964 and at Interlochen Arts Academy from 1964 to 1967.  From 1967 to 1975 he served as the Conductor of the Nashville Symphony Orchestra.

Johnson had talent, initiative, and opportunities to make the most of them.  I wonder what he might have become without those opportunities then become more grateful that he had them and seized them.





Eternal God, light of the world and Creator of all that is good and lovely:

We bless your name for inspiring Thor Martin Johnson

and all those who with music have filled us with desire and love for you;

through Jesus Christ our Savior,

who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns,

one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

1 Chronicles 29:14b-19

Psalm 90:14-17

2 Corinthians 3:1-3

John 21:15-17, 24-25

–Adapted from Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), page 728



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