“I have a passion for music and for directing. When I get on that podium and I start directing, even when I’m feeling sick, I start to feel better,” Johnny Folsom said about his time directing in front of a band.
For the past seven years, music majors and other students at ABAC who wanted a little music in their lives were directed by Folsom through intricate, somewhat difficult and all around concert pieces. This semester, after spending most of his life in front of a band, he announced his retirement to his home state of Alabama.
Music has been a part of Folsom’s life since he was born in the small town of Flomaton, Alabama, right on the Florida line. His father was a principal at his high school while his mother was his English teacher.
After graduating from high school, he went to college with no idea what he wanted to do. He attended the two-year program of Jefferson Davis Junior College, now Coastal Alabama Community College, in Brewton, Alabama.
He focused on the core but after his first quarter, which is equivalent to one semester, he declared to be a music major. He transferred to Troy University in Troy, Alabama. He later graduated with his Master’s degree. He returned to Troy in 1996 and 1997 to gain his Ed.S. degree or his Education Specialist degree.
The first school Folsom found himself directing at was Geneva High School in Geneva, Alabama. He started his family there with his loving and supportive wife, Betty Ann Folsom, and had his two daughters, Kelly and Amy. After eight years at Geneva High School, he got a call from his home county.
“The school that I always looked up to was T.R. Miller High School. I always looked up to them as a great band program when I was a student in high school,” Folsom said, “I was honored that they asked me back to direct.”
After 17 years at T.R. Miller, he knew it was time to move to Georgia. His old college alma mater, Troy University, came to T.R. Miller during their Spring Tour. They performed in a brand new auditorium and band room that was built for Folsom and was offered to retire after 25 years. Instead, he got a call from the principle of Cairo High School in Cairo, Georgia.
Folsom spent 13 years there and in 2012, Woody Leonard stepped down as ABAC’s band director and Folsom was hired.
“I felt like it was time to do things a little differently,” Folsom said, “I loved everything that I did; I loved high school and what I did with it but it was time to go to a different level. I have really enjoyed the college level and the maturity of the students and their enthusiasm about putting on a good program has been really great.”
Folsom said there was a difference between directing for high school and college concert band. There were students playing instruments, but being in front of a college level band, he knew it was more serious; they were paying to be there and wanted to be there for their own music majors.
Not only did Folsom direct high school and college concert band but he spent 38 years directing for marching band as well. He joked about being both blessed and cursed. Every high school he found himself at had a great football team, who found themselves in the playoffs until the fourth or fifth round. There were always football games for him to direct at as well as marching contests. But after 38 years, he wanted to let that go and concentrate on the concert part of it.
When Folsom first started at ABAC, he noticed the band program was fairly small, depending mostly on community players from Tifton and surrounding towns. Within his seven years, he managed to build the program to what it is today, by going on a Spring Tour every spring semester, to various high schools around South Georgia and letting other students know what amazing things the ABAC band program was doing.
Folsom’s passion for directing and music has shown his entire life and has helped the ABAC band program. It is on record that out of all the years he has directed, he has only missed two days for medical emergencies. During the time that he wasn’t missing a day of directing, he was traveling to high schools on his own to find seniors interested in becoming music majors and recruiting them to ABAC’s band.
Folsom’s last concert with the ABAC band was this past Thursday, Apr. 12 at the Tift Theatre. The title of the concert came about when Folsom received a music score from known music composer Quincy Hilliard.
Hilliard helped direct the ABAC band four years ago as a guest. Afterward, he met Betty Ann, who introduced him to the novel “While the World Watched” by Carolyn Maull McKinstry, one of the only survivors of the Birmingham Bombing in 1963.
After reading the book, Hilliard wrote a musical piece two years later titled “As the World
Watched.” It was the second piece of Folsom’s last concert and the most powerful. The 12-minute piece started with shock but continued on to both anger and depression as it portrayed the horror of the Birmingham Bombing and other shootings that happened in the past few years.
Folsom was skeptical about whether or not he wanted to play it, “Quincy called me and said he was sending the score for the music, one for me and one for Betty Ann that was signed. With the music in hand, I can take my last concert from darkness to light and that’s what I called the concert.”
After “As the World Watched” followed “Our Yesterdays Lengthen Like Shadows,” composed by Samuel R. Hazo. What made this piece so unique was the one note that was played through the entirety of the song. This was Hazo’s intent to prove that you won’t notice that it’s there but if you took it out, you would notice that it was missing. It was the piece to begin bringing the concert from the darkness to the light. Afterward, “For Our Heroes” was played, composed by Alan Lee Silva, Folsom dedicated the song to first responders.
The next two songs were the songs that represented light out of the darkness. “Hope Springs Eternal,” by Andrew Poor used the hymn “It Is Well With My Soul” and was used to encourage everyone to look up and look out.
“Infinite Hope” by Brian Balmages was inspired by the Martin Luther King, Jr. quote: “We must live with finite disappointment but we must never lose infinite hope.” Folsom ended the concert the same way he ended most of his concerts, with a patriotic piece. “God Bless the USA” was the perfect ending to his last concert.
“It’s a great way to bring us from that darkness and into the light, to inspire us to be better people,” Folsom said.
Retirement had been on Folsom’s mind for the past year. He looks forward to being close to his family since they are all a part of this music career. He calls Betty Ann the best wife for a band director, ever.
His two daughters were in the band their entire school career and both made sure their own children were in a band as well. Folsom’s oldest granddaughter, Aubrey Morrow, now plays the oboe and even came to the ABAC band rehearsal to play along.
With their grandchildren getting more involved, Folsom and his wife knew it was hard for him to get off to see them. He didn’t want to stop and made sure that he would be involved with the Mississippi State band as a supervisor for student teachers and even tutoring when needed.
Folsom will be highly missed by his fellow faculty members, the ABAC band and ABAC music department. He will miss his time here and directing the band, “They are great. I have enjoyed these seven years and they have been great to work with. ABAC, itself, is a great school. It’s a great secret. Most people don’t realize what a top tier school it is.”
ABAC wishes Folsom a fulfilling life and wants him to know he is always welcomed back.