A Passing and A Passing On
Johansen Drum Corp. finds new life at Plantersville Elementary
By Rob Sperduto
For the Edwards College of Humanities and Fine Arts, the summer lost sunlight after the sudden passing of Roger Johansen, senior lecturer in the Department of English, in July 2019. When classes began in August, the rhythm of his booming voice was noticeably absent, the echo along the hallways of the Edwards building reduced to the rudiments of footsteps on tile.
After a memorial service at CCU’s Lackey Chapel, colleagues, family, and friends reflected on their loss. Joshua Cross, lecturer in the Department of English and Johansen’s officemate, spoke of Johansen as a natural conversationalist.
“I would hear him stop at every office and talk to whoever was around,” Cross said. “There were days where I would finish my last office hour, gather my stuff, and Roger wouldn’t have even made it out of the building. And that’s because he genuinely loved to chat with people.”
Colin Burch, senior lecturer in the Department of English, confirmed Cross’ sentiments.
“Roger was always so warm, so jovial with his students,” Burch said. “He treated his students like pals and loved when they would visit him. He was always ready to have a conversation.”
- Colin Burch, Senior Lecturer, Department of English
However, by the following spring, Johansen’s influence would extend beyond the CCU campus through one of his lifetime passions. Memorializing Johansen, the department kicked off the first faculty meeting of 2019 with a drum circle in solemn recognition of another creative element of his identity. Johansen owned a collection of 25 African drums, from the djembe to the tom tom, and taught drums as a communal experience through his role as officer in the Drum Facilitator’s Guild.
Eric Crawford, musicologist and director of the Charles Joyner Institute for Gullah and Diaspora Studies, experienced Johansen’s drum circles firsthand. As a guest lecturer in Crawford’s Introduction to World Music course during the drums unit, Johansen exhibited, demonstrated, and taught from his own collection.
“Roger brought so many drums from his truck, it amazed me,” said Crawford. “We were all in a circle on stage in the Johnson Auditorium. He called volunteers up to the heart of the circle and captivated everybody. It was a great experience.”
The August 2019 faculty meeting wouldn’t be the last time Johansen’s drum collection produced sound. Shortly after the memorial service, Johansen’s family approached Joe Oestreich, chair and professor in the Department of English, about donating the drum collection through University outreach. They collectively agreed that Johansen would want his collection in the community, not collecting dust in a closet.
Meanwhile, throughout September 2019, Crawford, along with Richard Aidoo, assistant dean in the Edwards College, was corresponding with Plantersville Elementary in Georgetown County concerning music education outreach efforts — and it just so happened that Johanna Verner, reading and curriculum coach at Plantersville Elementary, was looking for drums.
“Our goal has been to incorporate more performing arts into our school’s course offerings,” said Verner. “And we wanted to infuse a unit on African drums, so the drums are a perfect fit to continue developing that curriculum.”
The rest was simple. Crawford personally hand-delivered all 25 drums to the delight and excitement of the student body.
“It was magnetic,” said Crawford. “As soon as the drums came in, the kids started playing them. I tend to think of these moments as fate.”
Verner, along with Patti Edwards, music educator at Plantersville Elementary, have already envisioned future opportunities to incorporate Johansen’s drums into the curriculum.
“We’re planning to offer an after-school program that rotates choir, keyboard piano, violin, and drums,” said Verner. “We’re also searching for an African drums instructor within the county. If all goes as planned, we’ll have a performance in the second semester.”
Darryl Stanley, principal at Plantersville Elementary, also expressed his gratitude.
“It’s quite a blessing, and it’s relevant for our school,” said Stanley. “It will be a tremendous asset, as it’s something the kids really enjoy. They were very excited.”
Crawford will aid Verner in the new instructor search and hopes to maintain an outreach relationship between CCU and Plantersville.
While the English department continues to begin each meeting with “a beating of the Johansen drum,” elementary school students will benefit from Johansen’s spirit for years, ensuring that his influence will continue within and without the CCU campus.