Strike up the band

Get involved, find your people, and stay connected for the best college experience and beyond. 

By Sarah A. Moser


“I get up in the morning to do band, I love music that much,” says Dr. Luke Johnson (‘02), Director of Bands and Music Education and Associate Professor of Music at MidAmerica Nazarene University. Band brought Johnson here as a student, and it’s what led him back as a professor, and now the chair of the Department of Arts and Humanities.

As a Nazarene in North Dakota, Johnson had heard great things about MNU from older teens at church. When he visited the campus in 1998, Ron McClellan, Band Director, Phil Clark, Applied Trumpet Instructor, and the band department made an impression on Johnson. The desire to spread his wings in a new location and the opportunity to play trumpet in the band sealed the deal. 

Finding his place didn’t take long; from welcome week activities to dorm parties and campus activities, Johnson kept homesickness at bay and solidified his place in the KC area. To this day, that’s one of Johnson’s biggest pieces of advice for new students: get involved. 

“Don’t just sit in your dorm room,” he says. “Get out and try things and have experiences and meet people. To feel a part of a group, you have to put yourself out there. Granted, being a part of band, choir, theatre, or any other affinity group helps create natural outlets for students to find community on campus.”

The student becomes the teacher

As an undergraduate, Johnson saw Ron McClellan in his role as MNU band director and he thought, “‘oh, that’d be cool to do someday.’” “I never imagined I’d actually end up teaching here someday,” he says.

For 10 years after graduating, Johnson taught high school band, first in Dodge City, Kan., then in Lansing, Kan. Fast forward to 2014: Johnson was completing his doctorate at the University of Kansas when he heard the MNU band director had left and the university was seeking an adjunct professor for the next semester. Johnson applied, was accepted, and that temporary position turned permanent.

Aside from a few events, Johnson hadn’t been back to campus often in the years since graduation. Returning to MNU as a faculty member was a bit surreal, he says. 

“I remember going to one of the first faculty meetings and being with people who were giants in my mind when I was a student,” he says. “Seeing some of the faculty I respected so much, I kind of had impostor syndrome, wondering if I deserve to be here. A lot of the professors had known me as a student and were so welcoming and kind to me when I came on staff.” 

It’s that welcoming atmosphere, and his chance to share his faith, that strikes a chord with Johnson. He says the faculty is intentional about integrating faith into all of their classes. “In our music education classes, we talk about what it’s like to be a servant to your students, taking a Christlike approach to all we do,” says Johnson. “When our band students go out and tour, we remind them we are representing not just MNU but Christ. Our faith is woven into all we do.”

Johnson and his family model that to the students regularly, in the classroom as well as at BBQ dinners and other events they host in their own home. “We love to share life with our students,” he says. 

And Johnson knows he’s not alone in that desire to share his faith with his students. “Many of our faculty could teach at bigger, ‘more prestigious’ universities, but they believe in the mission here at MNU,” says Johnson. “I have really talented colleagues and we are able to do some really creative and integrative work together. And we choose to do it here, where we can share our faith and make a difference in the lives of our students beyond the classroom.”



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