Wedding oranist takes part in hundreds of strangers’ special days


Written by Taija Velasquez

James Johnson was just 13 years old when a friend told him it was important that he played at her wedding.
“She thought in the future I would be a very important musician,” said Johnson, who started playing at age 3.
From that point on, Johnson, professor of music at UNO, has played at hundreds of weddings, but he said you don’t realize how special a wedding really is until it’s your own.
“In the days before I was married myself, it was just a job to me. I really didn’t like to play for weddings that much, and I just sort of thought it was a bunch of silliness and people got all sentimental and stuff, until I got married.”
Johnson said he was surprised by the way he felt at his own wedding. “I’ve been out in front of audiences a lot in my career as a pianist. Usually they are just sitting there expressionless. But when I walked out at my wedding, the church was full, my parents were sitting in the front row and there were all these people who loved us. They were just beaming. They were so happy.”
He now understands the significance weddings hold. “I really invested more in it when I played for weddings after that time, and I must have played for hundreds of weddings before I got married myself.”
Forty years later, Johnson is still playing at different venues in the area. He said organists, to be functional at weddings, must get to the point where they are proficient enough to sight read hymns and play services in a church.
“When I first started out at St. Paul, I played at a lot of fraternity and sorority weddings. The church would be full of people I’ve never seen before, and they were usually very rowdy.”