Tonic Sol-fa lead singer

Tonic’s Shaun Johnson

February 7, 2014 | Janie

TSF Picture

TONIC SOL-FA CONCERT AT THE PAC ON MARCH 22

Our Response is thrilled to host Tonic Sol-Fa at the Cambridge-Isanti High School on March 22, starting at 7:30 p.m. This a cappella (no instruments), nationally renowned quartet has been described by the The New York Times  as “a vocal kaleidoscope…unique to the human voice.” Check here for ticket information. A portion of all sales will go toward the purchase, assembly, and shipping of AIDS Caregiver Kits for Kivuruga. The evening will also include members of the Cambridge-Isanti High School Jazz Choir as our special guests.

Tonic Sol-fa is led by Shaun Johnson, member of the 2013 Rwanda trip team. In anticipation of the March concert, we thought we’d take this opportunity to get to know Shaun a bit. He was more than willing to answer a few questions.

Please tell us a little about yourself, Shaun.

I grew up in Florida, Iowa, and places in between, but currently reside in Saint Cloud, MN. People ask me why I live in Central MN, and I typically say that I fell in love with a house—and the people. Too, I attended Saint John’s University, so I was familiar with the 94 corridor. It’s been a wonderful area in which to build a business and enjoy the creative arts. I had always been involved with music, whether in church choir or school musicals, starting bands or rehearsing in local studios, but my educational background centered on political science and law. (After all, what was I ever going to do with music?)

Tonic Sol-fa's Shaun Johnson

I see on about me that you are a Midwest entrepreneur, designer, and sometime vocalist. Could you expand on that?

Certainly. I started Tonic Sol-fa with four other gentlemen from St. John’s. TSF is an all-vocal quartet and has been my full-time pursuit for nearly fifteen years. We’ve managed to perform with Jay Leno, win an Emmy, shoot our own television specials, and tour across the world as four average guys. I’d like to think we work hard and have outstanding mentors and supporters. Tonic Sol-fa affords me the time and opportunity to enjoy many other passions. And to that end, I started a nationally touring big band to raise monies for local charities; I consistently write songs in Nashville with varying publishing houses; I design rooms (my last was an ultra-modern family room for a couple in the Twin Cities); and I help other artists/companies grow.

How did you happen to travel to Rwanda this past year with the Our Response team?

I received a forwarded email from my business partner a few weeks before the Rwanda trip and could hardly contain my excitement. Apparently a spot had opened up on the Our Response team and, thankfully, Tonic Sol-fa’s name came up. I’ve been to Haiti, the Philippines, and other areas for similar trips in the past and had not considered a week on the African continent. One of the men I sing with in Tonic Sol-fa had requested vacation time months earlier that happened to coincide with the dates of the Our Response trip! So, I met with Steve (a wonderful, passionate and ambitious man!) and other members of the team, to learn about their year-long preparations, received a round of eight inoculations, brushed up on my Kinyarwanda (ha!), and headed out in a whirlwind!

Shaun Johnson with Steve Fredlund

Shaun's photo taken when the team visited a small market.

Shaun’s photo from a visit to a small market.

Shaun took this photo as the team headed into a church they visited.

Another beautiful shot by Shaun taken as the team headed into a local church service.

How did the trip impact you? Could you share two or three things that have stayed with you?

This trip was so unlike other trips I’d taken of a similar ilk. First, the team members were diverse in experience and belief which, to me, made for a richer, more complete trip. I felt, as a bit of an outsider at the outset, like a member of a warm and welcoming Cambridge community. Also, the trip centered on a particular people and “their response” to another particular group of people, who just happened to live in Rwanda. We didn’t go to just build a well or to erect a new roof on a school, all of which I’ve done before and all of which are important. But we went to experience a people more fully: visit their health centers, speak with civic and religious leaders, converse with teachers to learn of successes and failures, journey for a moment in the shoes of AIDS caregivers, discover at least some historical context, immerse ourselves in small business ventures of area women, and share with everyday people in their everyday homes.

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In my limited experience, trips tend to center around the “I” or the “we”. How do I feel, how do I give, how can I help. And that’s true even of this trip to Rwanda to a certain extent, but the other 50% (that I go to experience with the Our Response team and that is so much more powerful in my opinion) was how did they, the people we met, feel; how did they give in unexpected ways, how did they help to change my resolve and my limited worldview? And what can those two powerful forces combine to create? I felt like I was beginning to understand my part, and a trip such as this was the first step.

Shaun Johnson plays soccer with the kids

 

"Josiane, my sponsored child in Rwanda. We were getting to know her and her mother (who's a wicked volleyball player!), and I inadvertently dropped my phone while playing. This accidental picture captures that moment when she grabbed it out of the dust, lovingly wiped off the screen with her school clothes, and carefully handed it back.

“Josiane, my sponsored child in Rwanda. We were getting to know her and her mother (who’s a wicked volleyball player!), and I inadvertently dropped my phone while playing. This accidental picture captures that moment when she grabbed it out of the dust, lovingly wiped off the screen with her school clothes, and carefully handed it back.”

Shaun Johnson with his sponsored child