Lacey Peterson
The Union Democrat

Longtime Columbia College music professor John Carter will retire on May 2 after 30 years of service.

Carter, 63, of Sonora, leads the Columbia College Community Chorus, the college choir and teaches choir, voice, music history and musicianship.

He's also taught piano, orchestra and music theory in his three decades at Columbia College.

Carter also led the Symphony of the Sierra for six years.

"John Carter has served with distinction during his many years here at Columbia College as an integral part of our Music Department," said Mike Torok, college dean of the arts and sciences department. "He has also been a tireless ambassador to our community at large. We are happy for John, but will miss him greatly."

Chorus member Jennie Moiso of Columbia agreed. "He's terrific," she said.

Moiso joined the chorus back in 1981. After Carter's 30 year as leader, the chorus has become a different group, she said.

"We've matured and we sing harder pieces and more pieces. He brings out all we've got," Moiso said. "He encourages you. He brings out the best in people."

The chorus has also expanded its community offerings over the years and now has four concerts a year. The group visits people living in assisted living for outreach performances and sings with other choral groups.

Carter also put together a high school concert where chorus members and high schoolers sing together. The college choir goes on tour each year and sings at the Sonora Bach Festival, as well as in museums, festivals and schools throughout California, Carter said.

"I have certainaly grown as a singer because of John," Moiso said.

There are about 35 members of the community chorus but it has been up to 60 before, said member Diane Wright.

"He's a great voice teacher, too," Wright said. "He is a figure in the community."

Chorus member Pirkko Dyer joined back in 1971 when it was still an interchurch choir. Her husband, Dick Dyer, was on the committee that hired Carter back in 1984.

"He was there to look for teaching qualities. He came home after the interview and said, 'Oh, we got a good one. He is a born teacher,'" Pirkko Dyer said.

"He's been a real asset," she said. "He's forever looking for new things and techniques and how to help people get better and hone their skills."

Carter's wife, Linda, is a highly respected singer as well.

"They have both added so much to the music culture of the county," Dyer said. "We've been very fortunate they decided to live in Tuolumne County."

Plus, Carter is "extremely kind and gentle and aware of peoples' feelings," Dyer said.

Carter was born in the Bay Area and grew up in Modesto. He started college at the University of Southern California but transferred to Chapman University. He studied music and voice and graduated in 1974.

Carter can also play piano, clarinet and "a few chords on the guitar."

His roots in music go back to childhood, singing in the church choir and singing along with his parents in the car.

Both parents enjoyed music - his mother took voice lessons and his father played piano by ear.

It was a summer music camp in high school that solidified Carter's desire to pursue music as a career and be a teacher.

The camp's choral director made a big impression on Carter.

"I remember thinking, I want to do this," he said.

After college Carter had a job at a music store in Anaheim, where he also would often fill in for people at the opera performances in Los Angeles.

If he fit into the costume, he had the part for a night, Carter said.

"That was really cool," he recalled.

Once, he was a Swiss guard in "Tosca."

In 1975, Carter met Linda while at graduate school at Westminster Choir College in New Jersey. They married the next year and he earned his master's degree in music in 1977.

Years later he earned a certificate in professional studies in vocal performance from Esther Boyer College of Music and Temple University in Philadelphia.

While on the East Coast, Carter was in a choir that sang at the Kennedy Center and the New York Philharmonic.

By 1984, the couple had moved back to California and started their family. They have two sons and two daughters ranging in age from 23 to 31.

"I really needed a full time job," Carter said.

A job came open at Columbia College but Carter said he wasn't looking to live in a town smaller than where he grew up.

After the first year, the family moved up from Modesto and after a few years they decided they never wanted to leave.

"It's been a real blessing," Carter said. "It's a nice place to live, a nice place to raise your kids."

Other places, "just don't have the things we have here," he said.

Carter said he'll miss teaching but that he isn't moving away or disappearing from the music scene in Tuolumne County.

"I really love teaching. I really love connecting with people and seeing them make progress, seeing them get it. I particularly like working live with people," he said.

"I love human contact. I will miss that kind of interaction," Carter said. "This isn't my swan song. My plan is to do nothing for a whole year. But that could change. We have a lot of opportunities here."