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Carl Johnson
Performances - Early Years
Performances - By Date
Performances - By Composer
Performances - By Composition

A Brief History of the
Des Moines Community Orchestra

The Beginning:

Currently lead by Music Director and Conductor, Carl Johnson, the Des Moines Community Orchestra was founded by Dr. Janice Wade in 1976, gathering together interested area musician acquaintances. The first concert featured guest percussion soloist, Drake faculty member Larry Kaptain, playing the Milhaud percussion concerto. Interest in the orchestra continued to grow, and the fledgling group could be found rehearsing and performing all around town, encouraged by donations of time, space and financial assistance from members and supporters.

Music Directors and Conductors:

Janice Wade continued as Music Director and Conductor of the orchestra from 1976 through 1987. She then took a teaching position at Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa, as Professor of Violin and Viola, and Music Director and Conductor of the Wartburg Community Symphony.

Beginning in 1987, Rod Sharpe conducted the Des Moines Community Orchestra for two seasons while he was a student at Drake University. He subsequently went on to study Library Science at the University of Iowa. During his time there he also worked at the Library of Cornell College in Mt. Vernon, Iowa, as well as conducted the orchestra for community theater musicals in Mt. Vernon. Beginning in 1995, Rod started a full-time library position at Western Illinois University.

Richard Gerstenberger became Music Director and Conductor for the next ten concert seasons (1989-1999). Maestro Gerstenberger is a graduate of the New England Conservatory of Music, and Boston University. He played horn professionally with the Boston Pops under Arthur Fiedler, the Boston Symphony under Charles Munch, and the New England Opera Theater under Boris Goldovsky. He was also Director of Bands at Rutgers University. 

After moving to Des Moines, Richard taught at Drake University (Des Moines, Iowa), at Simpson College (Indianola, Iowa), and in the Des Moines Public Schools. He played horn with the Des Moines Symphony for 20 years, and co-founded the Des Moines Horn Club in 1970. In "retirement" Richard became Music Director and Conductor of the Des Moines Community Orchestra during the 1989/1990 season. Before the 1999/2000 concert season, with health considerations in mind, Richard decided to retire from the Des Moines Community Orchestra.

The 1999-2000 season brought a series of guest conductors to the podium, as the orchestra searched for a new full-time music director and conductor. The 2000/2001 season, our 25th season, continued that variety with more guest conductors.

The 2001-2002 season brought the conductor search to a conclusion. At the end of the Spring Concert, our new Music Director and Conductor was announced: Carl Johnson

Celebrate & Sing Handelís Messiah:

Each December since 1986, the Des Moines Community Orchestra has presented a sing-along performance of Handelís Messiah in which the audience sings the chorus parts of Messiah. Often a guest conductor leads the performance. This tradition has given talented vocal leaders the opportunity to conduct the orchestra, and to shape the performance of one of the great vocal compositions. The following people have been our most recent guest conductors for our Celebrate and Sing Handelís Messiah:


Year Guest Conductor Affiliation Location
31 2016 Richard Gordley Des Moines Community Orchestra Music member musician G
30 2015

Carl Johnson

Des Moines Community Orchestra Music Director G
29 2014

Ben Allaway

Composer-in-Residence, First Christian Church in Des Moines G
28 2013

Michael Eckerty

Assistant Professor of Music, Simpson College G
27 2012

Carol Stewart

Alliance for Arts and Understanding G
26 2011

Jack Ergo

Associate Professor of Music, Graceland University G
25 2010

Dr. Timothy A. McMillin

Director of Choral Activities, Simpson College S
24 2009

Rebecca Gruber

Choirmaster of St. Paul's Episcopal Cathedral

23 2008

Akira Mori

 Conductor of the Drake University Orchestra S
22 2007

Carl Johnson

Des Moines Community Orchestra Music Director

21 2006

Carl Johnson

Des Moines Community Orchestra Music Director

20 2005

Carl Johnson

Des Moines Community Orchestra Music Director

19 2004

Carl Johnson

Des Moines Community Orchestra Music Director

18 2003

Carl Johnson

Des Moines Community Orchestra Music Director

17 2002

Robert Walker

First Assembly of God, Des Moines, IA

16 2001

Jennifer Foote

Aldersgate United Methodist Church, Urbandale, IA

15 2000

Tom Shadonix

Ft. Dodge Congregational Church

14 1999

Eric Dale Knapp

Faith Lutheran Church, Clive, IA

13 1998

Larry Christiansen

St. Johnís Lutheran Church, Des Moines, IA

12 1997

John Kelly

Collegiate Presbyterian Church, Ames, IA

11 1996

Carol Stewart

The Alliance for Arts & Understanding, Des Moines, IA

10 1995

Ben Allaway

St. Paulís Episcopal Cathedral, Des Moines, IA

9 1994

Randal Buikema

Westminster Presbyterian Church, Des Moines, IA

8 1993

Eugene Wilson

Des Moines Childrenís Choruses

7 1992

Dr. James Cox

Drake University, Des Moines, IA

6 1991

Paul Dieke

St. Paul Lutheran Church, Des Moines, IA

5 1990

Don Hermanot 

Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Ankeny, IA


Locations for Messiah performances: W=Westminster Presbyterian; S=Sheslow Auditorium, Drake U.; G=Grace United Methodist.