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PCC’s ‘Dreamgirl’ helps students realize their own dreams

Story by and photos by James Hill. Cover photo by Paul S. Fardig.

Recap from last week:

In part one we learned that Julianne Johnson-Weiss isn’t just the current lead of Stumptown Stages “Dreamgirls,” but also is a two-time 2008 Grammy nominee, part-time actor in past major motion pictures, a Broadway stage veteran and has acted in a Fox Television sitcom. To read about her impressive credentials, check out Part 1 to her story »»

Part 2 of 2

Julianne Johnson-Weiss

Julianne Johnson-Weiss, Music Instructor

Julianne Johnson-Weiss has received plenty for her talents over the years. But she has given a lot more back to the community in the form of aiding students, both at PCC and within her community.

She directs a school program called Act Six, which connects kids from the innercity to George Fox University in Newberg. The urban diversity and leadership program, which grants 10 students every year $120,000 each in scholarship aid, allows the students to cultivate leadership skills while earning a good education. In turn, they get to teach their primarily white peers at the college about their own culture by working on multicultural services. Johnson-Weiss said the students return to their neighborhoods when they’re done to mentor the next generation of students.

Johnson-Weiss’ own story began in North Portland where she attended Whitaker Middle School and later John Adams High School where one of her classmates was Dan Hays, PCC’s theater coordinator. Later, she would earn a bachelor’s degree in fine arts with a double major in music and theater from the University of Portland. She was never allowed to slack, she said. She worked hard on her talents even though she had a natural gift to sing and perform. In the process of all that hard work and passion, she has studied many forms of music and performing arts, including opera, jazz, acting and dancing.

“If you can’t find an acting job, then dance or direct or sing,” she said. “If you don’t adjust you’ll sit around without a job.”

Today, Johnson-Weiss views her approach as a PCC instructor as being a global teacher – taking in all aspects of music not just one part. She teaches music fundamentals, appreciation, group vocal, choir and chamber, history of jazz, jazz vocal and has a gospel series. She wants her students to explore their music abilities and not be pigeonholed into a career.

“I’ve had a few students change their major to music,” she said. “They had been told they wouldn’t make it in music. Students should be able to come in and explore. It never hurts to try. That’s what community colleges are all about. Once they get hooked, then I explain it. They find something that connects with their heart and I give them the language.”

Julianne Johnson-Weiss Doris Werkman, division dean of visual and performing arts at Sylvania Campus, said the college and the music program at Sylvania is most fortunate to have such a teacher and colleague.

“The depth of her knowledge, the breadth of her background, and the richness of heart that she brings to our students is immeasurable,” Werkman said. “The gift we have been given in having Julianne as an instructor at PCC continually flows into a gift for our students. I have watched a nervous student grasping to find the voice of a song move into ‘that place’ within her in order to reflect this voice, this song, all within minutes through the guidance of Julianne. She enhances our music program, our division, our college, and our community.”

If you aren’t quite blown away yet, then understand that Johnson-Weiss earned her Montessori school credentials in 1986 and has taught at the Providence Child Center for eight years. Using that Montessori skill set, she developed a year-round school in the performing arts where seniors and grandparents work with the children to build a connection and interest in the arts. When she retires she hopes to run the school full time.

“I’ve been so blessed and lucky all rolled up into one,” Johnson-Weiss said. “I’ve trained under people who didn’t give me a way out and made me earn my way out. I’ve been able to land on my feet and work. I’ve always had enough tools to build a career.”

Of course this isn’t the end of things she has done or will do. For example, did you know Julianne Johnson-Weiss developed a documentary about her grandmother titled, “Grandma Zulu’s Legacy?” The film follows her family’s trek from the Deep South to Oregon and how they tried to fit into Portland’s society. The film also shows how the family survived the Vanport Flood, which was hard on the city’s African-Americans.

It’s okay, there’s lot we don’t know, too, about this whirlwind of creative passion. But does she do too much?

“I look at art from the standpoint of an aerial view,” she said. “I see the whole tapestry; the whole puzzle. My job is to encourage and drive the thing I do, whatever it is, with a vision.”

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