Jo-Ann Christen Leaves a Legacy That Will Be Long Remembered

I regret to inform you of the passing of a local legend in the music scene, Jo-Ann Christen. As a master musician, educator, and mentor, she blazed a trail everywhere she went through her storied career. As a founder of ours and many musical ensembles, her passion for teaching and spreading the joy of music has improved the lives of thousands and forever changed the Seattle music scene.

Jo-Ann with Scott Lewis, cofounders of Rainbow City

Jo-Ann’s tenacity to lead a community was in full force in 1998 when she partnered to co-found Rainbow City Band, the first LGBT band in Seattle, to march in the Seattle Pride parade. Not content with that alone, it grew to include a concert band and not much later a swing band.

Conducting Rainbow City Band, 2003

She fostered an inclusive spirit in a time when that was uncommon, and welcomed all musicians, no matter how they identified. Today, that seedling has grown into a bustling organization with more than seven ensembles and performing for hundreds of thousands of spectators per year. Where Jo-Ann led, success followed and that was the case across the span of her life and work.

Seattle Civic Band, 2010

Jo-Ann founded and conducted many musical groups for amateur adults in Seattle including the Seattle Civic Band, Rainbow City Band (marching and concert), Purple Passion Swing Band, and Rain City Women’s Chorus. She assumed leadership of already-existing groups including the Rain City Symphony and Boeing Employees Concert Band (directing it for thirteen years).

Midsummer Musical Retreat, Fort Worden, 1993

Jo-Ann touched many not just through her work leading ensembles, but also as an educator and mentor. She was a part of the music scene all over Puget Sound for five decades playing in as many ensembles as she founded. The current President of the Midsummer Musical Retreat shared the following tribute:

Jo-Ann was our founding Music Director and guided us [for fifteen years] until we moved to Walla Walla.  It was her vision that set us on our course, her hardheaded work ethic that forged the program, and her heart and humor that defined the culture of Midsummer Musical Retreat.

Jo-Ann also shaped Rain City Symphony.  She led and inspired Bands and Choruses.  She was always willing to enthusiastically take on a challenge! 76 trombones for the 76th anniversary of the Pike Place Market is a shining example.   I will never forget playing next to the runway while a MIG did thunderous touch & goes at the opening of the Museum of Flight.

Salvation Army Youth Band, 1962

Prior to moving to Seattle, Jo-Ann was a prolific musician and educator. She was member of the Salvation Army Youth Band and later she taught elementary music in New Jersey schools.

Festival Brass, 1968

She played professionally with the New Jersey Symphony and Opera Orchestras for thirteen years, was a member of the Festival Brass Quintet in a Carnegie Recital Hall performance, played freelance gigs including backing a concert with Sammy Davis Junior, and performed onstage in Cabaret at the Imperial Theater on Broadway.

Supporting the Salvation Army in 1975

When Jo-Ann first came to Seattle in 1974, she worked as the music director of Haller Lake United Methodist Church for several years where she created a music series to feature local classical musicians.

Jo-Ann with her Euphonium, 1985

Over the following decades, she was a substitute on trombone for the Seattle Symphony, Pacific Northwest Ballet, and Seattle Opera. She founded Blue Water Brass Trio which started a chamber music series and was assistant director of the Varsity Drag Jazz Band that played music from the 1920’s and 1930’s.

With Carol Reinhart, from Vienna, 1994

For many years, she played monthly gigs at the Seattle Center with the Archie Kyle Dance Band.  She maintained a private studio teaching brass instruments that started the musical careers of many and placed students in every major college and conservatory.

Purple Passion Swing Band, Swedish Club Gala, 2005

Jo-Ann has been a presenter at the New York Brass Conference, covering practice habits, embouchure problems, and musical interpretation.  She was a Sigma Alfa Iota alumna and in 2014 was honored with the Beacon Award for excellence in performance and teaching from the International Women’s Brass Conference. She held a Master of Music Performance degree from Manhattan School of Music, NYC, and a Bachelor of Arts in Music Education from Montclair State University, New Jersey.

Directing Rain City Women's Chorus, 2012

Jo-Ann touched many wherever she went with both her music and the force of her personality. Such a pioneering spirit cannot be stopped and cannot be forgotten. Jo-Ann is survived by her longtime wife, Myth Denzel. She will be missed by many in the Seattle music community and beyond.

Jo-Ann Christen signed photo, Festival Brass, 1968
Jo-Ann Christen signed photo, Festival Brass, 1968