Johnson, who will move to Vermillion, S.D., will join the NMM on Nov. 1. He recently stepped down as executive director of the Watson Fellowship at the Thomas J. Watson Foundation in New York City after serving in that position while on leave from DePauw.
"I basically left DePauw and Greencastle to take a three-year position in 2008 as executive director of the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship, based in New York City," Johnson told the Banner Graphic.
"The chairman of my board turned out to be the IBM executive who had been in charge of closing down Greencastle's IBM facility back in 1985, the year I came here. We often exchanged stories about Greencastle."
Since his Watson term ended, Johnson has been splitting time between Greencastle and Manhattan, looking for the next career opportunity.
"DePauw was generous enough to hold my faculty position for me," he said, "providing me a leave of absence to do the Watson gig, but I decided that I didn't really want to return to the academic world, neither to teach nor administrate. So I took early retirement from the university last May to formally conclude our relationship."
In New York, Johnson said he learned he enjoyed working in partnership with academia more than working inside of academia.
His new position with the National Music Museum is just such an arrangement, he explained of the non-profit organization, which operates out of facilities provided by the University of South Dakota.
"The central museum building, soon to be tripled in size through a new $15-million building project," he said, "is a lovely old Carnegie Library building, much like building that presently houses DePauw's Office of Admission."
Johnson holds a D.Phil. in Music from Oxford University in England, and a B.Mus. with a double major in Music History and Organ Performance from the Oberlin College Conservatory of Music.
"When I found my career trajectory leading me into the non-profit sector, it seemed that my musical background would slowly be left behind," he said. "Lo and behold, this new job brings me back full circle.
"Trained as a music historian and early-music performer, with expertise in historic musical instruments and their performance techniques, the opportunity to lead one of the great museums of musical instruments in the world is absolutely thrilling.
"I knew this was the job for me as soon as I walked through the museum's front doors," Johnson said. "Who would ever expect -- in such an unassuming place -- to find a priceless collection of Italian strings (Stradivarius, Guaneri and Amati included), early harpsichords and pianos, baroque brass, non-Western instruments, celebrity guitars, etc.
"I hope we'll get some visitors from Greencastle," he added. "I can't wait, for example, to see Tad Robinson's eyes when he sees the NMM Bates Collection of 2,400 harmonicas!"
Larry Schou, dean of the College of Fine Arts at the University of South Dakota, praised Johnson as an experienced music historian, professor, dean and nonprofit administrator.
"He is well published in the areas of organ music and world music topics, and brings the combination of passion for music and administrative and academic experience we sought," Schou said.
"I am honored to have this opportunity to lead the NMM," Johnson said, "and to build upon the remarkable collections and publications that have established the museum's prominence in the nation and the world.
"As the father of seven children/stepchildren, I value opportunities for people of all ages to engage with the museum and to be inspired by its extraordinary objects and unique programming."
Johnson will take the reins from Peggy Downie Banks, the museum's senior curator, who has been interim director since March 2011.