Unsung Heroes: A love of history and music

For a man who has dedicated much of his life to sharing music with others, it’s ironic to think of John Warren as an unsung hero.

Yet that’s exactly what he is.

For the past couple of decades, Warren has been on a volunteer rescue mission. He’s been instrumental in salvaging musty, forgotten music composed by the Spanish padres assigned to California’s missions in the late 1700s and early 1800s. Many of those compositions are classical, European-influenced pieces, though some later works incorporate elements of music of the Aztecs in Mexico, and locally, the Chumash and Salinan Indians.

Local audiences can hear some of that music performed by the New World Baroque Orchestra, a group of about 25 local musicians that Warren directs.

Through benefit performances, Warren and the orchestra have raised an estimated $50,000 for restoration of some of our most precious historic treasures, including local missions and adobes.

The group also has restored some original instruments from the era.

“This is truly a labor of love for us all wishing to share the joy of our music honoring the history of early California mission days with our local communities,” Warren said.

On top of his volunteer efforts, Warren also has a day job.

He works part time teaching music at St. Rose School in Paso Robles and co-teaches a class in video production at Paso Robles High School.

That’s a natural subject for him — he spent years as a cinematographer in Hollywood, where his credits include “Hello Dolly,” “Fantastic Voyage” and the “Batman” TV series.

Through both his careers — cinematography and teaching — Warren has had an abiding interest in music; keyboards are his specialty.

He got interested in mission-era music after someone gave him a book on the subject. That inspired him to track down manuscripts stored in the archives of university libraries. He then transcribed the music by hand.

For Warren, the interest is far more than a hobby — it’s become a way to enrich our community in multiple ways.

He and other members of the orchestra put on educational presentations in local schools that introduce youngsters to the music and instruments of the Mission Era.

“What we love,” Warren said, “are the young people who get excited.”

Warren also is known for nurturing talented young musicians.

“I see these kids in the orchestra blossom,” local historian Dan Krieger said. “They become independent musicians on their own.”

And it isn’t just musicians who benefit; the New World Baroque Orchestra has been bringing the beauty and joy of music to audiences for years. It’s also helped local communities celebrate important milestones. For example, in December the New World Baroque Orchestra performed the first concert held in the newly restored Old Mission San Miguel church, which had been closed for years due to damage from the San Simeon Earthquake.

When it comes to his musical accomplishments, Warren is quick to share credit with others, including Cal Poly musical scholar Craig Russell and local choral director Gary Lamprecht.

“There’s a number of us,” he said. “We collaborate.”

But there’s no denying that Warren — and the music he’s helped to preserve — have been inspiring audiences for years.

“To attend one of these early mission music concerts,” Krieger said, “is to go back in history 200 years.”

For so selflessly sharing his passion for music — and at the same time, contributing to our knowledge of early California — John Warren is The Tribune’s unsung hero.

Next Performance

The New World Baroque Orchestra performs several times during the year; the next opportunity to hear the group perform under the direction of John Warren will be at an April 10 celebration at Mission San Antonio.

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of monthly editorials celebrating the unsung heroes in our community.

By highlighting individuals who unselfishly apply their energy and skills to lighten the burden of others, we hope, first, to offer these community heroes the appreciation they deserve; second, to let those who could use the help know of available resources; and, third, to inspire others who are able to help in whatever way possible.

If you would like to nominate an unsung hero, contact us at letters@thetribunenews.com.