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Adam Johnson tried to talk his mother out of signing him up for piano lessons when he was 7, but in the end agreed to practice three times a week to earn his weekly allowance.

Even years into the lessons, he would still take Bon Jovi over Beethoven. That all changed at the local movie theatre – the Roxy – when Johnson was 16.

The Edmonton Symphony Orchestra had travelled to Hinton, Alta., as part of its outreach program – and he heard a live orchestra for the first time. The resulting spine tingles would divert his path away from the priesthood or a pilot's licence, and toward the piano and, ultimately, the podium.

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"That was the first time I realized grown men and women could make a living doing this," says Johnson, 34.

On Thursday, he will make his debut with the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, where he was recently named resident conductor after a nationwide search. You could say he is coming full circle: One of his key responsibilities will be leading community concerts.

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