More than 70 Walter Johnson High School students and alumni came together online to sing a tribute to teacher Jonathan Bos, who died in March. Credit: Screenshot from video

During his college years, Walter Johnson High School English teacher Jonathan Bos began his love affair with the music of Bob Dylan.

Three decades later, more than 70 members of the Walter Johnson community came together online for a virtual choir performance of Dylan’s “To Make You Feel My Love” to honor Bos nearly three months after he died in a car crash.

“He loved Bob way before he ever loved me,” his wife, Renee Bos, said with a laugh in a phone interview. “I guess Jon was drawn to a number of things about him. He believed in him as a lyricist. He believed in his use of words and imagery and metaphor. He believed in his message. And he believed in the power of his work.”

Over the course of their relationship, the Boses saw several Dylan shows together, and his music was often the soundtrack of their home. Both were on a first-name basis with the singer-songwriter.

“He was the only Bob around here,” Renee Bos said.

Choir Director Kelly Butler helped develop the video, which was inspired by similar virtual choirs she’d seen since the quarantine began. She chose the song, understanding Bos’ devotion to Dylan.     

Students in all four Walter Johnson choirs were asked to record videos. Some alumni joined in, as well.

“It’s the only way to really put music together at this point,” Butler said. “I thought, ‘Well, we haven’t had a chance to deal with our loss here with Mr. Bos, and he loved Bob Dylan. He was very close to the music kids, to the theater kids. So I thought, ‘Well, if I have this opportunity to do a virtual choir, we should do one in honor of Mr. Bos.’”

Many students in the video are the age Jonathan Bos was when he discovered Dylan.

“Jon found him when he was around 17 or 18, and he would recount the first time he listened to a Bob Dylan album from beginning to end, just how it utterly blew his mind,” Renee Bos said. “It changed how he thought about music. … He felt that it held together, like a story was held together with chapters.”

 

When it was time at Walter Johnson High School to name something to be thankful for, Jonathan Bos chose Bob Dylan.

 

Jonathan Bos, who began at Walter Johnson in 2004, taught various English classes, including AP Literature, Creative Writing, and Honors English. He advised the student literary magazine, which is called The Spectator, and the forensics club.

Dylan’s many accolades include the Nobel Prize for literature in 2016.

“There would definitely be periods where Jon would go to him,” Renee Bos said. “Jon believed in him as a poet, as well as a musician.”

Jonathan Bos also assisted the drama program, WJ S*T*A*G*E, working on advertising and public relations for the shows. He helped young actors develop their characters.

Renee Bos recalled how he proposed after taking her to see the musical “Rent.”

He’d been born with a congenital heart defect, which eventually forced him to receive a successful transplant in 1999. He became an advocate for organ donation.

His health initially held him back from proposing, but after seeing the musical, which details love during the AIDS crisis, he took the plunge.

“Jon believed in telling a story,” she said. “Jon believed in good stories, and if they had music, that was better.”

Thousands of students passed through his classes throughout his 25-year teaching career, and he crossed paths with even more through his extracurricular work.

“I loved working with him,” said Sarai Flores, one of the voices in the choir and a Walter Johnson alumna who worked with Bos on public relations for shows. “It was really hard to hear that he passed away, and in such an abrupt way, too.”

On March 13, Bos was traveling south on Md. 32 in Clarksville to pick up milk from the grocery store when he was struck by another vehicle. His car left the road and overturned, according to Seth Hoffman, a spokesman for the Howard County Police Department.

Bos suffered a broken neck, arm, leg and pelvis, and a traumatic brain injury. He was taken to the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center, where he died six days later as a result of his injuries. He was 51.

John Bryant Jr., 25, of Sykesville, who was driving the other vehicle, suffered minor injuries. Police said the crash is still being investigated and no charges have been filed.

After the crash, Bos’ family put up a GoFundMe page to help defray hospital and other costs. Tens of thousands of dollars poured in, much of it from former students.

“He believed in his students,” Renee Bos said. “He would come home and tell stories of, ‘This kid said this and I never thought about this this way.’”

Students practiced their parts in the virtual choir by listening to recordings of Butler singing the alto and soprano parts. After obtaining copyright permission for the arrangement of Dylan’s song, Butler put together a backtrack — her on piano, Andrea Morris on guitar and Hannah Wang on cello.

The video took more than 200 hours of editing to complete, according to Butler, and premiered at the Walter Johnson virtual graduation ceremony on June 11. It has been viewed more than 4,600 times on YouTube.

Butler said the reaction from Bos’ loved ones on social media has been one of the best outcomes of the video.

“I think they feel very touched that the project was created in his honor,” she said. “The most rewarding part is that this little thing that we thought of just back in March has been something that is so meaningful to his family and his friends.”

Jonathan Bos in New York City, in front of Cafe Wha?, where Bob Dylan got his start. (Photo from Renee Bos)

Renee Bos said it has been especially difficult for her and their son, Zack, to mourn without being able to physically gather with loved ones. The video, she said, has been a comfort.

“The hardest part about this is that we haven’t been able to do this with people who love him. … That’s why stuff like that video was so moving,” she said. “It reflects that they knew him as a person and as a teacher.”

While she said she felt enormous love and gratitude toward the video, she admitted that “To Make You Feel My Love” was not her husband’s favorite Dylan track. But she was glad it was the one the organizers chose.

“It was the right one for the moment,” she said. “He would agree: There’s a Dylan song for every moment.”