Artist Spotlight: Alex Johnson

Morgan Moraine

Alex Johnson is a senior theory and composition major with an emphasis in jazz. Originally from Shelburne, Vt., he came to Lawrence as a euphonium and voice performance double major.

After freshman year, Johnson dropped euphonium and officially became a composition major, and though he continued singing, it was no longer a major. Johnson currently sings in Concert Choir and Hybrid Ensemble.

Johnson started cornet in the fifth grade, switched to trumpet and played all through high school. He began euphonium in junior year of high school because their band program was sorely lacking in low brass. Johnson also started studying voice in his junior year.

Johnson was in the jazz band during high school and he said “being with the older musicians really encouraged me to bump up my own musicianship; their passion kind of transferred to me as a freshman and it just grew from there.”

Johnson is gearing up for two big upcoming projects. The first will be in February. Johnson said it is an “unbelievable privilege” to compose the score for the edited final movie in the Light! More Light! series. He commented, “I’m still pinching myself about this.”

Johnson started composing this term and will start rehearsals with the Lawrence Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Professor of Music and Director of Orchestral Studies David Becker in the first few weeks of Winter term. The orchestra will premiere the piece Feb. 3 at the “LSO Goes to the Movies” concert.

Johnson is very excited about this opportunity and said, “It’s a blast. I keep wanting to go back and keep working on it, and I forget I have homework to do for my other classes.”

When asked if he preferred film composing over straight composition, he replied, “Film composition is a very cool field. It’s part of Hollywood, so it’s very cutthroat. It’s hard to make it in there, but it’s certainly something I’m interested in… it’s all tailored to the film. You watch it and start jotting ideas down. You’re composing entirely to honor the film. Whereas not composing for film, it’s entirely up to you.”

Johnson’s senior composition recital will be the next big event for him. It will be a half-jazz, half-non-jazz recital. Johnson has a string orchestra piece, a small arrangement of a jazz tune and a vocal jazz piece. Johnson will be conducting the string orchestra piece and will attend the other rehearsals as a coach.

Johnson likes doing both jazz and non-jazz. He said, “It’s interesting to get a taste for both worlds, because they both feed into each other; they both help each other. They’re also both very different when I need them to be different, so if I’m working on one project I can divert my attention to another project in a different realm.”

Though he will be graduating with an emphasis in jazz, Johnson hopes to attend Indiana University’s graduate school for composing without an emphasis.

When asked what his main composition influences were, Johnson said, “Whatever I can get my ear around. Something will stand out, and I’ll go wow! I really like that.”

He says his composition style will change based on what he hears, wherever he can find it. Johnson said that Russian composer Alexander Gretchaninoff made a great impact on him. However, he also says, “I’ll choose one composer and listen to a ton of his stuff, sort of like ‘flavors of the month.’ I’ll obsess over one guy for a while, and then I’ll obsess over someone else.”

Johnson is keeping his career options open, but he says that he would be happy in many different places. He could see himself composing for film, doing full time commission composing, being in a professional chorus or even teaching at the collegiate level.

He says, “I’m trying to keep my eyes open. There’s no guaranteed nine to five job in the arts. Who knows maybe I’ll even come back and teach at Lawrence! I’m just trying to take every opportunity that’s given to me and to grow as an artist.”

Johnson’s composition recital is scheduled for 3 p.m. Saturday, March 3.