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Meet new Curtis student Maya Miro Johnson

New student Maya Miro JohnsonMaya Miro Johnson is a member of the 2019 incoming class. A composer, she studies with Richard Danielpour, Jennifer Higdon, and David Serkin Ludwig. Maya made her professional debut with a commission from the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra in 2019, and is active as a violinist and conductor in addition to composing. Here, Maya shares her unique and varied background, and looks ahead to her time at Curtis.

What has been your most important musical experience until now?
I made my professional debut earlier this year with a commission from the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra; having this very intense and high-stakes experience tempered by that particular orchestra’s sense of adventurousness was an extraordinary gift.  Standing upon the stage and realizing that I was truly being taken seriously in my work was the first time in my life that I had ever felt like a real musician.

You have a lot of interests and talents that you continue to pursue alongside composition – conducting, playing the violin, even tap dancing. How did you settle on composition as a focus? 
My current goal is to become a composer and conductor equally, but I did not start writing or performing music until I was 15. In fact, though I was deeply appreciative of music, I was not aware of a place in it for myself.

My strengths are kinesthetic and verbal, so in my early teens I was pursuing modern dance and creative writing.  When major foot injuries put my dance studies on hold, I discovered that conducting represented for me the perfect realization of the two. I taught myself to read scores by borrowing them from the library and bringing them to concerts. Eventually, the former assistant conductor of the Utah Symphony, Rei Hotoda, noticed me at rehearsals and offered to impart some of her knowledge, which led to further studies locally and abroad. Composition naturally followed when I started playing violin in a local youth orchestra that was sponsoring a composition workshop and met the fabulous Devin Maxwell, a composer, percussionist, and educator without whom I would certainly not be here today.

My current interests outside of music are philosophy, film noir, theater, poetry, literature, movement improvisation, and tap; I utilize them extensively in my work as a way of keeping them in my life and because they genuinely inspire me to create sound.

How did you hear about Curtis?
Like a lot of my classmates, I cannot recall the first time I heard the name Curtis.  It was simply and indisputably synonymous with musical excellence. In any case, I never considered it to be a feasible option or even a real place with real humans until I arrived for my audition. But as soon as I stepped foot on campus, I knew that Curtis was extremely exceptional and that it would be a privilege to be invited into this family.

What are you looking forward to most about attending Curtis?
Having access to the cultural network of both Curtis and the entire east coast is probably the most exciting thing for me. I’ve also admired Yannick Nézet-Séguin for a long time, so I’m terribly excited to see him rehearse and conduct the Philadelphia Orchestra.  

And of course, I’m so looking forward to meeting and working with all my classmates and colleagues.  It’s amazing to think that I am spending my time now among the great soloists, composers, conductors, chamber musicians, singers, orchestral players, theorists, writers, pedagogues, and interdisciplinary artists of the future!