Elisa Kain Johnson
Third prize winner in Ages 15-18 division
Winning composition: We Have Wings
How old were you when you started composing?
12 years old
What do you love most about composing music?
I love how composing music can serve as a connection between my audience and me. I often compose music about deeply personal topics or social issues that affect many people, and my goal is always to use my artistic voice as a means to reach out to my audience or inspire change. I've seen music touch people in ways words can't because music is a universal language, and I love that I have the privilege to bring it into the world.
Tell us a little about your winning YWCC composition
My winning YWCC composition is called We Have Wings. I love musical theater, and when I was writing this piece, I was acting in my school's production of Seussical. I played one of six Bird Girls, who are a small female ensemble that sings featured lines throughout the story. I wanted to encapsulate the six different personalities of the actors playing the Bird Girls in this piece, and I did so by separating the piece into sections, each section representing a different Bird Girl. The title is inspired by a line a character sings in the musical, "I have wings," which also fits the piece well because our characters were birds.
What was your process/approach to composing your piece for YWCC?
I first had to figure out how to encapsulate the people's personalities into music, which sometimes proved difficult for those I didn't know as well. I spent as much time as I could with the Bird Girl actors and came up with a couple of descriptions for each of their personalities (playful, sassy, enthusiastic, sweet, etc.). These became the tempo descriptions at the beginning of each section. I then worked on each section individually before figuring out how to transition between them. I finished by creating a mash-up of all the sections to end the piece.
What is your advice to someone who is interested in composing a piece but does not know where to start?
Compose something bad! When I started composing seriously, I struggled with the idea that everything I composed had to sound perfect immediately. This made me feel stuck and have no idea where to start. I still have trouble doing this, but the best advice I can give is to let go of perfection and just try to compose something. It doesn't have to be good. In fact, it can be horrible. You might find that what you think is horrible is perfect to someone else.
Tell us a fun fact about yourself!
I have memorized 121 digits of pi!