SALT LAKE CITY — Since she was a child, 16-year-old Salt Lake City resident Maya Miro Johnson has always been immersed in the world of arts, especially dance. But when, as a young teenager, she sustained significant injuries, she faced the job of finding a new passion.
After listening to a Carnegie Hall music broadcast with the Berliner Philharmoniker, she knew exactly what she wanted to do.
"And I realized that, you know what, I love this so much," she said, "And as I was picturing them playing all up on the stage, I realized that there was this one person I never really paid much close attention to, who was maybe the most active participant in the music onstage, and that was the conductor."
That interest led her to begin researching how to read scores and observing conductors, as well as starting to write her own music.
"And that really took off," she said. "I realized that it was really perfect for me in that it engaged with the linguistic and communicative aspects of my brain — that's what I've always been drawn to is language and how we communicate with each other. And then it's also physical — you're moving and you're crafting the music with your body like a dancer would."
Thanks to Johnson's hard work and passion, she, along with four other female students, have been chosen as fellows for the esteemed New York City-based, all-female music mentorship program, the Luna Composition Lab Fellowship Program at the Kaufman Music Center.
Kaufman Music Center's Face the Music youth ensemble will showcase Johnson's music later this year, according to a news release. Locally, those interested in hearing this young composer's work can attend the Salty Cricket Composers Collective's 10th anniversary concert at the Urban Arts Gallery on Feb. 23.
This leadership program was co-founded by two female award-winning composers, Missy Mazzoli and Ellen Reid. The fellows are assigned mentors within the program, who this year include composers Reena Esmail and Kristin Kuster — who Johnson works with — who will teach and mentor them.
"The idea is that we get this one-on-one, very intimate relationship over the course of the nine months, or the school year, essentially, to work with an established female composer, who's successful and ambitious and career-driven, but also pedagogical and nurturing in their field," Johnson said.
Johnson is homeschooled, giving her ample time to focus on her musical skills over the years, which range from playing the violin to composing to studying conducting.
"I've actually been homeschooled for the entirety of my school-age life, which I think has really allowed me to delve into the subjects that most interest me and that academically also interlace with the music I'm writing now," she said.
The freedom that she has had with her schooling has helped her not only musically but also as an individual.
"My parents have always emphasized respect for the arts and respect for … education in terms of being an enlightened person, someone who can teach themselves and make connections between multiple subjects and be a well-rounded observer and thinker in the world," Johnson said.
In addition to Johnson's fellowship, she has been working as an apprentice conductor in the National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America, studied with Utah Symphony associate conductor Conner Covington, and studied under Utah Symphony violinist Yuki MacQueen. She also rotates as a concertmaster in the Utah Youth Orchestra.
With all of this work at such a young age, Johnson hopes to continue her musical endeavors into adulthood.
"To me, music is really a representation of the best qualities in people and the worst qualities," she said. "It represents the cooperative power of humanity, and that's what I want to share with people. I want to share ideas, of course, with people and I want to share my own identity and myself with people, as an artist. But I think mostly, I just want to interact with people and get them to think deeply — more deeply perhaps than they do on an ordinary basis."
If you go …
What: Maya Miro Johnson's music featured at the Salt Cricket Composers Collective
When: Feb. 23, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Urban Arts Gallery, 137 S. Rio Grande St.
How much: $10-20