Victor Johnson is one of our most innovative and creative composers. His music runs the gamut from concert hall compositions of scope and power to choral pieces that balance artistry and pedagogy intended to encourage the young developing musician. His sacred output is filled with a diversity of styles and a love for the traditions of the church. With so much talent on display, one would imagine his gifts might also come with an attitude of pride. Actually, Victor is one of the most humble and genuine persons you will ever meet. He is loved by those who know him, and his giving spirit and quiet sense of humor bring joy into the room wherever he goes. For this issue of WorshipSongs, Victor took our questionnaire and gave us some wonderful insights into his purpose and process as a writer.
What was the music of your youth?
I was a 90’s kid, so it was all about great rock bands and their music: Red Hot Chili Peppers, Nirvana, Green Day… along with a little New Kids on the Block and Boyz II Men, thrown in for good measure!
Tell us about your background and how that inspired you to pursue music as a career?
I started playing piano in 4th grade after I was kicked out of an art class because, well, I couldn’t draw. (True story!) I had an amazing elementary music education. My elementary school offered group piano lessons, a handbell ensemble, choir, and private piano lessons, and I did it all. I left elementary school and attended the Performing Arts Middle School here in Dallas which solidified my passion for music. I left middle school knowing that I wanted to be a music teacher and compose for the rest of my life! In high school, I was in the choir, continued piano lessons, fell in love with the organ, and had my first piece published in 10th grade. In college, I majored in Music Education and organ. Upon graduation, I taught elementary-high school choir for 18 years, becoming a full-time editor and composer.
What music do you listen to now?
I love listening to various types, but have a passion for anything Baroque, French organ music, classic rock, smooth jazz, and gospel. (Yeah, my tastes are all over the place!)
Tell us about your faith journey, and how it influences your musical choices.
My youth was spent in a wonderfully inspiring church with fantastic music programs. Along with a strong spiritual and theological foundation, I received a strong musical foundation as well. I view my compositional style to be very traditional, with a little “seasoning.” I love the rich history and theology that can be found in hymn texts, and I enjoy setting those hymns, either as arrangements or in new, original settings. But, I like to add a little color and texture to those arrangements by using contemporary and fun chordal progressions and harmonies.
Name three things about yourself that would surprise people.
1) I’m painfully introverted
2) I’m a fantastic baker
3) I hardly ever listen to music in the car; more of a talk radio; podcast; audio book guy
What projects are currently on your horizon?
With the current COVID-19 crisis, my city has been given a “shelter-in-place” order. So, I suddenly have lots of time on my hands. I plan to do a lot of composing geared toward the Spring 2021 (Lent, Easter) release for my publishers.
I’ve also received a commission for a major secular work to be premiered in Fall 2021 for a Carnegie Hall concert, so I’m putting together ideas for that. It’s a very exciting time for me as a composer!
When are you most creative?
I’m most creative at night. I’m a total night-owl and really feel productive and inspired during the later hours of the day.
What’s your sacred space?
My sacred space is actually my back patio. I do my morning devotions out there and do most of my text writing and idea generation there also. It’s a very calming environment for me and totally allows me the opportunity to hear the Creator’s voice and feel the creative muses.
Which composers/arrangers inspire you?
My very first inspiration as a composer was Emily Crocker. She wrote an article for one of my choral textbooks from school and that was the biggest influence on me as a young composer. To this day, I admire her greatly and still view her as a source of inspiration for my school choral writing. Mary Lynn Lightfoot has also played a pivotal role in my career, as she was my first editor, and was my main editor for over 20+ years. Some of the other influential contemporary composers to my work are Morton Lauridsen, Richard Smallwood, Mark Hayes, Joseph Martin, and Lloyd Larson.
What do you do when you’re not composing?
I have a brand-new niece named Victoria, so I’ve been getting in as much uncle time with her as humanly possible! I also love to bake. My grandmother is a fantastic baker, and I learned a lot from spending time with her. Baking is stress relief for me. (But, has proven to be very dangerous for my waistline at times.)
Where do you see church music going in the future? Are there trends you think are important in the current culture of sanctuary music?
I sense that we are heading toward a period of returning to hymnody and engaging our churches in vigorous congregational singing. With the current state that we are in as a world, being quarantined and physically separated from each other for our normal periods of worship, I feel that when we all are together in fellowship again, it will be such a joyous time, and music will play a vital role in our coming together again as people of God.
What is your #1 tip for aspiring writers?
My #1 tip would be to not let negative responses to your work have a negative impact on your work. We all have been told “no” by publishers or have been given some form or criticism by someone listening to our pieces. Instead of becoming discouraged, use those emotions as fuel to hone your craft and keep writing the music that the Creator puts in your heart.
Click the links to enjoy some of VICTOR”S latest creations.