Student Composer Showcase: Patricia Bristow-Johnson

Jun 2, 2015

This month’s Student Composer Showcase features Burlington senior Patricia Bristow-Johnson. Her work, Vermont Variations, features flute, contrabassoon and string quartet. It evokes pastoral scenes from Vermont’s landscape and Church Street on a busy day.

Bristow-Johnson is doing the exceptional senior year program at South Burlington High School, which she explains as, “An innovative schooling program where students get to direct their own education based on their interests; I'm focusing mainly on music.”

The young composer says that she loves listening, playing and composing music. When asked why she loves composing so much, she quickly answers that it’s fun. “That’s one of the main reasons. Also, I’ve been playing piano for a really long time and I enjoy playing piano. Sometimes when I’m playing … I come up with things. Especially recently, although this has been happening for awhile, I would think of songs in my head when I’m going about my day. I think of them and it’s fun to compose,” she explains. “When a song is stuck in my head, even if it’s a song that’s not mine, eventually my brain will do things to it, so stuff comes out of it,” she says.

When I watched the rehearsal for Vermont Variations, I noticed that the composer had much confidence while talking to the musicians and it was obvious that she had a strong vision for her piece. I asked her where that came from. “I guess it’s something that I’ve had for awhile, throughout high school. I do leadership in other contexts as well … I’ve done a fair amount of talking in front of people.”

“[The musicians] do bring character and soul to it that the computer didn’t have. Also, you’ll hear at the end that it slows down. That wasn’t written into the music and it hadn’t even occurred to me to do that, but the players did it in the rehearsal and I thought, ‘Well this sounds good, I won’t say anything about it,’ so I just left it at that.” - Patricia Bristow-Johnson, composer

Bristow-Johnson says that she really enjoyed having her piece played by actual musicians live. “They do bring character and soul to it that the computer didn’t have,” she says. “Also, you’ll hear at the end that it slows down. That wasn’t written into the music and it hadn’t even occurred to me to do that, but the players did it in the rehearsal and I thought, ‘Well this sounds good, I won’t say anything about it,’ so I just left it at that.”

Vermont Variations, by Patricia Bristow-Johnson, was performed at Opus 30, April 29, 2015 at the Chandler Music Hall in Randolph. Performed by Berta Frank, flute, Julian Partridge, contrabassoon, Letitia Quante, violin I, Jane Kittredge, violin II, Liz Reid, viola, and Michael Close, cello.