by Mike Telin

Johnson-KarenHow do we pick our programs? We just find pieces we really like, and we figure if we like them the audience will like them,” says flutist Karen Johnson about her program with pianist Carlos Rodriguez on the Signature Series at Lorain County Community College on Monday, March 18 beginning at 7:30 pm. “I’ve been playing with Carlos for fifteen years. And during that time we’ve played many different programs, but in the past couple of years we’ve been playing a lot of American music. And a lot of music by composers that we haven’t played in a while that we really like.”

Johnson says that she and Rodriguez have found that even contemporary pieces can be accessible to the audience if the artist likes the piece. “We like to talk to the audience and get them engaged in the music.” Monday’s concert includes Lukas Foss’s Three American Pieces, Joseph Schwantner’s Black Anemones, Robert Muczynski’s Sonata, Jeffrey Mumford’s an evolving romance, Manuel Ponce’s Intermezzo, Alberto Ginastera’s Malambo and Astor Piazzolla’s Café 1930 and Bordel 1900 from L’Histoire du Tango.

Johnson also thinks it’s important to tell the audience what the composer intended and then to ask them, Now what do you think? “I find that people have a completely different experience if you tell them something about the piece than if you tell them nothing. This way they get to have a more personalized experience with the music.”

Johnson describes Foss’s Three American Pieces as a fun piece of music. “It’s very accessible although it does use contemporary techniques for the flute, like flutter tonguing and humming and playing at the same time.” She says the composer takes a little jab at Dixie during the final movement and he uses contemporary techniques to make it even more rowdy.

In the flute world, as with all instruments, compositions do go through cycles. “Some pieces do go by the wayside and maybe they should, but I think these pieces are gems.”

After experiencing what Johnson calls “a little crisis,” she, like many performers sought help through meditation and relaxation. Performing with Heart is Johnson’s experiential workshop/seminar designed for students, amateur and professional musicians who wish to explore and enhance their performing experience, connect deeply with their audiences and enjoy their time on stage. “How could I have picked a profession that makes me a nervous wreck?” and she asks, adding that there is lot of competitive pressure in the music business and especially at the conservatory level. “The more relaxed that you are the better you’ll play. And, if you allow yourself to be consumed by the pressure you’re not going to be having a very good time.”

She says she realized that working with a meditation teacher was completely changing her playing and her experience during performances. “All of a sudden I was having more fun.”

Johnson’s class is experiential with a lot of visualization and breathing exercises. “We don’t focus on suppressing our anxiety. We recognize that it is natural to be nervous. The mind is a powerful instrument and you can choose to focus on anxiety or focus on having a good time. I choose the good time.

Published on ClevelandClassical March 12, 2013.

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