Growing up Johnson listened to R&B, Jazz and classical music. When she began playing the piano at age four, her interest and appreciation for classical music took over. At seven years old she attended her first orchestra concert. It was then her musical flame was ignited and her fondness for the sound of the orchestra began.
While in undergrad, Johnson conducted The Wellesley College Symphony solidifying her plans to becoming conductor of a major orchestra. When she continued on to graduate school her pianist aspirations slowed. The rehearsal spaces at the University of Chicago not being exactly state of the art — all of her focus was on attending master classes and gaining on-the-job experience. “You have to have access to an actual orchestra, because our instrument is not the baton; it’s the actual orchestra,” she said.
As a pianist she enjoyed being able to play solos and accompaniments at the same time. However, with string instruments, she recognized the individual instruments were merely pieces to a larger puzzle.
“The violins are only playing the violin part, the cello is only playing the cello part. They’re just playing a bit of the music; it’s not the whole piece itself,” Johnson said. “As a pianist, unlike a string instrument, I can play as many fingers as I have. When it came to orchestra, I didn’t just want to play one little instrument.”