Indiana State University Newsroom

Indiana State psychology professor honored for music abilities

October 14, 2014

Thomas Johnson, professor of psychology at Indiana State University, proves winning a music-writing contest is much like playing the lottery -- you can't win if you don't play.

Johnson is a finalist in the University of Wisconsin River Falls Composition Workshop and Competition for his composition, "Four Cartoons for Woodwind Quintet." The piece will be performed by the Prevailing Winds Woodwind Quintet in River Falls, Wis., on Oct. 26.

"It's nice to have some recognition outside of the local area and by professionals who are interested in playing the work. It's gratifying," Johnson said.

Johnson, who played the trumpet and then took up the piano as an adolescent, has been entering contests for only the past year or two.

"(Playing an instrument and composing is) something I always wanted to do. I started doing both about the same time," Johnson said. "There's a bit of a learning curve. The stuff I wrote when I was in junior high sounds like it was written by a junior high student."

After studying trumpet with Bill Adam and jazz arranging and composition with Dominic Spera while at Indiana University, later learning composition under Joel Naumann at the University of Wisconsin and continuing to sharpen his skills with Daniel Powers, composer in residence at Indiana State's School of Music, Johnson has flattened that learning curve.

His composition is one of only 10 pieces chosen as finalists for the Van Galen Composition Prize, out of 77 submissions from composers from eight countries. Audience members will help determine the overall winner by voting after all 10 pieces are performed in a public concert at Abbott Hall in River Falls. Usually, a panel of composers vote for composition prizes; this time, the panel's vote counts only half toward the final score.

The Van Galen Composition Prize is a cash award of $500, plus a professional recording session for the composer and presentation on YouTube.

Johnson has published more than 30 articles and book chapters and received the Theodore Dreiser Distinguished Research and Creativity Award from Indiana State in 2005. He teaches courses including the "Psychology of Music" and "Music and Drug Subcultures in the U.S. and the U.K." Johnson has written the book, music and lyrics for two full-length musicals -- "Young Man in a Hurry" and "The Ballad of Robin Hood."

Johnson's recent compositions and arrangements have been performed by various high school, college and community bands and choirs in Terre Haute. In 2012, Johnson began focusing on writing contemporary chamber works and has composed for woodwind trio and quintet, brass quintet and piano quintet. "Cats and Mouses" for woodwind quintet was a finalist in the instrumental category in the 2013 U.K. Songwriting contest.


Photo: -- Thomas Johnson poses for a portrait in his office in 2012.

Contact: Thomas Johnson, professor of psychology, Indiana State University, 812-237-2449 or

Media contact: Libby Roerig, media relations assistant director, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3790 or