How I found my rhythm as a pianist and vocal coach

7 August 2023
In this instalment of our Find Your Rhythm series, we catch up with repetiteur and vocal coach Thomas Victor Johnson, whose passion for music has taken him across the globe to work with the world's finest arts companies.
Headshot of Thomas Victor Johnson

Con alumnus Thomas Victor Johnson

For Thomas Victor Johnson, music has always been an intrinsic part of life.

"I can't remember a time in my life when music wasn't at the centre,” he recalls.

“It feels surreal to think of little Thomas taking his first piano lessons, not knowing that one day he would find himself working under Daniel Barenboim in Berlin! But it happened."

Thomas's career has been marked by an impressive array of experiences both in Australia and abroad. He dedicated several years to working with esteemed opera companies such as Opera Australia and West Australian Opera before heading to Germany to immerse himself in Berlin's vibrant music scene.

As part of the music staff at Staatsoper Unter den Linden (Berlin State Opera), Thomas worked alongside industry luminaries such as Daniel Barenboim, Zubin Mehta, Sir Simon Rattle, Sir Antonio Pappano and fellow Con alum Simone Young.

While proud of these milestones, it's the more intimate moments in his career that hold the greatest significance for Thomas.

Working with artists from all over the world, helping them to find their artistic voice, championing their uniqueness, and encouraging them to express themselves in an authentic way has been endlessly rewarding for me.

The Sydney Conservatorium of Music played a pivotal role in shaping Thomas's artistic trajectory. As a Bachelor of Music graduate, Thomas acknowledges the profound impact of his education on his professional growth.

“The Con was a highly stimulating and varied environment that in many ways reflects my current professional life,” he reflects.

“As a vocal coach and repetiteur, I am always balancing my own preparation while helping singers explore the full spectrum of their own artistry,”

Among the myriad of skills he acquired during his time at the Con, two have proven particularly invaluable in his work. Thomas emphasises the significance of attentive listening, even to silence, and the delicate balance between openness and discipline as the keys to artistic freedom. These skills, honed through his studies, continue to guide him as he helps singers explore the depths of their artistry while nurturing his own.

“My piano lessons with Natalia Sheludiakova showed me how important it is to have a very clear aural imagination, a skill I was able to exercise in my student days by playing for hundreds of instrumental, singing, and lyric diction lessons,” he remembers.

“Access to these varied disciplines allowed me to discover my strengths and has set solid foundations for everything that has followed.”

Thomas's artistic and professional success also stems from his willingness to embrace diverse opportunities and take calculated risks. He has taken on a variety of roles across diverse arts companies in Australia and abroad, with a wealth of freelance coaching and playing opportunities in between.

These experiences have provided Thomas with a broad overview of the music industry, and the confidence to seek out new avenues of artistic expression. One such avenue was a concert series Thomas co-founded in Berlin alongside his husband Paull-Anthony Keightley and fellow Con alum Simone Easthope.

“We were able to engage incredible artists and curate programs that transformed the typical art song recital into a deeply moving experience for our audiences. We had complete artistic freedom which enabled us to present contemporary programmes that really resonated with people.”

Thomas aspires to continue this artistic vision in Sydney, his home city, where he has recently returned to join Opera Australia as a solo repetiteur.

Reflecting on the lessons he's learned in his career, Thomas offers valuable guidance to aspiring musicians forging their path.

“Cultivate diverse interests. Get to know yourself better. Question everything. Learn another language. Travel. Meditate daily - especially helpful in a world where instant gratification reigns supreme,” he emphasises.

“Stay humble. Build meaningful relationships with people both within your field and outside of it. Seek out the lessons inherent in every experience even, or perhaps especially, the less-than-ideal ones.”

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