Saturday, May 11, 2013

John Malveaux Sends Link: 'William Thomas leaves behind a musical legacy'

William Ethaniel Thomas (1950-2013)

Chevalier de Saint-Georges [World Premiere Recording]
Coleridge String Quartet
AFKA SK 557 (2003)

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor: Chamber Music[World Premiere Recording]
The Coleridge Ensemble
AFKA SK-543 (1998)

We first knew William E. Thomas as a cellist on two significant CDs containing world premiere recordings of works of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Le Chevalier de Saint-Georges, who are both featured at

John Malveaux of sends this link:

Service for Andover’s beloved conductor and music department icon set for June 16
April 29, 2013 --“When I think of the PA music scene before William, I have an image of a kind of dim grayness. When William arrived it suddenly became bright sunlight with trumpets.” Those words of a former student reflect the way many members of the Phillips Academy community will remember faculty emeritus William Thomas, who passed away on Sunday, April 28 in his home state of Kentucky.

Born December 9, 1950 in Lexington, Kentucky to Jeanette and William E. Thomas, Sr., Thomas came to Andover in 1974 after earning a bachelor’s degree in music at Oberlin College and a MFA at Penn State University. Within a year of his coming to Andover, he was named the chair of the PA music department, a position he held for 15 years.

Following his retirement in 2008, Thomas’s colleague Christopher Walter described the impact Thomas had on Andover’s music program this way in an article for the Andover Bulletin: “In the mid-1970s, the orchestra was populated only by a handful of students—several from the same family…Under William’s direction, the music department was transformed. The summer music program, the chamber music program, and tours with the Cantata Choir and Academy Chamber Orchestra were perhaps the first remarkable results of William’s energies. Many more were to follow, including the Gospel Choir and a program dedicated to teaching string instruments to children from nearby Lawrence. Mass.”

Thanks to Thomas’s vision, passion and larger-than-life personality, the music program blossomed dramatically. Participation rates rose and the school became a preferred destination for growing numbers of serious music students. During the 34 years Thomas spent at Andover, hundreds of students have delighted in performing in his orchestras, ensembles, and choirs, and have had life-changing experiences as they traveled with him to give performances around the world. Certainly one of the highlights of Thomas’s career was his 2001 trip to China during which he led a group of 134 students and 42 faculty and parents on a music and cultural sharing adventure to Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong.

Among his many interests, Thomas had a life-long desire to raise awareness of the many contributions the black community has made to the country’s musical culture. Toward that end, he founded the Academy’s Black Arts Weekend, and was instrumental in bringing to campus such great artists as Dizzy Gillespie and the Alvin Ailey Dancers. He also helped found the Sojourner Truth Scholarship Fund and was an active participant in Andover’s AfLatAm Society. Thomas made his last trip to Phillips Academy in early April of this year to attend the AfLatAm 45th Anniversary celebration. On April 6, he was in the audience at Cochran Chapel, joyfully cheering the performance of former student and fellow cellist Kevin Olusola ’06 and his a capella group Pentatonix.

Following his retirement from Andover, Thomas threw himself into an effort to save his childhood church in Kentucky, a significant black history landmark building constructed and paid for by slaves in the 1850s. His vision for the project, which was outlined in an article about Thomas in the fall 2012 issue of Andover Magazine, included converting the old building into a multi-purpose cultural center that would contain a concert hall and museum devoted to spotlighting the work of black artists. As of this writing, it remains uncertain whether The First African Foundation he established to raise funds for the project will be able to bring that vision to fruition without Thomas’s leadership.

The family is planning a service in Lexington, KY on Monday, May 20, at 1 p.m. Phillips Academy will hold a memorial service and musical tribute during Reunion Weekend at Cochran Chapel on Sunday, June 16 at 11:30 a.m.  A formal obituary for Thomas was published in the Lexington Herald-Leader.

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