Over the last year, I have seen Dr. Thomas present twice on the importance of ensuring that the African American Spiritual is passed on to the next generations through our choral ensembles and music classrooms. In these presentations he also speaks eloquently about the challenges we face in doing so. We have parents, students and administrators worried about being accused of appropriation. We have directors worried about being criticized for inauthenticity, and governors pushing laws making it a minefield to teach the histories of race and racism in some states.
How do we see the challenges, and choose to move forward in the face of them? In this episode Dr. Thomas advocates for a performance practice, and linguistically informed approach to the spiritual. One in which, we the teachers, enter the classrooms armed to teach both the how and the why of the spiritual.
André Thomas on students who may feel uncomfortable at first with this repertoire.
“I would never hurt someone’s self esteem with music, because music is my tool to reach them.”
Find Dr. Thomas’ book “Beulah Land” here!
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ANDRÉ J. THOMAS is a Professor Emeritus of Music at Florida State University. He was visiting Professor of Choral Conducting at Yale University from 2020-2022. He also served as a faculty member at the University of Texas, Austin. He is presently an Associate Artist with the London Symphony Orchestra.
Dr. Thomas received his degrees from Friends University (B.A.), Northwestern University (M. M.), and The University of Illinois (D.M.A). He is in demand as a choral adjudicator, clinician, and director of Honor/All-State Choirs throughout North America, Europe, Asia, New Zealand, Australia, and Africa. Dr. Thomas has conducted choirs at the state, division, and national conventions of the Music Educators National Conference (NAFME) and the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA). His international conducting credits are extensive.
He has led numerous prestigious orchestras and choirs around the world, including the Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in England, the Berlin Radio Choir and the North German Radio Choir in Germany, the Netherlands Radio Choir, the Bulgarian Radio Choir & Orchestra, the Seoul Metropolitan Chorus, Ansan City Choir, Jeju Provincial Seogwipo Chorale in South Korea, the Charlotte Symphony, China’s People’s Liberation Orchestra, the Czech National Symphony Orchestra, and the London Symphony Orchestra.
Thomas is a distinguished composer/arranger with Hinshaw Music Company, Mark Foster Music Company, Fitzsimons Music Company, Lawson Gould, Earthsongs, Choristers Guild, and Heritage Music Company.
Various musical organizations have recognized Thomas with the Living Legend Award, the Distinguished Service Award, the Robert Shaw Award, the NCCO (National Collegiate Choral Organization) Lifetime Achievement Award, and the Southern Region of ACDA Award of Excellence. In January 2019, he was inducted into the Florida Music Educator’s Hall of Fame, and in 2022 he was presented the Samuel Simons Sanford Medal, the most prestigious honor conferred by the Yale School of Music.