July 25, 2002
BIRMINGHAM, Ala.-Hugh Thomas, a choral
music legend at Birmingham-Southern College for more than a half-century,
died July 24 from complications from pneumonia. He was 90.
Hugh Thomas (right) with colleague
friend Andrew Gainey on induction into
BSC's Music Gallery of Honor in 2000.
Thomas began his long association
with the college in 1936 and retired from the faculty in 1982.
He became dean of the Conservatory of Music in 1947, was chairman
of the Department of Music from 1964-72, and directed the
Concert Choir from 1964-93.
Longtime Birmingham-Southern President
Dr. Neal R. Berte said Thomas' legacy and influence stretched
literally around the world.
"Hugh Thomas graced the campus of Birmingham-Southern
College for many years and from there his work extended around the
world," said Berte, who was a friend and colleague of Thomas
for nearly 30 years. "Hugh's enthusiasm for teaching, as well
as his consummate artistry, was the catalyst that brought out the
best in everyone who performed under his direction or learned from
him in a piano studio. It is overwhelming to think of the tremendous
legacy and continuing influence Hugh Thomas' life will have for
all who knew him."
Dr. Lester Seigel, Birmingham-Southern's
Joseph Hugh Thomas Professor of Music and chair of the Division
of Fine and Performing Arts, said that Thomas, known to friends
and colleagues as "H.T.," will be remembered not only
as a musician and composer, but also for his relationship with his
"Hugh Thomas was the consummate artist-teacher,"
said Seigel, a 1979 Birmingham-Southern graduate who studied under
Thomas. "Students at Birmingham-Southern were not only inspired
by his passion and insight, but by his tremendous industry in rehearsing
the BSC Concert Choir, and in working with piano students and young
conductors. He taught them that excellence comes not only from knowledge
and talent, but from developing one's technique through hours of
practice and study. Yet his teaching was much more than this; he
taught by example, as a role model and mentor to his students.
"His sense of humor was legendary.
He also could be tough, but it was almost always with a gleam in
his eye, underscored by real caring. His concept of learning embodied
not only music, but philosophy, literature, art, and drama. H.T.
knew that true wisdom came from embracing a wide range of disciplines,
and making the connections-the true goal of a well-educated human
Thomas received his bachelor's degree from Birmingham-Southern
in 1933 and bachelor's and master's degrees from the Birmingham
Conservatory of Music. He studied piano with Dorsey Whittington
and conducting with Robert Shaw. He also studied analysis with Julius
Hereford at the Berkshire Music Center in Lenox, Mass.
In 1951, he made his professional debut as a conductor
of the Hugh Thomas Chorus at Town Hall in New York. He also was
a piano soloist with Andre Kostelanetz.
An administrator at the BSC Conservatory of Music
from 1947-72, he returned to full-time teaching in 1972 and retired
from the faculty in 1982. He continued to direct the college's concert
choir until 1993.
Birmingham-Southern choirs directed by Thomas
performed at Carnegie Hall and toured Europe. His BSC Concert Choir
was selected in 1978 to perform at the meeting of American Choral
Directors Association, an organization that honored him for his
lifetime contribution to choral music. In 1988, he was named Outstanding
Music Educator in Alabama. In 1993, he was awarded a lifetime achievement
award from the Alabama State Council on the Arts. National Public
Radio profiled Thomas in 1995.
Thomas received an Honorary Doctor of Humanities
degree from Birmingham-Southern in 1981 and the college's Medal
of Service in 1992.
In addition to his tenure at Birmingham-Southern,
Thomas directed the First United Methodist Church Chancel Choir
for 20 years, along with the Canterbury United Methodist Church
choir, Birmingham Civic Chorus, Birmingham Symphony Chorus, Hugh
Thomas Chorus, and Indian Springs School Choir. He also served as
music critic for the Birmingham Post-Herald.
The Barbara and Hugh Thomas Scholarship was created
at the college in 1998 to honor Professor Emeritus of Music Thomas
and his wife, Barbara Dorough Thomas, a 1937 BSC graduate and prominent
Birmingham musician and teacher who died last year at age 84. The
Hugh and Barbara Thomas Master
Class Series, established in their honor
by alumna Beverly Hosokawa and her husband, David, brings
four master artists to campus each year in the areas of instrumental
performance, vocal performance, piano performance, and composition.
Thomas is survived by sons Madoc Thomas
of Lubbock, Texas, and Tim Thomas of Birmingham, and daughter
Allyn Boucher of Wilsonville.
Memorials may be made to the Barbara and
Hugh Thomas Scholarship at Birmingham-Southern, Office of
Development, 900 Arkadelphia Road, Birmingham, AL 35254.
Hugh and Barbara Thomas