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July 25, 2002

Birmingham-Southern music legend Hugh Thomas dies

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 and
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 students.

"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 being."

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.

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Hugh and Barbara Thomas

 

 
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