By Stefanie Sadocha
Students of the OBHS Band Department welcomed successful composer Omar Thomas to the high school to discuss his life as a composer and music educator. Students were left inspired by Thomas’s success and motivated to improve their own musical skills.
Originally from Brooklyn, New York, Omar Thomas, 35, is an accomplished composer and educator. Thomas knew in high school that he was meant to pursue music. He attended James Madison University, where he received a bachelor’s degree in Music Education. At college, he was able to make it into the top jazz ensemble his freshman year and fell in love with jazz and composition.
Thomas then attended the New England Conservatory in Boston for his master’s degree, where he focused on jazz composition. While he was still a student in Boston, Thomas was offered a position as an associate professor at the Berklee College of Music at the young age of 23. Additionally, Thomas was an assistant professor at Harvard University for four years. After 10 years at Berklee, Thomas now works at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, a highly competitive music school.
Mr. Matthew Sisia, the director of the OBHS band department, was first inspired by Thomas’s work at the 2019 All-State Music Festival, where he heard the piece “Of Our New Day Begun.” He was so moved by the powerful message behind the piece that he wanted to share it with his students at Oyster Bay. Thomas composed the piece as a dedication to the nine victims killed in 2015 at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
The Oyster Bay High School Wind Ensemble performed “Of Our New Day Begun” at the 2019 Cavalcade of Bands Concert. Members of the Mt. Olive Baptist Church Choir joined students to help them sing throughout the performance. The piece implements singing and stomping as a way to display traditional African music traditions. Additionally, the Wind Ensemble performed the piece with the Long Island Wind Ensemble and the Brentwood and Baldwin High School Bands.
Katherine Pinnock, a sophomore in Wind Ensemble, stated, “I think it was different than anything I have played throughout my band career. I think the singing added a new and important element to the piece.”
Although composing such a powerful piece has a great impact, Thomas revealed that he never wants to compose a piece with such a dark background again. As a composer, Thomas put his heart and soul into his work, which was challenging. This led to him thinking about the tragedy on a regular basis throughout the composition process. Although he is grateful for the experience, putting himself in such a dark mindset was unhealthy.
After Thomas’s visit, students felt motivated to continue honing their skills. Mr. Sisia revealed, “My biggest fear as a music educator is that my students will graduate from high school and never touch their instruments again.” It’s safe to say that Omar Thomas has inspired students at OBHS to appreciate music that much more.