On November 7, 2021 Bach in Baltimore will present the World Premiere of Hollis Thoms’ “Requiem (2020) [in the time of coronavirus]” at The Maryland State Boychoir Center for the Arts in Baltimore, Maryland. Maestro T. Herbert Dimmock will be conducting. “Requiem” will be paired with Bach’s Cantata 4: “Christ lag in Todesbanden” (Christ lay in death’s bonds). This cantata is thought to be one of Bach’s earliest that still survive and is based on a hymn by Martin Luther, with roots in medieval music.
Other performers include Lisa Parente, Soprano; Sonya Knussen, Alto; Joseph Regan. Tenor; Jason Thoms, Bass; Jonas Thoms, Horn; Ben Goodly, Oboe; and the Bach in Baltimore Orchestra.
Thoms’ “Requiem” is in honor of the millions lost worldwide to the pandemic and particularly to those in our local communities.
I recently got a chance to interview Hollis Thoms about “Requiem (2020) [in the time of coronavirus],” his music and his personal life.
Maryland composer Hollis Thoms has spent his professional career as a teacher of music and English, a school administrator, and an active composer. He has had over 40 articles published in educational journals and written about 150 compositions for a variety of ensembles: operas, oratorios, symphonies, chamber works, sacred and secular vocal, and choral works.
Mr. Thoms received a BA from Concordia University-Chicago; MM in composition from Northwestern; finished the course work for the PhD in composition from the Eastman School of Music; has an Ed. S. in educational administration from the University of Toledo; and a MALA from St. John’s College, Annapolis. He has been the recipient of a number of fellowships including Joseph Klingenstein Fellowship to Columbia University Teachers College, an Alden B. Dow Creativity Fellowship, and a Fulbright Teacher Exchange to Scotland. In addition, he was selected to participate in the summer seminar for principals at Harvard University Graduate School of Education. His major compositions are in special collections at the Maryland State Archives, Folger Shakespeare Library, Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in Stratford, England, and the Church Music Center-Concordia University-Chicago.
Can you tell our readers a little about yourself?
I come from a family with five generations of musicians. My grandfather and father were professional singers in the Chicago area. My three sisters all studied stringed instruments and two went to conservatories. My wife is a singer and organist. I am a composer. My three children are all professional musicians: professional singer and choral director, oboist and arts administrator, and horn player and teacher of horn. My grandchildren all sing and one is pursuing a career as a singer.
I am a retired school administrator and teacher but continue to write music and have been for almost 50 years. I went to Northwestern University and Eastman School of Music for my graduate degrees in music. I have written about 170 works including symphonies, operas, oratorios, chamber works, sacred and secular vocal and choral works.
Music making is central to my life and my family’s life.
I could not help but notice there are several musicians performing in “Requiem” with your last name. Are they family and if so, how are you related?
Most of my pieces have been written with my wife, Jacqueline, and professional musician children in mind. My “Requiem” will feature my children. My oldest son, Jason, will sing the baritone solos, my youngest son, Jonas, will play the horn, and my daughter, Sonja, was scheduled to play the oboe in the performance, but has recently had braces put in and is having difficulty playing the oboe at this time.
“Requiem” is written to honor and commemorate those we have lost during the pandemic. How did the pandemic affect you personally?
The pandemic has affected all of us. Since my wife and I are over 70, we have had to take all the necessary precautions to avoid catching the virus. We were not been able to see our children in person for almost a year until recently. My daughter-in-law, Treva, died unexpectedly at the beginning of the pandemic year. That has been a terrible loss, because she would have been the soprano soloist in the premiere of the “Requiem.” She was an amazing singer, and I wrote many pieces for her also.
Your piece will be paired by Bach’s Cantata 4: “Christ lag in Todesbanden.” Are you a fan JSB?
Johann Sebastian Bach has been the most important influence on me as a composer. When I was in my teens my friends used to call me “Johann” because I loved playing Bach on the piano and was known for my Bach. I played his D-minor piano concerto with my high school orchestra. I also got a group of high schoolers together to perform Bach Cantata 4.
As I have matured as a composer, I have taken Bach as one of my models for composition. I have written a Passion (imitating Bach’s Passions) and Bach in Baltimore premiered that work about ten years ago. I have also written six “Brandenburg Concertos” like Bach did that have been performed. My “Requiem” has four movements, and the first and last movement have musical references to the influence of Bach.
The last movement of the “Requiem” is dedicated to my father, William, who was a baritone soloist and sang in Bach’s Cantata 56. I quote a recitative from that cantata that my father sang and develop a fantasy variation movement on that recitative, expanding it and enlarging upon its musical and textual ideas. My son, Jason, the grandson of William, will sing movement four honoring his grandfather and my father.
Do you prefer teaching music or composing?
I am a retired teacher of music and English and a retired school administrator. I earned my living in education and educational administration, but my avocation was composing. I have written music mostly for my professional music family members, but also have had commissions, and written works for various groups like Bach in Baltimore.
I loved teaching and was awarded a number of teaching awards—a Joseph Klingenstein Fellowship to Columbia University for a year, was a Fulbright Exchange Teacher to Scotland for a year. As an administrator, I was selected to be a part of a school administrator summer session at Harvard Graduate School of Education. I have had over 40 articles published in educational journals on my teaching.
Now, in retirement, I devote myself to composing and my composer website is hollisthoms.com. I will continue to write music as long as I have imaginative musical ideas and people want to listen to my music and there are opportunities for musical performances. Music making is an important part of my life.
“Requiem (2020) [in the time of coronavirus]” will be performed by Bach in Baltimore as part of their First Sunday Series on November 7, 2021 at 4 p.m. at the Maryland State Boychoir Center for the Arts, 3400 Norman Avenue, Baltimore Maryland. For more information and tickets, go to this link.
Bach in Baltimore is in its 34th year and has been performing choral and instrumental works of Johann Sebastian Bach and others to educate the concert-going public “about the musical language of Bach and the texts he chose to set to music.” Their goal is to “foster an appreciation for the arts, particularly for Baroque music, within the entire community.” They also provide education experiences for all ages to “instill a lifelong connection with Bach’s music.”
If you are interested in finding out more about Hollis Thoms, you can watch these two videos on YouTube where he sat down with Maestro T. Herbert Dimmock: Video 1 is now available and Video 2 which was released February 21, 2021.
Want to find out more about Maestro T. Herbert Dimmock? Check out Susan Brall’s interview with him for Maryland Theatre Guide.