A Musical Inspiration

November 2016 / 17/11/2016

There are so many people behind the amazing success of the Flinders’ music program. FlindersLife talks to one of our longest-serving musical maestros, the inimitable, John Thomas.

Sitting in the audience, the experience is mesmerizing, awe-inspiring, simply amazing. It’s hard to believe the performers are just students, and not seasoned professionals.

At the helm is Flinders Band and Brass Coordinator John Thomas, who has been inspiring the young musicians at Flinders for 23 years.

For JT, as he is known, each year brings so many highlights and rewards.jt1

JT started at Matthew Flinders Anglican College in 1993, just a few years after the establishment of the school.

He had just two students, studying trumpet.

JT was a talented musician from a young age, and, as many will know, a mad-keen surfer! At 15 he had the choice of a Conservatorium music scholarship, a surfing sponsorship or a building industry apprenticeship. He chose the latter and spent the next 20 years working as a plasterer and tiler.

Then, in the early 90s, a musical opportunity was presented to JT. He won the Maroochy Shire Council Bicentennial scholarship to study in England at Salford College in Manchester – the home of brass in the world.

Leaving his young family, he completed the two-year course in just six months, and then auditioned for the Black Dyke Mills Band.

He played 1st Tenor Horn in the Black Dyke Mills Band for six months, performing to thousands of appreciative fans.

This legendary group of musicians held a reunion last year. JT was the only Australian, in fact, the only person from the Southern Hemisphere, to be invited to perform in the Reunion Band with musicians from across the world, aged 30 to their early 80s.

The 160th anniversary Reunion Concert was held at Huddersfield Town Hall. The concert featured the current Black Dyke Mills Band, the Yorkshire Youth Band and the Black Dyke Mills Reunion Band.

“These are legendary players you grow up admiring, and there I was, playing with them,” JT said.

“It’s a who’s who of brass players in the world.

“It’s the most successful band ever, my dream would be to play in that band.”

More than two decades earlier, a young JT was so inspired by his musical experiences that he came home from England and decided it was time to get out of the building trade. His teaching career began at Flinders.

Inspiring students is foremost in the minds of the teaching staff at Flinders.

Another opportunity to inspire students came last year when the Wind Symphony embarked on its first international touring experience in the history of the College.

Forty-nine students and six staff travelled to Los Angeles, Washington DC and Chicago to attend the Midwest Clinic, an experience that JT was excited to share with his students having visited himself a year earlier.

“This was an opportunity to hear the best in the world; an opportunity to meet the competitors in real life and to be with other kids that do the same things that they do from different nations right around the world,” JT said

“The contacts you make are priceless.”

The Wind Symphony was a demonstration band at the Mid-West Clinic, and was privileged to perform in front of 17,000 instrumental music teachers. The ensemble also attended a rehearsal of the US Army Band in Washington DC, the ultimate in concert bands in America.

And after decades of experiences and sharing his love of music with so many, what advice does JT have for students about achieving their dream?

“You have to be passionate,” said JT.

“And work hard, it doesn’t matter who you are, natural ability will not get you there, that’s where a lot of people go wrong.

“You have to do the hard yards and hopefully it falls into place and that’s with anything. And you just have to enjoy it.”

Music, says JT, teaches so many things: “Life skills, discipline, it teaches you how to relate to other people, and to work as a team member.”

Flinders’ music program has grown over the years, and today, is considered one of the most outstanding in the country.

Next year, the Matthew Flinders Anglican College Choir Tour will head to New York.