Final Concert Open to Public May 18, 2022, 7:30 pm, Martin Luther King Jr. Performing Arts Center
The music educator who grew Charlottesville High School’s orchestra from eight members to an award-winning, internationally known group of 100 is retiring this spring after a career spanning 40 years at CHS. Laura Mulligan Thomas will present her final concert as director of the CHS Orchestra (CHSO) on Wednesday, May 18, at 7:30pm at the Martin Luther King Jr. Performing Arts Center. The performance is free and open to the public; masking is strongly encouraged.
Thomas has received multiple regional and national awards, including, this year, the American String Teachers Association’s Elizabeth A. H. Green School Educator Award. After studying with Thomas, a number of CHSO graduates have gone on to become professional orchestral musicians and pop, rock, and country artists in the U.S. and Europe; others have followed in her footsteps to become music educators.
“Laura Mulligan Thomas has influenced generations of students in Charlottesville with a music education that is second to none. She leaves a legacy in our schools,” said Superintendent Royal A. Gurley, Jr.
At its annual assessments, the CHSO String Ensemble has earned the highest rating on the highest difficulty of music every year since 1983, including this spring, contributing to the school earning its 12th Blue Ribbon for excellence from the Virginia Music Education Association. At the recent Williamsburg Heritage Festival of Music, competing against schools from six states, the CHS Orchestra and String Ensemble won every award possible, including the String Ensemble winning Overall Outstanding Orchestra and Instrumental Sweepstakes. The group will round out this performing season by performing in Los Angeles this summer.
“Laura Thomas is an institution,” said Dr. Eric Irizarry, principal of CHS. “What sets her apart is her commitment to excellence in all areas – her skill and artistry as a musician, her support of the musicianship of her students, the strong relationships she builds, and the sense of joy and community she cultivates.”
Thomas’s other personal accolades include:
- Charlottesville Citizen of the Year Award, Charlottesville Rotary Club, 2015
- James Madison University Outstanding Music Educator Alumni Award, 2013
- Shenandoah Conservatory first graduate Alumna of Excellence Award, 2002
- Virginia Women’s Forum Charlottesville’s Woman of the Year, 1999
- Others: C-Ville Weekly Charlottesville’s top 25 Citizens; Charlottesville’s Distinguished Teacher Award, the Golden Apple award, the Piedmont Council of the Arts Award, and Outstanding Educator in Central Virginia awarded by Phi Delta Kappa.
Thomas will be succeeded in the role of orchestra director by Emily Waters, the current orchestra teacher at Charlottesville’s Walker Upper Elementary School. Waters has been an orchestra director in the Charlottesville City Schools and Virginia Beach City Public Schools since 2015. She has earned degrees in music and music education from VCU and JMU, and she has received awards for innovation, inclusion, and excellence in music education. She has performed and created learning materials incorporating hip-hop and other new genres. She is herself a graduate of Charlottesville High School and its orchestra program.
Aaron Eichorst, coordinator of fine arts for Charlottesville City Schools, adds, “We can’t thank Laura enough for her leadership in building a truly exemplary program, strong both musically and relationally. And based on Emily Waters’s success at Walker, I couldn’t be more excited to welcome her into this role. On a more personal note, I will find it moving to see the director’s baton be passed from mother (Laura Thomas) to daughter (Emily Thomas Waters)—musicianship and leadership run strong in the Thomas family!”
Under Laura Thomas’s leadership, the CHSO has garnered top prizes in music festivals throughout the United States—in New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Boston, Dallas, Williamsburg, Nashville, Orlando, Virginia Beach and Myrtle Beach—and abroad in London, Vienna, Florence, Rome, Paris, Prague, Galway, and Dublin. The CHSO has performed at the Midwest International Band and Orchestra Clinic, at five Virginia Music Educators Association conferences, and under the direction of maestro Loren Maazel at his inaugural Castleton Music Festival. With an enrollment as high as 145, the group has received media attention from the New York Times, Southern Living, and National Public Radio, among others.
In addition to her service at Charlottesville High School, Thomas has guest-conducted dozens of youth orchestras throughout Virginia and in July will become President of the Virginia Band and Orchestra Directors Association. She has directed the University of Richmond Orchestra and will continue to direct the Youth Symphony of Central Virginia.