Award-winning composer premieres song in honor of shooting victims

By Sydni Anderson, Contributing writer

The Murray State President’s Concert took place on Oct 25. in Lovett Auditorium. The Murray State symphonic wind ensemble played several pieces, ending with the premiere of Omar Thomas’s “Of Our New Day Begun.”

Omar Thomas is an award-winning arranger, composer, musician, and educator in the Harmony and Music Education Departments at Berklee University. Thomas wrote “Of Our New Day Begun” to honor the nine people who lost their lives in the Charleston, South Carolina, shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.

Thomas said, “my greatest challenge in creating this work was walking the line between reverence for the victims and their families, and honoring my strong, bitter feelings towards both the perpetrator and the segments of our society that continue to create people like him.” In writing this piece, he said he found a way to embrace his pain and anger while still expressing his respect for the grace and forgiveness of the victims’ families.

Dennis Johnson, Murray State director of bands and orchestra, conducted the pieces “Pastime” by Jack Stamp, “Adagietto” by Steve Danyew and “Lincolnshire Posy” by Percy Aldridge Grainger at the concert before introducing Thomas, who took the stage to conduct “Of Our New Day Begun”.

“Of Our New Day Begun” was received at the President’s Concert with a standing ovation. Parker Bishop, freshman from St. Louis, Missouri, said the concert was phenomenal.

“It was perfection,” he said. “Music at its finest.”

Kennedy Parker, freshman from Gilbertsville, Kentucky, said it was an “emotional rollercoaster.”

“There are no words to describe it,” she said. “You sat there with goosebumps. You could listen to it over and over.”

In addition to conducting “Of Our New Day Begun,” Thomas stood as a source of knowledge and wisdom for Murray State students. During his visit, he held a masterclass with Murray State student composers and presented his lecture “The Definition of an Artist” at the Kenneth M. and Elizabeth E. Wells Music Lecture. Thomas also spoke to Professor Steven Weimer’s Arranging and Orchestration class, in which he shared anecdotes of his experience in the music world and answered questions about music and his career.

Danielle Toney, senior from St. Louis, Missouri, was inspired by this visit. Toney, a Japanese major with a minor in music composition, said she dreams of writing music for orchestras and conducting that music on a world scale. Her goal is to “let the world know that classical music is not off the map.” Toney attended Thomas’s masterclass and had the opportunity to hear him speak more in her Arranging and Orchestration class. She said hearing Thomas speak about his music led to a self-discovery.

“I can hear when I listen to his music that he’s like, ‘I’m going to go for this. I’m a risk taker and I’m going to be an adventurer in my own world. No one’s going to tell me no,’” Toney said. She said she wants people to hear her music and know that it’s her, like they do with Thomas’s music. “I’m thanking God that he helped me realize that inside of myself,” she said.

As for Thomas, he said he feels like he’s meeting the goals he’s set for himself. He’s a professor at Berklee College of Music and he’s put out several albums. His first album, “I AM,” topped the iTunes Jazz charts at number one. Within the next few years, he said he’d like to travel on behalf of his music and reach a wider audience.

“I’m just trying to work on my own music game and step that up,” he said.

Thomas’s advice to young composers is to put themselves out there and participate in composition competitions. He said the worst thing that can happen is you don’t win the competition, and that’s OK.

“You just keep fighting,” Thomas said. “you keep working on your craft until you get one [an award].”