Episode 21: John Thomson, Retired, New Trier High School, Winnetka, IL

John Thomson made the drive to Joliet to talk about programming, commissioning new music, and comprehensive musicianship. Mr. Thomson goes into detail about his musical career including his assistantship with Mr. John Paynter and his time at East Allegheny High School in Pennsylvania and New Trier High School in Winnetka, Illinois.

This episode has great information music teachers. I especially enjoyed hearing Mr. Thomson speak about a programming method for band that was influenced by Mr. Paynter, and his description of a Unit Study Composition for in depth analysis and understanding of music. My band is looking at commissioning a new band work soon; Mr. Thomson’s advice on seeking out composers and finding resources will be especially helpful to me as we endeavor this goal. I have also found my new favorite term, which I will borrow from Mr. Thomson: “Sonic Architecture.”

I hope you enjoy and learn from this episode. You can learn from and about Mr. Thomson at his website: www.johnathomson.com.


John A. Thomson received his Bachelors and Masters degrees from Carnegie Mellon University, where he studied with Richard Strange and Philip Catelinet. While completing course work towards a PhD in Music Education at Northwestern University, he served for two years as a Teaching Assistant in both the Departments of Conducting and Performing Organizations and Music Education, where he studied with John Paynter and Bennett Reimer. 

Mr. Thomson was the Director of Bands at East Allegheny High School near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania from 1967 to 1981.  Under his direction, East Allegheny bands presented feature performances at the 1976 Mid-West International Band and Orchestra Clinic, the 1975 Music Educators National Conference Eastern Regional Meeting, two Mid-East Instrumental Music Conferences in 1973 and 1977, and three Pennsylvania Music Educators Association Conferences in 1970, 1975 and 1980.

From 1982 to 2007, Mr. Thomson was Director of Bands at New Trier High School in Winnetka, Illinois.  In 1984, the wind ensemble completed a successful concert tour of Switzerland, Germany and Holland.  He conducted a NewTrier Honor Band on a concert tour of Hawaii and Australia in 1998.  Under his direction, New Trier wind ensembles have performed at the l990 Western Illinois University Band “Showcase”, the l989, l993, 1998 and 2007 Illinois Music Educators Association All-State Conferences, the l985 and l990 Mid-West International Band and Orchestra Clinics, the 1994 Music Educators National Conference National Biennial In-Service Conference, the 1996 Atlanta International Band and Orchestra Conference, the 1999, 2000 and 2001 Superstate Festivals at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign and the 2003 Chicagoland “Invitational” Band Festival.  The wind ensemble received the Downbeat Magazine Award for best classical instrumental ensemble (band) in 1999, 2001, 2002 and 2004. 

For twenty-three years, Mr. Thomson was a conductor at the Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp in Twin Lake, Michigan, and conducted the 1992 Blue Lake International Symphonic Band on the ensemble’s four week performance tour in Europe. He has served the Illinois Music Educators Association as District VII Band Chair and as a member of the All-State selection committee.

Currently, Mr. Thomson is an adjunct professor in music education at Roosevelt University in Chicago, observes student teachers for Northwestern University, and is active as a guest conductor, clinician and adjudicator. He is a Contributing Editor and New Music Reviewer for THE INSTRUMENTALIST Magazine.

Personal awards include several National Band Association Citations of Excellence “for outstanding contributions to bands and band music”, the American School Band Directors Association Stanbury Award “for outstanding achievement in the advancement of school band programs”, the Mr. Holland’s Opus Award for “dedicating his life to his students so that they would not only be better musicians, but better people”, the Chicagoland Outstanding Music Educator Award “in recognition of outstanding leadership and excellence in professional music education” and the Phi Beta Mu Outstanding Bandmaster Award “for consistently producing the highest quality performing ensembles”.  He has been inducted into the Phi Beta Mu Illinois Band Directors Hall of Fame at Northwestern University.

Professional affiliations include the American Bandmasters Association (Goldman Citation Award Committee), National Band Association (Revelli Composition Award Committee), American School Band Directors Association (Past State Chairman),  Music Educators National Conference, Illinois Music Educators Association (Past District VII Band Chair), International Association of Jazz Educators, Phi Beta Mu, and Phi Mu Alpha.

Mr. Thomson lives in Wilmette, Illinois, with his wife Susan and sons, Brian and Will.