By NANCY SCHWERIN
CHARLESTON — A new era has begun at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. Mark Thomas, a seasoned musician and composer, is the new director of music ministries at the Cathedral. He and his family have already felt the Southern hospitality that the parishioners and Msgr. Chet Moczydlowski have offered.
As director, Thomas will also coordinate the musical programs for diocesan events.
A composer at the age of 8, Thomas grew up playing the piano and organ. He was surrounded by the musical talents of his mother, a pianist and opera singer, and his father, whom he describes as an excellent closet jazz pianist.
Thomas’ own love of jazz and talent led him to become the lead act at the prestigious White Barn Inn in Kennebunkport, Maine. He was a solo jazz pianist for the inn while on occasion playing with accompanying musicians.
A jazz musician by night and director of music for the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Portland by day, Thomas had his work cut out for him. Not to mention a year ago he debuted his first opera, a children’s piece entitled “Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates.” The show drew his largest audience 4,000 and debuted in Michigan, where he had been director of music at St. Andrew’s Cathedral in Grand Rapids. Thomas considers the opera project and composing Te Deum for the cathedral in Portland his two most notable accomplishments.
The ambitious musician looks onward to future endeavors at the cathedral in Charleston. He plans, as soon as possible, to establish a concert series at the Cathedral which would include performances by the Cathedral choirs and visiting groups, both local and international.
“Bill (Schlitt) built a huge choir,” said Thomas, who plans on continuing to expand the singing groups at the Cathedral beginning with the children’s and youth choirs.
He will also add to the musical diversity at the Cathedral by adding new music and world music, which would include a mix of cultural tunes embedded in the traditional style. His diverse repertoire will include Gregorian chant and Renaissance pieces.
What brought Thomas, his wife, Leanne, and their two teen-age children, Ian and Rachael, down South? Well first, Thomas said, “I fell in love with the city.” He also praised the acoustics in the Cathedral and its one-of-a-kind organ and organist, Timothy Tikker. And he said he won’t miss shoveling snow.
“I’ve always had to build programs at other churches,” said Thomas, “but now I can focus my energy on further developing the program at the cathedral.”