Phil Thomas named 2020 Middle School Educator of the Year by Indiana Music Educator’s Association

31st January 2021

By Steven Krolak

(NEW ALBANY, Ind.)–Phil Thomas, longtime director of the IU Southeast concert band and adjunct instructor in the music education program, has been named Middle School Educator of the Year by the Indiana Music Educator’s Association (IMEA).

Aside from his duties at IU Southeast, Thomas teaches band at Highland Hills Middle School, and is assistant bugler at Churchill Downs.

“It was a great honor and at the same time very humbling to be chosen,” Thomas said of his award.

Thomas has taught in New Albany Floyd County Schools for 34 years, teaching 5th-8th grade band in addition to jazz band. He has served as assistant marching band director at Floyd Central High School, as music director/pit orchestra conductor for the Floyd Central Theater Department, and as conductor with the Floyd County Youth Symphony.

At IU Southeast, Thomas has directed the Concert Band for the past 11 years, first as assistant director and since 2013 as full director, taking over from his late mentor and friend Don McMahel. He also performs as principal trumpet in the IU Southeast Orchestra.

As an instructor, Thomas plays a pivotal role for candidates pursuing a B.S. in Music with a concentration in music education, teaching such courses as Brass Techniques, Instrumental Conducting, and Band Literature and Interpretation. In addition, teaching concurrently in a local middle school serves his candidates well, since music is only one aspect of their training–they also need to be able to handle the 5th grade mind.

“I think my career as a middle-school music educator makes me particularly well-suited to teach music ed courses to IU Southeast students,” Thomas said. “As someone who works ‘in the trenches’ daily, teaching kids to play instruments and make music, I can offer a unique, relevant insight into the realities of being a music educator in schools today.”

That reality almost certainly includes the most common beginner’s mistakes and what can be done to correct them.

“Teaching music at the middle school level is both rewarding and challenging,” Thomas said. “My goal is always to walk the fine line between demanding high standards and having it be a fun experience learning how to make music.”

In a job that seems to demand more energy with each passing year, Thomas is renewed each time he and his young musicians take the stage to perform.

“I tell the kids that that moment on stage is what making music is all about,” Thomas said. “We don’t do it just to hear ourselves play, we do it to entertain and enlighten others.”

Homepage photo courtesy of Phil Thomas.

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