John A. Thomson

Selected Programs

Selected Repertoire

Selected Writings

Selected Interviews

Clinic Presentation

My Mentors

Audio Clips


John A. Thomson- Conductor



The dictionary defines a mentor as “a trusted counselor or guide; a tutor, teacher or coach.”  I have been very fortunate to have had in my life several such individuals who have influenced, challenged and encouraged me as my professional training and career have unfolded.  Whatever success I may have enjoyed, it is in great part due to these amazing people to whom I owe so much.


WARREN S. MERCER (1935-2007)

Warren S. Mercer was the Director of Bands at North Hills High School (near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) for 31 years, arriving in the fall of 1960 as a new teacher during my junior year.  From the start, he was dedicated to the highest standards in music education and expected a great deal from his students, working tirelessly for them and motivating them to reach their full potential as musicians and individuals.  Over the years, he developed the NHHS band program into one of the most recognized programs in the United States, highlighted by his many appearances at important state and national events including 5 appearances at the prestigious Midwest Clinic in Chicago. 
Mr. Mercer started a tradition of commissioning a composer to write a new work for the NHHS symphony band to play at a "premiere" performance.  During his career, more than 40 works were commissioned, giving his students the opportunity to showcase new compositions and to work with established composers.  He was my inspiration to commission new works later when I had the opportunity, resulting in 15 “premiere” performances of my own.
He showed me during my high school years, and for many years following my graduation, what could be accomplished with discipline, hard work and dedication.  He developed my interest in music and music education, inspired me to work hard and, at least initially, was the main reason that I went on to study music and music education at Carnegie Mellon University (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania).  I wanted to be just like him.


RICHARD E. STRANGE (1928-2009)

Richard E. Strange was the Director of Bands at Carnegie Mellon University during my undergraduate years (1962-1967).  He left CMU in 1974 and is known by many for his 25 years of distinctive service as Director of Bands at Arizona State University (Tempe). 

Dr. Strange was an excellent musician and perhaps the best conducting technician that I have ever known.  His conducting classes were insightful, and I follow many of his principles to this day.  He also taught the instrumental methods classes at CMU and stressed the importance of developing strong instrumental pedagogy.   Dr. Strange could produce a characteristic sound and model correct posture and position on each of the wind instruments and insisted that we be able to do the same.  His belief was that if we didn’t know what it felt like to hold and play each of the instruments, we would not be able to teach them successfully.

He had great interest in his students, even after graduation.  As the years passed, Dr. Strange always supported us, enjoying our various successes.  He helped me get my first job at East Allegheny High School (North Versailles, Pennsylvania), offered valuable advice and encouragement during my early teaching years, guest conducted my EAHS ensembles on several occasions, including my first Midwest Clinic performance in Chicago, and served on my nominating committee when I was elected into the American Bandmasters Association (ABA).



Philip B. Catelinet grew up in England, was the principal tubist for the BBC Theatre Orchestra and performed regularly with the London Symphony and Philharmonia Orchestras.  He was invited to perform the “premiere” performance of the Ralph Vaughan Williams’ TUBA CONCERTO on June 13, 1954.  

In 1956, Mr. Catelinet and his family left England and moved to the United States, where he accepted a position at Carnegie Mellon University.  He taught there for 20 years, serving as Conductor of Brass Choir, Assistant Director of Bands and Chairman of the Music Extension Department.  For several years, he was also my private trombone teacher as I completed my undergraduate degrees in trombone performance and music education.

Mr. Catelinet was always very supportive and willing to advocate for his students.  He certainly helped me, as a somewhat shy undergraduate, gain confidence in my musical abilities.  He was an accomplished organist and piano player and his students knew that at jury and recital times we had one of the best accompanists in the music department.  Mr. Catelinet loved all of his students, and that caring, along with his superb musical instincts and wry sense of humor, was on display during every class and rehearsal.  He was quick to offer praise and encouragement when it was earned, and we all worked very hard to receive the compliments.  He brought out the very best in his students. 



MICHAEL A. TORINO (1921-2010)

Michael A. Torino was a music teacher and Supervisor of Music for the East Allegheny School District for 35 years, retiring in 1989.  He hired me as Director of Bands at East Allegheny High School in the spring of 1967, my first job after completing my undergraduate degrees at Carnegie Mellon University.  I graduated on June 5, 1967, and the very next week started teaching an eight-week summer program for beginning instrumental students.  This was immediately followed by a two-week marching band camp and the start of the fall semester.  It was a quick transition from student to teacher to be sure.

Mr. Torino was an accomplished musician and teacher, and the perfect music supervisor for this young, first-year teacher just entering the profession.  He was the sure hand that guided me through my early years of teaching.  He was always encouraging and supportive, though he never allowed me to make the same mistake twice.  While many young, inexperienced teachers have no one to turn to for advice, I was fortunate to have had daily contact with a master teacher always willing to share his wealth of experience and expertise.  It has made a difference in my career.

He encouraged me to attend my first Midwest Clinic in Chicago, opening my eyes to what was possible in the profession with opportunity and hard work.  I believe that the day the East Allegheny Symphony Band performed at the Midwest Clinic (1976) in Chicago was among his most joyous and cherished professional memories.


JOHN P. PAYNTER (1928-1996)

John P. Paynter was the Director of Bands at Northwestern University (Evanston, Illinois) from 1953 until his untimely death in 1996.  He was a man of limitless knowledge and abilities.  His sense of humor and warmth brightened many a rehearsal and meeting, and his musicianship, leadership and friendship greatly impacted my life as well as thousands of others. 

I had the opportunity to serve for two years as his Teaching Assistant while completing coursework towards a PhD in music education at NU.  He helped me refine many of the skill sets that I would need to be successful.  Trained in music theory and composition, Mr. Paynter placed an emphasis upon score study and rehearsal preparation, and his approach to ear training was rigorous, but effective.  I will always remember his advice to us concerning conducting technique and podium style.  With that well-known twinkle in his eyes, he would say to “be yourself.  If you try to be me, you will always be second best.”

Mr. Paynter was always very supportive of his former students and took great interest in their successes.  He recommended me for the Director of Bands position at New Trier High School (Winnetka, Illinois) following my second doctoral year at NU, offered valuable advice and support through the following years and guest conducted my NTHS ensembles on several occasions, including two Midwest Clinic performances in Chicago.