Octubafest celebrated life of deceased prof that helped bring fest to UA

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Courtesy of the Fred Fox School of Music

Former UA professor Kelly Thomas poses for a photo. Thomas was the tuba/euphonium instructor in the UA Fred Fox School of Music, and died over the summer; his legacy was honored at this year's Octubafest.

The Fred Fox School of Music’s Tuba-Euphonium Studio hosted “Octubafest,” where Professor Kelly Thomas, who died over the summer, was honored and his legacy celebrated.

The event was held from Oct. 27-29, and a studio of students performed multiple concerts throughout the week. 

The Octubafest tradition was started by legendary tubist Harvey G. Phillips and is celebrated throughout the country each fall. 

The UA began observing this tradition in 2001 when Thomas, who was a Professor of Euphonium and Tuba,joined the faculty.

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With the recent passing of Thomas, this year’s Octubafest was in honor of his memory.

Thomas had a doctorate in musical arts from Arizona State University and served as a UA professor from 2001-2014. 

Following his tenure at the UA, Thomas and his family moved to Tennessee where he served as the Tuba and Euphonium Professor at the University of Tennessee. 

In addition to teaching, Thomas was also widely involved with the International Tuba Euphonium Association, the University of Arizona Brass Choir and performed at the International Trumpet Guild Conference. 

In June, Thomas died suddenly, leaving behind a great legacy of musicianship. 

“[Kelly Thomas] brought tradition to the studio,” said Michael Cook, a musical education senior and a tubist of 14 years, as well as one of the Octubafest soloists. “He was very laid back and really worked to make a connection with his students.”

Cook expressed that performing his solo, Derek Bourgeois’ “Concerto for Trombone,” for Kelly’s family and the numerous other audience members was frightening at first. However, he recalled a key train of thought that he had learned under the influence of Thomas, a lesson that Cook finds very applicable to anything he sets his mind to.

“Everyone constantly forgets what we’re going for,” Cook said. “Once you remember what you’re here for, you don’t really worry about messing up and realize that you are here to let these people enjoy music.”

Luke Symington, a junior studying music performance with a focus in euphonium who has been playing the instrument for 10 years, honored Thomas through his music during Octubafest.

Symington performed with numerous ensemble groups, but one highlight performance came from after he heard a recording of Thomas performing Fred Clinard’s “Sonata for Unaccompanied Euphonium.” 

Symington decided to honor Thomas through an interpretation of this piece. “[My favorite aspect of the Octubafest] was how motivating it was to see everyone performing for Kelly and his family,” Symington said.

As a holistic end result, the entire Octubafest gave students like Symington a chance to showcase their abilities to the general public and to observe fellow musicians for encouragement as well as for the resources to further improve their musical abilities. 

The Fred Fox School of Music’s Octubafest was the perfect opportunity for students to not only perform, but also to honor a great faculty member.

Thomas was known for his unfailing dedication to his family, students and his art. Other faculty and students see him as a man who was very much a force of motivation, friendly and encouraging.


Follow Nathaniel Renney-Erbst on Twitter.



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