Musician and Author

One of the most wonderful rewards of choral singing is the chance to create something more beautiful than any one singer could create alone. When we contribute our talents as a choral singer to the artistic life of our community and the world, we help enrich our collective culture and nurture the spirit of our planet.

—Tony Thornton

From the very beginning, the rhythm of life for me was set to music. In my earliest days, my mother’s lullabies were my first language, and before I even spoke my first word, I sang. Growing up as a shy child with a high, soft voice for a boy, I found solace and self-assurance in the world of music. Singing, especially as part of the chorus in junior high and high school, became not just a passion but a lifeline—a bridge to connect with fellow students and a stage to build my self-confidence.

While I had an affinity for various subjects, it was the lure of the choir that pulled me out of bed each morning, giving purpose to my school days. This early exposure to music, both as a singer and a pianist in church and school, laid the foundation for a lifelong dedication to the world of music, especially choral music.

For the true choral enthusiast, there was no better place to nurture this passion than Westminster Choir College. At Westminster, I was privileged to perform as a member of the prestigious Westminster Choir, a journey that took me to the Spoleto Festivals in Charleston, SC, and Spoleto, Italy. Additionally, I had the honor of singing in the Westminster Symphonic Choir, under the direction of Joseph Flummerfelt and Frauke Haasemann. This prestigious ensemble was led by luminaries like Leonard Bernstein, Zubin Mehta, Riccardo Muti, Claudio Abbado, and Mstislav Rostropovich, as we collaborated with renowned orchestras such as the New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, and Vienna Philharmonic. One of my most cherished memories is performing Mahler’s Symphony No. 2, “Resurrection,” with Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic, featuring the legendary mezzo-soprano Christa Ludwig.

I pursued a Master of Music degree in Choral Conducting at Louisiana State University, studying under the esteemed conductor and educator, Kenneth Fulton. Those years are filled with memories of transcendent music and the creation of lifelong friendships.

My path led me to teach high school choral music in Texas and New Jersey, but it was my relocation to Los Angeles in 1994 that marked a significant turning point. Before that move, I had the distinct honor of singing in the Grammy Award-winning ensemble, the Robert Shaw Festival Singers, under the baton of Robert Shaw. We toured and recorded in southern France each summer, and recorded under the Telarc label. Carnegie Hall engaged our ensemble as the core group for the Robert Shaw Choral Workshops, held every January. I remained a part of this acclaimed ensemble until 1999, the year we lost the great Shaw.

In Los Angeles, I took on the role of Artistic Director for the West Coast Singers and founded the Los Angeles Choral Artists. These endeavors not only brought the joy of music into my life but also introduced me to some of my dearest friends. Though our paths have diverged, the bonds forged through music remain unbreakable. I am profoundly grateful for the extraordinary people who have enriched my life through this shared passion.

As my network in Los Angeles expanded, I found myself collaborating with friends in the film, television, and music industries. My role as a music supervisor for projects such as the Emmy-nominated documentary The Smith Family and recording 50 songs with the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus for the children’s series Finding God allowed me to infuse my love for music into these unique ventures. It was thrilling to collaborate with Martin Sheen and Rita Moreno, who recorded the voiceover material in Finding God. In 2004, I also completed my book on choral singing, The Choral Singer’s Survival Guide.

My journey then led me to work with the Los Angeles Unified School District, where I conducted workshops for junior and high school students and their teachers from 2005 to 2008. The joy I derived from these teaching experiences inspired me to pursue my doctorate at the University of Arizona. This decision set me on the path to a career in higher education, teaching the next generation of musicians. Dr. Bruce Chamberlain, my major professor, remains a significant influence in my musical life.

In 2008, I proudly earned my Doctor of Musical Arts degree, armed with the knowledge and experiences needed to further my career. I began as a visiting assistant professor at California State University–Los Angeles for one year, served as Director of Choral Studies at UMass Amherst from 2008 to 2022, and have been the Director of Choral and Vocal Studies and the Doug and Nickie Burns Endowed Chair in Choral Music at Oklahoma State University since 2022. While I continue to cherish the memories of sunny Southern California, my life in Massachusetts was musically fulfilling, where I founded the America Prize-winning Illuminati Vocal Arts Ensemble, comprising public and private school music teachers, voice instructors, and experienced choral singers.

As a musical artist, my work has taken me to 25 states and 21 countries, aligning perfectly with my love for travel. Italy holds a special place in my heart, and in 2022, I was honored to be named Artistic Director of the Sarteano Choral Workshop, working alongside dear friends like Simon Carrington, a founding member of the King’s Singers, and Jamie-Rose Guarrine. This Workshop has been an exceptional platform for me to fulfill my life’s mission of uniting people through choral music and preparing the next generation of singers and conductors.

Currently, I am passionately engaged in several publishing projects. For more details on my publications and upcoming endeavors, please visit the Choir Room section of my website or explore the Book Projects and Choral Series pages for direct access. If you are a composer of remarkable choral music, I encourage you to submit your work for consideration in my choral series, as described on those pages.

In closing, I wish you all robust health and boundless happiness. Cherish moments spent with loved ones; for me, it’s shared with dear friends, family, and my three fabulously spoiled feline companions, Lily, Oliver, and Nala.