David H. Thomas has been an orchestral clarinetist for 25 years. Additionally, he is also an experienced soloist, with numerous critically acclaimed performances.

Starting his performing career directly after undergraduate studies, he won a position with the Greensboro Symphony in 1982. The next year he was offered the principal position of the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra in Washington, DC. The grueling demands of opera and ballet repertoire honed his skills as a versatile player. In 1989, he won the principal clarinet position of the Columbus Symphony in Ohio.

A noted orchestra among several giants in Ohio, the Columbus Symphony had its Carnegie Hall debut in 2001. The review was glowing.

For the past 16 years David has impressed audiences with his music making, both as orchestral and solo performer. Columbus Dispatch chief critic Barbara Zuck offered these comments in a 1994 review of Thomas' rendition of Rossini's Introduction, Theme and Variations:

"Thomas, ...has steadily grown in stature and confidence. Even so, I'm not sure anyone was prepared for the absolutely bravura display of virtuosity Thomas delivered last night. Who would have expected him to emerge as the clarinet equivalent of Cecilia Bartoli? I don't recall a bigger or better reception for any artist, anywhere."

From an April 30, 2005 review of the CSO in a concert of opera overtures and tenor arias, Zuck noted: "(Thomas) had as many great lines as the singer, and his brilliant performances once again reminded us how his playing has spoiled us over the years."

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Musicians are Territorial Animals

People think musicians are sophisticated, cultured creatures.

Yes, of course we are. At least in public.

Behind the scenes, though, we are animals. We may act polite, but don’t get in the way of a musician who has delineated his or her territory.

In my section, the second clarinetist will politely push away any stray objects which have slid or flopped into his circle of peace. He often comes to rehearsal early to push up all the chairs of the row in front of us. That way, when those players inch back they end up where they started the day before. He is always quiet about it. When another player crosses the line, he will bide his time and move them (or their “stuff”) at the first opportunity.

Our principal oboist needs lots of space side to side and front to back. He and the principal flutist are constantly sliding back into my turf. But our oboist spreads wider than most wind players, not because he’s width challenged, but he likes to spread his legs way apart to make room for all the air he takes in before a solo. Elbows splay and legs anchor in an open V. His torso rises way up and back, so his head usually touches the music stand behind him, violating the turf of the first bassoonist.

Our bassoonist likes her music stand about as far from her as she can get it. It’s pushed right up against the chair of the oboist. She needs the distance to accommodate her far sightedness, or something or other about seeing around the bassoon. So here we have a dangerous intersection of turf claims. One can feel the tension rising. Though there is rarely an outright war, the persistent jogging for turf bubbles beneath the surface, a cold war of sorts.

String players are another breed. They don’t ask for space, or move chairs quietly between services. They just push their chair where ever they want and claim it as their own. You see, string players have the perfect excuse: they need tons of room for their bow arms!! Yes, they need a few feet in either direction outside the area necessary to move their arms. They need air space in which to vibrate their auras.

Now we begin to see tensions beyond members of our own tribes. When situations develop between separate races and cultures, the peace talks become untenable, with little in common to allow sensible negotiations.

The winds need a clear line of sight to the conductor. Granted, each musician needs to see, but the principal winds have numerous solos, and so feel an urgency in this matter. In our orchestra, we have a number of string players with big heads. Huge heads with big hair on tall bodies! Or so it seems to us when they are positioned in front of us. Before each concert or rehearsal, one of the principal winds usually needs to ask a string player to move a bit to allow us to see. Boy, if looks could kill. “You want me to what?!”

They usually relent and move. But within minutes after the concert starts, guess what? Yup. The stage seems to miraculously move under the chair of that string player and they end up back where they know they deserve to be. Pooh on the sight-lines of anyone else.

Most wind players unpack a huge array of paraphernalia before each service. We set up house. I used to bring in a little table on which I kept all my tools, reeds, etc. Oboists, bassoonists and clarinetists need an array of knives, chisels, drills, files, water holders, backup reeds, reeds to be tested, stores of old reeds, reeds kept for nostalgia. We need these to function. We cannot breathe or think without them. In the chaos of preparing for a big concert, there’s a flurry of activity in the reed sections as they fine tune their reeds for the weather that day, and for the particular needs of the repertoire we are about to play. Tools are strewn about, reed cases opened up, dozens of vulnerable reeds spread out for testing. You get the picture.

Occasionally the dam bursts and hell breaks loose. Once in awhile, a conductor asks us to move up a row, usually to fill empty chairs during a piece with a smaller orchestration. Being closer also helps the players hear each other better. For the reed players, it’s a huge undertaking to move all their stuff up to the row ahead. And the stage hands who are usually available to help us move know better than to touch anything, lest they lose a hand or worse.

When we are asked to move, the rumbling begins. The battle cry sounds. “I refuse to move all my stuff up there! The acoustics are more familiar back here. How are we expected to sound our best when all our stuff has to be packed up and moved? I’ll never remember that special reed I was going to play. There’s just NO WAY this is going to happen!! How dare they impose such ridiculous requests on us!”

Though the conductor usually gets his way, there are occasions when the players shouts of dissent hold sway in order to keep the peace. And we are allowed to remain in our cozy caves, surrounded by all our beloved and familiar tools.