Paul’s Pick: Furman’s Bill Thomas bids farewell with Haydn’s monumental ‘The Creation’

Photo by Jeremy Fleming/Furman University.

Paul’s Pick of the Week: “The Creation” by Franz Joseph Haydn, featuring Furman University choruses and the Furman Symphony Orchestra under the direction of William “Bill” Thomas on Friday, Nov. 30.

Why you should go: It’s a rare opportunity for local classical music fans: “The Creation” is one of the monuments of choral music, often considered Haydn’s crowning achievement.

Haydn’s choral masterwork is about new beginnings, but this performance also is about a farewell. On the podium will be Bill Thomas, retiring at the end of the academic year after 31 years with the Furman Music Department, including 18 years as chair of the department.

Photo by Jeremy Fleming/Furman University.

Who’s performing: The Furman Symphony Orchestra will collaborate with a chorus of 80, including the Furman Singers, Furman Women’s Chorale, Furman Men’s Chorus, and some faculty members and alumni.

Bidding farewell: Conductor Bill Thomas arrived at Furman University in 1987 as a part-time faculty member. Thomas came to Greenville after 14 years at Mars Hill College to become minister of music at First Baptist Church Greenville.

Thomas became a full-time Furman faculty member in 1989 and has served in a variety of roles: conducting choral ensembles; teaching voice, conducting, and vocal pedagogy; and chairing the department from 1992-2009.

Longtime Furman University music professor Bill Thomas, who is retiring at the end of the academic year, will conduct Haydn’s “The Creation” on Nov. 30 with 150 student musicians on the McAlister Auditorium stage at Furman. Photo by Jeremy Fleming/Furman University.

The Greenville Journal recently caught up with Thomas.

Greenville Journal: What made you choose “The Creation” for your final big performance on campus?

Thomas: I sang it as a student in college and I’ve always wanted to conduct a performance of it. The choruses are just terrific. I knew we had the choral chops for it.

As you look toward retirement, will you miss teaching?

I have enjoyed every aspect of my work at Furman, working with wonderful students and colleagues. I’ll certainly miss my colleagues and my students.

What are your musical plans after retirement?

I have friends all over who’ve been kind enough to invite me to work with their choirs. A former student has encouraged me to write a book about my experiences as a solo singer, a choir singer, and conductor. Those are three things I’ve really enjoyed doing.

What else is on your retirement agenda, and what’s on your bucket list?

I love to read. My wife and I love to travel and we’re gardeners, and I’m a trout fisherman – love to do that. I’ve been responsible for our Furman study-away program, Music in Italy, and we’ve made some wonderful musical friends in Italy and we’d like to spend some extended time there. We’ve never been to Prague. That’s high on our bucket list. We love going to New York to hear music and visit with folks. And we want to go to Alaska. More time will allow us to do some of these things.

Paul Hyde, a veteran Upstate journalist, writes about the arts for the Journal. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @PaulHyde7.

If you go

What: “The Creation” by Franz Joseph Haydn, featuring Furman choruses and Furman Symphony Orchestra under the direction of William Thomas

When: Friday, Nov. 30, 8 p.m.

Where: Furman University’s McAlister Auditorium

Tickets: $15 for adults, $10 for seniors, and $5 for students/youth

Information: 864-294-2086 or


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