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2019-02-01 / Spotlight

Hitting the Right Note

with Darrin Thornton, conductor of the State College Area Municipal Band

The music never really stops for Darrin Thornton.

In his day job, Thornton is an associate professor of music and an assistant director of the Penn State School of Music. In his free time, Thornton conducts the handbell choir at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church and is in his first year serving as conductor of the State College Area Municipal Band.

“It’s been fun,” he says. “People are very kind and fun in the transition; they’ve been very helpful in getting me acclimated to the way things work in the municipal band. I’m not new to bands, but every organization has its own way of doing things and flow to their year.”

Thornton took up the reins after longtime conductor Ned Deihl retired with a farewell Mother’s Day concert last May.

It’s been a “season of change,” Thornton says, as he learns the municipal band’s traditions and figures out in what ways the band will “move forward with them, embellish them, do them a little bit differently, keep them the same.”

Even when he’s not taking the lead, Thornton says he’s always found ways to be engaged in music. He grew up in Shaker Heights, Ohio, just outside of Cleveland, and started taking private lessons in percussion in third grade.

“I guess I was always hitting on things as a little kid,” he says.

Thornton later added trumpet and French horn to his repertoire. Now, as an educator, he’s able to play, at least a little bit, he says, many of the other instruments in the brass family.

And he’s not only interested in making music, but also understanding what compels others to do so.
Thornton says exploring the nature of adult music engagement is a research interest of his.

“What keeps people going and what are the reasons that people participate in music when they have this discretionary time in their life? Why do they spend that time engaged in music in various ways?” he says. “So all of that kind of feeds into now how I then go about organizing and putting forward an experience that hopefully meets those needs.”


MUSICAL LEADER “The State College area band is of particular interest because of the wide span of ages that participate in the band, and also the caliber of the group is quite good, and it has a history and reputation for serving the community well and being very active that way.”

BANG THE DRUM “There’s a percussionist involved in pretty much every kind of music, and so that was one draw is the flexibility and the breadth of the types of musical settings in which a percussionist can be engaged. Also, (I’m) very interested in the kind of multidexterous nature of being a percussionist; every limb can be moving and utilized depending on what kind of percussion you’re into.”

RUN IT OUT “I’m training, hopefully, for a 10K coming up, working back toward another half (marathon) maybe in the fall. I didn’t start running till two years ago. I had a big birthday, and I figured I wanted to do something — something that I didn’t think I could do. So I set upon trying to finish — just wanted to finish — a half-marathon and ran one in Philadelphia. … And I did finish, but it’s a run-walk sequence so I didn’t run it. I’m not breaking any land speed records. I finished in just over three hours, but I’d like to get under that next time.”

FRESH AIR “You do a lot of great thinking when you’re running. I can even study scores, like study music that I’m working on while I’m running, humming the tunes and thinking them through in my head and things like that. So it’s just time away from the day-to-day, but also your body getting that air, breathing that way energizes your brain and, obviously, your body as well.”

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