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The Heart of St. Augustine Beats to the Rhythm of Music
BY ROBERT WALDNER
PHOTOS BY KATE GARDINER
Michael S. Thomas is a man who exudes passion with his every word and body movement. To listen to him speak about his lifelong love for music and drumming is to be fully captivated. “I was the black sheep of the family,” says Thomas. “While all of my brothers and sisters were into motorcycles, I just wanted to play the drums.” Thomas’ storied career has placed him in the company of rudimental drumming’s best and brightest, such as “Hell Cat” drummers Harold Green, John S. Pratt, and Nick Attanasio. Thomas acquired his musical taste at a young age. “I first started taking private lessons when I was seven years old,” he says. “I had my first drum solo in sixth grade and became very active during high school.” Thomas’ musical perseverance in his adolescent years paid off immensely. He won the esteemed John Philip Sousa Award in 1979 for superior drumming in his Washingtonville High School band in New York. That very same year, Thomas began his professional career, recording his first album, playing in a nine piece disco band, and performing at private events. His college career included scholarships to Berklee College of Music in Boston and Long Island University C.W. Post Campus. From there, Thomas worked multiple stints with various Fife and Drum Corps, including a stretch with the Washington Redskins Marching Band and Drumline from 2005-2010. Out of all of his accomplishments, Thomas is most proud of his time studying and performing under world-renowned drummer Lieutenant George S. Carroll, who led the East Florida Fife and Drum in St. Augustine’s first Colonial Night Watch Parade in 1975. “I played for George Carroll in Bethesda, Maryland for seven years,” says Thomas. “It was a humbling experience.” Now a seven-year resident of Northeast Florida, Thomas originally found his way St. Augustine after his beloved wife, Denise, passed away and his son moved to town. Since moving here with his daughter seven years ago, Thomas has performed with local bands and kicked off his first project, “West African Drum Circles.”
Currently, he is working on a project fueled by his true labor of love: rudimental drumming. Picking up where his mentor, George Carroll, left off years ago, Thomas has recently established Old City Drum Corps. “Drum Corps is my baby!” he asserts. “This is what I was put on earth to do!” A 501(c)(3) public charitable organization, Old City Drum Corps consists of local musicians trained in military marching, choreography, and eighteenth century time period music, forming a professional fife and drumline designed to bring the St. Augustine community together through history and music. With auditions and rehearsals ongoing, Thomas is currently fundraising for uniforms. OCDC recently received a grant from St. Johns Cultural Council and has also received funding from St. Augustine Beach Civic Association. Thanks to the goodwill of some of Thomas’ lifelong friends, OCDC has their very own handmade rope tension drums. With a strong focus on local businesses, Thomas is having all of OCDC’s uniforms and drumsticks handmade by artisans right here in St. Augustine. “We want to be ambassadors for St. Augustine,” says Thomas. “Our goal is to travel and compete so that we can bring awards right back here to the Ancient City.” With his team and OCDC Vice Chairman Peter Moran, Thomas is giving St. Augustine its first fife and drumline in more than forty years. “Our first rule is that this must stay fun,” says Thomas. “Everybody can see our vision.” For more information, visit the Old City Drum Corps website and give them a like on Facebook.