Thomas Tyra

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Thomas Tyra
Thomas Tyra LSU 1960s.jpg
On the Field at LSU (ca Early 1960s)
Background information
Birth nameThomas Norman Tyrakowski
BornApril 17, 1933
Cicero, Illinois, USA
DiedJuly 7, 1995(1995-07-07) (aged 62)
Atlanta, Georgia, USA
Occupation(s) Music educator, Bandmaster, Composer, Arranger, Lyricist
Years active1953 – 1989

Thomas Tyra (born Thomas Norman Tyrakowski) (April 17, 1933 - July 7, 1995) was an American composer, arranger, bandmaster, and music educator.

Composer person who creates music, either by musical notation or oral tradition

A composer is a musician who is an author of music in any form, including vocal music, instrumental music, electronic music, and music which combines multiple forms. A composer may create music in any music genre, including, for example, classical music, musical theatre, blues, folk music, jazz, and popular music. Composers often express their works in a written musical score using musical notation.


A bandmaster is the leader and conductor of a band, usually a concert band, military band, brass band or a marching band.


Early life and education

Born and raised in Cicero, Illinois, Tyra was the only child of first-generation Polish-American parents who were employed by Western Electric's nearby Hawthorne Works. He graduated from Morton High School in Cicero (Diploma 1951), Northwestern University (BSM 1954, GBSM 1955, Music Education/Composition) and the United States Navy School of Music (1956) where he would refine his composition and arranging skills while fulfilling his military service obligations. In 1971, Tyra earned his Ph.D in Music Education from the University of Michigan under the auspices of Allen Britton, Emil Holz, and long-time Director of Bands, William Revelli. [1]

Cicero, Illinois Town in Illinois, United States

Cicero is a suburb of Chicago and an incorporated town in Cook County, Illinois, United States. The population was 83,891 at the 2010 census. As of 2013, the town had a total population of 84,103, making it the 11th largest municipality in Illinois. The town of Cicero is named after Marcus Tullius Cicero, the Roman statesman and orator.

Western Electric Company was an American electrical engineering and manufacturing company that served as the primary supplier to AT&T from 1881 to 1996, and to the local Bell Operating Companies until 1984. The company was responsible for many technological innovations and seminal developments in industrial management. It also served as the purchasing agent for the member companies of the Bell System.

Hawthorne Works

The Hawthorne Works was a large factory complex of the Western Electric Company in Cicero, Illinois. Named after the original name of the town, Hawthorne, it opened in 1905 and operated until 1983. At its peak of operations, Hawthorne employed 45,000 workers, producing large quantities of telephone equipment, but also a wide variety of consumer products.

Bandmaster, music educator and mentor

Following graduation from Northwestern in 1955, Tyra began his career as a high school band director in Des Moines, Iowa. The following year, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy and was ordered to Washington, DC, where he fulfilled his military service obligations as a staff arranger and rehearsal conductor at the Navy School of Music. Upon his honorable discharge in late 1957 - followed by a brief teaching assignment at Morton Junior College in his hometown of Cicero - Tyra joined the Louisiana State University faculty in the Fall of 1958, serving as an assistant to the Director of Bands L. Bruce Jones. In 1959, LSU elevated Tyra to the position of 14th Bandmaster of the Tiger Marching Band, making him - at age 26 - the nation's youngest director of a major university marching band. [2] That same year, Tyra created the LSU Ballet Corps Dance Line, launching what would become the LSU Golden Girls in 1965. [3]

Des Moines, Iowa Capital of Iowa

Des Moines is the capital and the most populous city in the U.S. state of Iowa. It is also the county seat of Polk County. A small part of the city extends into Warren County. It was incorporated on September 22, 1851, as Fort Des Moines, which was shortened to "Des Moines" in 1857. It is on and named after the Des Moines River, which likely was adapted from the early French name, Rivière des Moines, meaning "River of the Monks". The city's population was 216,853 as of the 2018 population estimate. The five-county metropolitan area is ranked 89th in terms of population in the United States with 655,409 residents according to the 2018 estimate by the United States Census Bureau, and is the largest metropolitan area fully located within the state. A portion of the larger Omaha, Nebraska metropolitan area extends into three counties of southwest Iowa.

Louisiana State University United States historic place

Louisiana State University is a public research university in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The university was founded in 1853 in what is now known as Pineville, Louisiana, under the name Louisiana State Seminary of Learning & Military Academy. The current LSU main campus was dedicated in 1926, consists of more than 250 buildings constructed in the style of Italian Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio, and the main campus historic district occupies a 650-acre (2.6 km²) plateau on the banks of the Mississippi River.

Director of Bands

A Director of Bands is the head figure of a marching or concert form of bands, a person who leads a musical ensemble. The Director, by history and tradition, must know all the concepts of music and must be able to teach all different kinds of instrumental musicians in order to make a performance at a certain dateline before the scheduled performance.

Satisfying the constant demand for new musical content on the LSU gridiron was a small cadre of young aspiring student composers and arrangers which included Bill Conti, [4] who would later gain first fame by penning Gonna Fly Now , the theme song popularized by the 1976 hit film Rocky . During his tenure, Tyra introduced Hey, Fightin' Tigers , an adaptation of Hey, Look Me Over from the 1960 musical Wildcat! by Cy Coleman and Carolyn Leigh. This team spirit song - later adopted by the LSU Golden Girls as their introductory theme - continues to be used at LSU athletic events today.

Bill Conti American composer

William Conti is an American composer and conductor best known for his film scores, including Rocky, Karate Kid, For Your Eyes Only, Dynasty, and The Right Stuff, which earned him an Academy Award for Best Original Score. He also received nominations in the Best Original Song category for "Gonna Fly Now" from Rocky and for the title song of For Your Eyes Only. He was the musical director at the Academy Awards a record nineteen times.

Gonna Fly Now 1976 song performed by Bill Conti

"Gonna Fly Now", also known as "Theme from Rocky", is the theme song from the movie Rocky, composed by Bill Conti with lyrics by Carol Connors and Ayn Robbins, and performed by DeEtta West and Nelson Pigford. Released in February 1977 with the movie Rocky, the song became part of American popular culture after main character Rocky Balboa as part of his daily training regimen runs up the 72 stone steps leading to the entrance of the Philadelphia Museum of Art in Philadelphia and raises his arms in a victory pose, while the song plays. The song was written in Philadelphia. The song is often played at sporting events, especially in Philadelphia.

<i>Rocky</i> 1976 American sports drama directed by John G. Avildsen

Rocky is a 1976 American boxing sports drama film directed by John G. Avildsen, written by and starring Sylvester Stallone. It tells the rags to riches American Dream story of Rocky Balboa, an uneducated, but kind-hearted working class Italian-American boxer, working as a debt collector for a loan shark in the slums of Philadelphia. Rocky, a small-time club fighter, gets a shot at the world heavyweight championship. The film also stars Talia Shire as Adrian, Burt Young as Adrian's brother Paulie, Burgess Meredith as Rocky's trainer Mickey Goldmill, and Carl Weathers as the reigning champion, Apollo Creed.

In 1964, Tyra was appointed Director of Bands at Eastern Michigan University. In 1968, a young Max Plank joined the EMU Bands Program as Tyra's assistant. Together they forged a lifelong collaboration and friendship that would result in significant growth of the EMU's band program and its traditions. In 2002, Plank passed the leadership mantle to Scott Boerma, ending an era that spanned over 38 years of EMU Band history. [5] After leaving EMU in 1977 and until 1985, Tyra headed the Department of Music at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, North Carolina, strengthening its Music Education curriculum and planting the seeds of growth for its instrumental performance programs, including marching band. From 1985 until his retirement in 1989, he served as Professor and Dean of the Crane School of Music at SUNY-Potsdam. [6]

Eastern Michigan University comprehensive, co-educational public university in Ypsilanti, Michigan, United States

Eastern Michigan University (EMU) is a public research university in Ypsilanti, Michigan. The university was founded in 1849 as Michigan State Normal School. Today, the university is governed by an eight-member Board of Regents whose members are appointed by the governor of Michigan for eight-year terms. The school belongs to the Mid-American Conference and is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. Since 1991 EMU athletes have been known as "Eagles" and the school mascot, Swoop, was officially adopted by the university three years later.

Eastern Michigan University Marching Band

The Eastern Michigan University Marching Band serves as Eastern Michigan University's marching band.

Scott Boerma is a composer of contemporary classical music, an arranger of music for marching ensembles, and the Director of Bands at Western Michigan University.

He also held appointments as Director of the Ann Arbor Civic Band [7] (late 1960s to 1977) and guest Clinician at the Ontario Youth Music Camp [8] in Beaverton, Ontario, Canada (1970–73).

Beaverton, Ontario Unincorporated community in Ontario, Canada

Beaverton is a community in Brock Township in the Regional Municipality of Durham, Ontario, Canada.

Tyra was a member of the Iota Chapter of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia at Northwestern University, the Kappa Kappa Psi/Tau Beta Sigma band service organization [9] and served as ΚΚΨ's National President from 1973 to 1975. [10] He was also a member of ASCAP and the American Federation of Musicians.

Composer, arranger and lyricist

Tyra wrote numerous original compositions, arrangements, and lyrics for works performed by wind ensembles, marching bands, military bands, and brass ensembles of all levels.

For beginning bands, Tyra wrote a series of compositions that he (whimsically) titled Wholey Hymn, Modal March, Pentatonic Polka, Quartal Caper, and Polytonal Parade. Compositions and arrangements for intermediate bands include Two 17th Century Italian Songs and arrangements of Handel's The Messiah (Part I) [11] and "I'd Do Anything" from the Lionel Bart musical Oliver!. His Two Gaelic Folk Songs (1964) - an arrangement of the two Irish patriotic tunes Molly Malone and Wearing of the Green in the 20th-century classical music idiom - remains in the standard repertoire for many intermediate band programs. [12] A third Gaelic tune, The Minstrel Boy , was also arranged by Tyra and originally intended to round out this collection. Never published, it is now part of the Music Department archives at Eastern Michigan University.

For more skilled ensembles, he penned many arrangements of pre-game and half-time music for the Northwestern, LSU and EMU Marching Bands, including nationally televised works performed by the Tiger Marching Band when LSU competed post-season at the Sugar Bowl (1959, 1960), the Orange Bowl (1962), the Cotton Bowl Classic (1963) and the Bluebonnet Bowl (1964). [13] His original compositions include Suite for Brass and Timpani, Three Christmas Miniatures, Ceremonial Sketch and Intravention. For Eastern Michigan University, Tyra composed Eastern Variants, the music and lyrics for Go Green!, The Pride of the Peninsula, Huron War Cry, EMU Fanfare and the break strain for the Huron (now Eagle) Fight Song on YouTube. These compositions - integral to modern EMU band tradition - reflect the expertise he developed in writing for low brass voices while serving at the U.S. Navy School of Music.

Northwestern University alma mater

As part of Northwestern University's early 1950s efforts to revitalize its school hymn (Quaecumque Sunt Vera), then Director-of-Bands John Paynter, [14] recruited Tyra - at the time an undergraduate music major, trumpet player and staff assistant for the Wildcat Band - to craft English words to replace the hymn's traditional Latin verse. The earliest known recorded performance of their resulting collaboration - renamed Alma Mater (University Hymn) [15] - was made on October 3, 1953 by the Northwestern Glee Club. [16]

Paynter's instrumental/a cappella musical arrangement and Tyra's lyrics (. . . Hail to Purple, Hail to White, Hail to thee Northwestern . . . .) remain an integral part of Northwestern University tradition today, typically played by the Wildcat Band at the completion of their halftime performances and at Northwestern graduation ceremonies. See the Wildcat Band performing the Northwestern Alma Mater on YouTube.

Marriage and family

Tyra was married four times. In 1955, he married Suzanne Jocelyn Sheldon (Northwestern BSM 1955, b.1933 d.1973) of Chico, California. Their union produced his six - and only children. After divorcing in 1972, Suzanne "Sue" Tyra died in December 1973. [17] In May 1976, he married Valerie Suzanne Franklin (Eastern Michigan University BBA 1971) of Brooklyn, Michigan. They divorced in December 1980. In 1981, Tyra married Judith Ann Hastings Carpenter (b.1942, d.1987) of Pittsburg, Kansas, who preceded him in death.

Tyra's granddaughter, Emily Tyra, [18] is an established television and Broadway actor. She played Mia Bialy in Flesh and Bone, a Golden Globe-nominated miniseries which premiered on the Starz! Network in November 2015. In July 2016, she joined the second-season cast of Code Black, portraying Dr. Noa Kean.

Final years

Following his 1989 retirement from the Crane School of Music, Tyra relocated to Atlanta, Georgia where he would spend his remaining years living nearby his daughters and their families. He died on July 7, 1995 of complications arising from leukemia. During his long illness, he liked to tell his doctors that he would put up a good fight, but it was their job to find a cure in time.

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  1. Tyra, Thomas Norman (1971). The Analyses of Three Twentieth-Century Compositions for Wind Ensemble. Ph.D (Music) Dissertation, The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. In this document, Tyra analyzes Symphonies of Wind Instruments (Stravinsky), Octandre (Varèse), and Pittsburg Overture (Penderecki).
  2. Wickes, Frank. "LSU Band History". LSU Department of Bands. Archived from the original on 2014-08-13. Retrieved 2014-08-11.
  3. "At LSU, Golden Anniversary for the Golden Girls". Sporting News. Associated Press. Retrieved 2012-07-15.
  4. The Unofficial Bill Conti Website
  5. "University Bands Program". EMU Department of Music & Dance. Retrieved 2014-08-11.
  6. Crane School of Music Overview
  7. Ann Arbor Civic Band
  8. "Summer Camps and Schools" Encyclopedia of Canadian Music
  9. Eastern Michigan University ΚΚΨ - Delta Upsilon Chapter History
  10. ΚΚΨ National Organization Website - Past Presidents
  11. Tyra, Thomas Norman (1955). The Messiah (Part I). Master of Music Thesis, Northwestern University, Evanston.
  12. Young Band Repertoire Project, Volume 1
  13. LSU Football post-season appearances
  14. NY Times Obituary for John P. Paynter, February 11, 1996
  15. Northwestern University website: Behind the Music
  16. Hail to Purple: School Songs from the Vault
  17. Suzanne Tyra Obituary
  18. Emily Tyra Website

Thomas Tyra at Find a Grave