At this time last year, Dr. Lisa Thomas was preparing for a learning adventure: travel to the University of Alberta (Canada) to spend winter 2017 term as the Fulbright Visiting Research Chair in Arts and Humanities. She didn’t yet know the additional teaching and learning opportunities that would come her way.
In Canada, Thomas’ university project was titled “The Legacy of Canadian Indigenous Music as Classical Compositional Material,” and she researched, collected, and catalogued ancient musical elements of the North American indigenous people. Of Cherokee heritage, she has long worked to collect and revive the music of indigenous people. Her work as a Fulbright Scholar led to two additional undertakings through the Fulbright program.
The first was an invitation from Brock University in St. Catharine, Ontario, to perform on piano and organ and add to her research of the indigenous people. Thomas visited with people from the Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee Nations, and Six Nations. This was made possible by grant funding from Fulbright Canada for the Fulbright Visiting Scholar Speaker Program.
She also was awarded a Fulbright Western Hemisphere Regional Travel Program Grant that allowed her to respond to invitations from Instituto Cultural Peruano Norteamericano of Cusco, Peru, and Conservatorio Nacional de Musica in Lima, Peru, performing and lecturing in both locations.
Key accomplishments of her Fulbright term in Alberta included composition lectures, a solo concert, a Farwell Quintet open rehearsal and performance, and judging a student composition contest. She also participated in tea ceremonies, pipe ceremonies, and drumming circles.
Of Cherokee heritage, Thomas combined her musical talent with her desire to understand and advocate for various native groups. Thomas uses the piano and traditional instruments, including wind chimes, flutes and turtle shell rattles to revive and share the music played by the continent’s indigenous people.
The Fulbright Canada Awards provide approximately 50 teaching and research grants to U.S. faculty and experienced professionals from academic and professional fields. The Canada-U.S. Fulbright Program promotes collaborative research and discussion of topics relevant to Canada and the United States.
Thomas has served Austin College as organist since 2011, and served as an adjunct instructor to teach “Native American Music and Culture of North America” during two January terms on campus.
Now a resident of Van Alstyne, Texas, Thomas is originally from Tulsa, Oklahoma. She holds master degrees in piano performance and piano pedagogy from Southern Methodist University and a doctorate of piano performance with related studies in ethnomusicology from University of North Texas. She has recorded three CDs with classical label, Toccata Classics, in London, including works based on Native American tribal melodies.
Austin College, a private national liberal arts college located north of Dallas in Sherman, Texas, has earned a reputation for excellence in academic preparation, international study, pre-professional foundations, leadership development, committed faculty, and hands-on, adventurous learning opportunities. One of 40 schools profiled in Loren Pope’s influential book Colleges That Change Lives, Austin College boasts a welcoming community that embraces diversity and individuality, with more than 40 percent of students representing ethnic minorities. A residential student body of approximately 1,275 students and a faculty of more than 100 allow a 13:1 student-faculty ratio and personalized attention. The College is related by covenant to the Presbyterian Church (USA) and cultivates an inclusive atmosphere that supports students’ faith journeys regardless of religious tradition. Founded in 1849, the College is the oldest institution of higher education in Texas operating under original name and charter.