Newcastle pianist to perform at the Vatican

Family plans concert fundraiser
By: Krissi Khokhobashvili, Journal Features Editor
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A Newcastle family is planning a fundraiser to help send Richard Thomas on the musical trip of a lifetime.

Thomas, 28, is known by people here as “Chad.” A graduate of Maidu High School, Thomas is now a full-time pianist who has been selected to travel with the Peninsula Musical Arts Association on a week-long trip to Italy, where he’ll perform at a cathedral in Rome and at Mass at the Vatican.

Thomas, who lives in San Francisco to pursue music studies, has been playing piano since the age of 6, when he started picking out tunes on a battery-operated Casio keyboard.

“One day he comes home, and he’s just dinking around on it, and we said, ‘OK, he’s playing a song,’” said mom Julie Thomas.

Thomas’ parents, Julie and Manuel, asked his teacher what they had been studying at school, and she asked to hear the song. As little Thomas plucked it out on his toy piano, she realized he had picked up, by ear, the winter cantata the school’s choir had been rehearsing.

And so began a lifelong interest in piano music. For 10 years Thomas studied with Applegate piano instructor Kent Brosveen, who Thomas still names as a friend and mentor.

Thomas attended the San Francisco Conservatory of Music for two years on a full scholarship before leaving to focus on teaching and performing. He’s now at San Francisco City College, getting some general education requirements under his belt before transferring to state school for his bachelor’s and, later, a doctorate in music.

This is his second season with PMAA, which was elated to learn he was interested in traveling with the organization on its Italy trip. Thomas will sing as part of the choir at the Vatican, and will play piano and organ at a basilica in Rome. This is the first time the group has taken an accompanist along, Thomas explained.

“It just seems like an honorable, in-character thing for me to do, as a classical musician – to go perform in the Vatican,” Thomas said.

“What a fabulous way to get to go on a trip like that,” Julie Thomas said. “To travel, doing what you love doing, with people who love doing the same thing.”

Thomas will be compensated in part for his work there, but his family decided to hold a fundraiser to offset additional costs, including five days of sightseeing after intense rehearsals and performances, and the fact that he’ll miss a week of work on his first trip overseas.

The March 24 fundraiser at First Congregational Church in Auburn will feature a full concert by Thomas. He’ll play pieces by Chopin, Bach, Prokofiev, Ravel and Beethoven. There will be appetizers and drinks, with wine for purchase, Julie Thomas said, and a reception after the concert.

Thomas’ musical aspirations include one day conducting. In order to achieve his goals, he said, he’s willing to put in long hours of practice every day. Ideally, he practices five to eight hours a day.

“I can’t even sleep unless I play the piano,” he said. “Sometimes, if I don’t get a chance to practice, I’ll practice until 2 a.m. and then sleep.”

Reach Krissi Khokhobashvili at Follow her on Twitter, @AuburnJournalAE.


Piano Concert Fundraiser

When: 7 p.m. Saturday March 24

Where: First Congregational Church of Auburn, 710 Auburn Ravine Road, Auburn

Cost: $25 in advance, $30 at the door

Tickets and info: Julie Thomas, (916) 316-2695