Position: Director of Organ & Church Music; Associate Professor, Organ & Church Music; Director, Church Music Institute
Location: Ruebush Hall, Room 140
Phone: (540) 665-4633
Employed Since: 2002
B.M., M.M., Louisiana State University; D.M.A., University of Iowa
Enthusiastic reviews applaud the “virtuoso performance by organist J. Thomas Mitts” – a “sensitive soloist who precisely spelled out the virtuoso passages” in his “spell-binding” appearances in festivals and concert series in the United States, Europe, and Russia. He is known for his insightful approach to early music as well as his interpretive skills and declamatory deliverance of the major Romantic repertoire. He recently released a CD featuring organ symphonies by Louis Vierne and Marcel Dupré, and is featured in recordings made by The Organ Historical Society, The Master Chorale of Washington, and the Adas Israel Chorale.
In addition to teaching organ performance and related keyboard skills, Dr. Mitts is the Director of Church Music at Shenandoah Conservatory, overseeing the undergraduate and graduate degree and certificate programs in Church Music. Each summer he plans and leads the Church Music Institute, a two-week intensive study of the skills and knowledge required of a musician working in the church. In recent years guest faculty have included Maurice Clerc (titular organist at the Cathedral of St-Bénigne in Dijon, France), Eileen Guenther (past President of the American Guild of Organists), Donald McCullough (conductor of The Master Chorale of Washington), Bruce Neswick (formerly associated with the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. and the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York), and John Walker (President of the American Guild of Organists and past organist at the Riverside Church in New York).
As the Artistic Director of Shenandoah’s Bach-Handel Festival, Dr. Mitts works with students from across the Conservatory in the preparation and performance of early music. He also serves as organist for the Festival of Lessons and Carols, a highly anticipated event that he designs and coordinates. On occasion Dr. Mitts leads graduate seminars in Music History and Music Theory, and oversees document preparation for doctoral Lecture Recitals.
Since 1993 Dr. Mitts has also served as Organist and Choirmaster at Augustana Lutheran Church in Washington, D.C., a church whose worship life is propelled by dynamic music and liturgy. In this capacity he has composed Mass settings, graduals, psalms and other liturgical elements as well as anthems and festival settings for voices and instrumental ensembles. He has also prepared scholarly performing editions of early music for use in liturgical celebrations and concerts.
Prior to joining the faculty at Shenandoah, Dr. Mitts was associated with Adas Israel Congregation, also in D.C., as organist, pianist, and choral conductor. There he produced arrangements of music from the Holocaust and a performing edition of music for the Sabbath by Salamone Rossi, which he later conducted for the Jewish Service of the national convention of the American Guild of Organists in 2010.
The musical opportunities for church musicians are almost limitless: performing, improvising, and accompanying; interacting with a wide range of age-groups; overseeing a variety of small- and large-scale ensembles; choral and instrumental conducting; composing, arranging, and orchestrating. As such, our goal at the Conservatory is not merely to produce competent performers, but rather well-rounded and complete musicians who play the organ and work in the Church.
I have worked in cabaret and musical theater productions in New Orleans, LA and as Music Director and Conductor for the Commonwealth Musical Stage in Virginia Beach, VA. One of the greatest experiences of my life was conducting a 45-piece orchestra in performances of Gypsy. This theatrical background has unexpectedly provided practical insight into the effective practice of liturgy.