Laura Mulligan Thomas has served as the director of the Charlottesville High School Orchestra for nearly four decades. She came to CHS after graduating with honors from James Madison University in 1982 and began immediately to develop and nourish the orchestra program of the eight students she inherited. Today an award-winning group of 125, a number of CHSO graduates are professional musicians who perform with orchestras and pop, rock, and country artists in the U.S. and Europe. Still other alumni have followed in Ms. Thomas’s footsteps and pursued careers in music education.
Numerous additional awards for her work with young musicians include Charlottesville’s Distinguished Teacher Award, the Golden Apple Award, the Piedmont Council of the Arts Award, and Outstanding Educator in Central Virginia awarded by Phi Delta Kappa. In 2002, Shenandoah University honored her with its first graduate Alumna of Excellence Award, and in 2013 she was recognized as the James Madison University Outstanding Music Educator Alumnus.
Honored as Charlottesville’s Citizen of the Year in 2015 by the Rotary Club and Woman of the Year in 1999 by the Virginia Women’s Forum, Ms. Thomas was also named one of the Charlottesville Top 25 Citizens by C-ville. Ms. Thomas studied orchestral conducting with Thomas Wilkins, Carl Roskott, and Ray Fowler, and earned her master’s degree from Shenandoah Conservatory in 1996.
Ms. Thomas spent her early years in Alexandria, Virginia, where she studied piano with National Symphony pianist Marion Herrett and learned cello in the Alexandria City Schools string program. She has guest-conducted dozens of youth orchestras throughout Virginia, and serves on the executive board of the Virginia Band and Orchestra Directors Association. She is the chair of the Fine Arts department at Charlottesville High School, and for three years directed the University of Richmond Orchestra. An active performer, Ms. Thomas plays piano and cello with several Charlottesville chamber ensembles, and whenever possible performs with her three siblings as the Mulligan String Quartet.