Thomas J. Dempster :: Composer

Hot Springs, AR USA


photo: Beth Laderbergh

Thomas Dempster (b. 1980, Michigan) is a composer writing predominantly chamber, electroacoustic, and multimedia works. With nearly 100 completed works, his output ranges from solo miniatures to extended works for orchestra with soloists. His music bears accessible yet decidedly individualistic traits, from tonal references to extended techniques, from use of classical forms to experimental soundscapes and video works. Informed by the natural world, folklore, scientific phenomena, the paranormal, and poliitcs, his music explores intersections between wonder, surrealism, the mundane and everyday, black humor, and tinkering with the ideas of beauty for the hell of it. While at home with all instruments and ensembles, Dempster has composed extensively for flute, bassoon, saxophone, and digital media, with an increasing interest in art song, video works, and Jazz. His works have been described as having “an impressive sense of physicality” (Computer Music Journal), and as being “distinct and clever” (Flutist Quarterly) and “restless, aggressive, playful, eerie…a multifaceted, whimsical evocation” (J. Harvey, Indianapolis Star).

This protean and multifaceted background has resulted in his music being widely performed throughout the Western Hemisphere and across Europe including GEMDays Festival (UK), Festivale Di_Stanze (Italy), Saxofoneando (Bolivia), the Irish Sound Science and Technology Association, the Toronto Intenrational Electroacoustic Symposium, the San Francisco New Music Festival, Electronic Music Midwest, Electroacoustic Barn Dance, New York City Electronic Music Festival, International Computer Music Association Conference, the International Double Reed Society, SEAMUS, Society of Composers Inc., College Music Society, the National Flute Association, the North American Saxophone Alliance, NACUSA, and many others. His music has been performed by numerous performers, including bassoonists Daniel Beilman, Barrick Stees, Eric Stomberg, and Michael Burns, saxophonists Russell Thorpe, Paula Van Goes, the h2 Quartet, and Jonathan Helton, flutists Timothy Hagen, Carla Copeland-Burns, and Lisa Bartholow Hanson, piano duo team Duo Korusa (Sujung Cho and Jacob Clark), and numerous wind ensembles, choirs, and chamber groups across the United States.

Dempster is a recipient of awards, honors, and grants from BMI, ASCAP, the South Carolina Arts Commission, the South Carolina Music Teachers Association, Black House Collective, and the Columbia (SC) Museum of Art. He has been a resident with the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center, the Osage Arts Community / Mid-Missouri Composers Symposium, and the Cortona Sessions for New Music. He has been commissioned by the Ohio State University New Music Ensemble, the Lamar University Wind Ensemble, the Greenbrook Ensemble, the Blue Mountain Ensemble, the Governor's School of North Carolina, and others. Many of his works are available from Potenza Music Publishing, MusicSpoke Publishing, Navona Records, and Quiet Design Records. He is an affiliate composer of Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI)

Dempster was recently appointed to the newly-formed position of Music Coordinator and Instructor at the Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences, and the Arts, in Hot Springs, AR. At ASMSA, he teaches music theory, appreciation, and woodwinds, directing student research, and directing instrumental ensembles. He has previously served on the faculties of the Governor's School of North Carolina, Claflin University, South Carolina State University, and UNC Greensboro, teaching courses in music theory, aural skills, composition, music technology, and performance.  He has been an assistant editor with Jasper magazine (Columbia, SC), a contributor to the new music digest I Care If You Listen, and an album reviewer for the Society for Electroacoustic Music in the United States (SEAMUS). He has given lectures on musical aesthetics, intellectual property issues, and musical analysis at CMS, NYCEMF, and SCMEA conferences. He studied at the University of Texas (MM, DMA) with Kevin Puts, Russell Pinkston, Donald Grantham, and Kevin Beavers, and at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (BM) with Eddie Bass, Craig Walsh, and Frank McCarty. He was mentored in theory and pedagogy by Byron Almen, Stefan Kostka, Kent Williams, and Ed Pearsall.

Dempster studied bassoon with Michael Burns, and has had masterclasses and lessons with Kristin Wolfe-Jensen, Bill Davis, William Winstead, and Peter Simpson. Dempster has performed with many orchestras throughout the South and Southeast, including the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, the Wilmington Symphony Orchestra, the Florence Symphony Orchestra, the Greensboro Philharmonia, and the Fayetteville Symphony Orchestra.

A member of numerous organizations (SCI, NACUSA, SCL, SEAMUS, Society for Music Theory, an the International Double Reed Society), Dempster has been most involved with the College Music Society (CMS), where he has been a member since 2002. He served as Composition Board Chair for the CMS Mid-Atlantic Chapter (2014-2016) and President-Elect of the chapter (2017-2019).

Born in an indescribably small town in Michigan, Dempster lived in rural communities during practically all of his childhood, coming of age surrounded by fields with goats, horses, or tobacco, in central North Carolina. Dempster resides in central Arkansas with his wife, visual artist Kara Gunter. When not working, Dempster can be found gardening or cooking or dog-wrangling. He is also one half of TommyGunGlass, an art glass scultpure/jewelry concern he runs with his wife Kara.