By Thomas Sellers Jr.
Leah Thomas’ 20-year journey in education has led her to Millington Central High School.
Her first time teaching in Shelby County, Thomas is the new choral director at MCHS. Taking over from Calvin Ellis, Thomas is ready to mode the program into her image and continue the strong tradition of successful Millington Choral productions and students.
“It’s been a transiting period,” Thomas acknowledged. “The kids are sounding real good. We’re working on developing their music reading skills. We did have two people to make All-West over there at the Orpheum. I feel like it a building a year—transitional year overall.”
Senior Sam Johnson and junior Cassidy Floyd earned All-West earlier this year. They will be two of the students taking the stage Oct. 18 at the Millington Civic Center at 7 p.m. for the 2018 Millington Fall Concert.
As the students prepare for the first big show under Thomas, the instructor is concentrating on multiple facets of the program.
“It’s an intermediate stage – right in the middle,” she noted. “You have several underclassmen who are learning to sing strongly and learning what Choir is all about.
“When we went to All-West, for several of them it was their very first time,” Thomas added. “A lot of training going on. I have a lot of freshmen in my Women’s Choir. I think the numbers have gone down. There are still solid. So we will have to recruit.”
As of early October the Women’s Choir had 22 members. The Chamber Choir has 42 and the Jazz Choir features 10 students. The Men’s Choir has only 9 members.
Thomas, a Kentucky native, is encouraging students to come out and give choir a shot. After graduating from Middle Tennessee State University and earning her Master’s from Arkansas State, Thomas directed her first choir at Haywood Middle School in Brownsville.
Thomas, who grew up in Jackson, returned home as an instructor at Jackson Central Merry and Jackson South Side. Her next move was teaching near Little Rock, Ark. Now she is the leader of the vocal talent at Millington.
“They’re starting to be more receptive,” Thomas said. “They’re getting used to my style. My goal is not only that they sing well but that they read music well. So I focus a lot on vocal technique. The reason why we sing a certain way or the reason why a piece is written a certain way.”
While enriching their musical education and developing their talents, Thomas wants her students to be in a position to pursue music past high school.
“I’m focusing on if they want to do music at the college level, they are equipped to do that,” she noted. “I would like to see more choir students receive scholarships and sing beyond high school and be ready for that. So college ready is a big emphasis and lifelong musicians.”
The Fall Concert will give Thomas a chance to showcase her students and evaluate their progress after two months of work.
“We’ll sing a variety of music,” she said. “We’ll feature some of the music we had to learn for All-West. Some challenging repertoire and some less challenging numbers, a few solos here or there as well.
“I’m hoping (guests) expect to hear great singing with a lot of energy and emotion,” Thomas added. “And I hoping they’ll feel the music and not just hear it.”
Thomas said she has enjoyed listening to her students and watching them grow in music.
As she learns them, the school and the community, Thomas said her program will continue to be an asset of Millington.
“Because music gives an outlet for a lot of these kids to be expressive and be successful,” she said. “Although they come from diverse backgrounds, can be their escape. They can progress in choir sometimes more than in their core subjects.
“We’re developing talent,” Thomas continued. “Giving them memories and opportunities they normally wouldn’t have. Even just to go to another state, a lot of these kids don’t have those opportunities. I would love to take them out of the country. That would be one of my goals to develop the program so they can even sing out of the country.”
Ready to put her stamp on the program, Thomas said she wants her program to have a permanent influence on her students.
“I want them to be ambassadors for the school,” she concluded. “They use music as a confidence builder and a way to unite diverse people. Use music as a way to create a sense of community within the school, community because if you can create music together you can do anything.”