Laura Mulligan Thomas

Youth Symphony Conductor

Laura Mulligan Thomas recently retired after serving as the Director of the Charlottesville High School Orchestra for four decades. These days, in addition to conducting the Youth Symphony, Ms. Thomas is the President of the Virginia Band and Orchestra Directors Association and teaches in the School of Music at James Madison University. 

Under her direction, the CHSO grew from eight students to 100+, and garnered top prizes in music festivals throughout the United States—from New York to Chicago, Atlanta, Boston, Dallas, Williamsburg, Nashville, Orlando, Virginia and Myrtle Beaches—and abroad in London, Vienna, Florence, Rome, Paris, Prague, Galway, and Dublin. The CHSO performed at the Midwest International Band and Orchestra Clinic, at five Virginia Music Educators Association conferences, and under the direction of maestro Loren Maazel at his inaugural Castleton Music Festival.

Numerous additional awards for Ms. Thomas’s 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. She studied orchestral conducting with Thomas Wilkins, Carl Roskott, and Ray Fowler, and holds a master’s degree in music from Shenandoah Conservatory.

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 chaired the Fine and Performing Arts department at Charlottesville High School for nearly 25 years and directed the University of Richmond Orchestra for three. She remains an active performer and plays piano and cello with several area chamber ensembles.