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The Art of Music : 25 Years of Great Music on Sundays @ 5

John Thomas. Photo: Jennifer Shannon

by Lee Roscoe

The concert series Great Music on Sundays @ 5 presents “Music is Art,” August 20 at the Provincetown Unitarian Universalist Meeting House sanctuary. Renaissance man John Thomas is the series producer and has been for 25 years. He says the twenty-fifth year is the charm, for this season of concerts which began in June has aroused more excitement amongst audiences and musicians themselves than ever. And he is so appreciative that there’s a buzz, word of mouth, and social media bringing people in to hear what Thomas calls “music without borders.”

Each musician works on their own piece of a concert. Thomas feels that if you bring musicians together, let them create a program, “they start to form themselves like swirling mist.” He always works this way, and he says it always works.

Vocalist Trish LaRose

In this case with “Music is Art,” he wants to fuse “music, art, emotion, color…to elevate music by linking it with other forms of art which are noticeable in Provincetown—visual art, writing, theater,” adding that “in a sense music is all around us, and sometimes it is so much around us we don’t realize its contribution, whether it’s in street performances, at the beach, at clubs, concert halls and churches, Town Hall.”

Prior to playing, performers will describe their rationale, how their choice of music fits into the concert’s music as art theme. Cellist Chanthouen Varon Collins has chosen some of the lush music by Ennio Morricone from the 1988 film Cinema Paradiso, which Thomas says, “is one of the most artistic films ever.”  Organist Frederick Jodry features a piece by Paul Hindemith, whose modernist work was often non-diatonic, and expressionist, and which Thomas says has “lots of coloration.” And flautist Eric Maul, whose skill and tone are flawless, similarly picked a color laden piece by another Renaissance creative, Tōru Takemitsu. Vocalist Trish LaRose will likely do some Broadway and Joni Mitchell numbers and Peter Toto will sing Stephen Sondheim’s “I Remember Sky,” which Thomas says, “is filled with senses of nature through the seasons.”

cellist Chanthouen Varon Collins.
Photo: Curtis Speer/Cusp Gallery

Craig Combs, noted classical pianist, plays Schumann’s “Scenes of Childhood,” with its evocative musical imagery of the games, dreams, moods, and fears of youth. And Ken Field, the leader of the fabulous jazz ensemble Revolutionary Snake, brings his electronic sound machine into which he inputs layered tracks, so spontaneous compositions can erupt improvisationally over them as he plays sax or flute and jams with John on piano.

Thomas himself will express the “colors and sounds and senses found out on the dunes” where he spent three weeks influenced by what he heard in nature. He’d walk, listen, and record what he hummed and whistled, later transcribing those bits into a “romantic, impressionist, melodic” piece of music entitled “Provincelands,” which you can find on his album Composing Myself. “I wanted to play it because of the business with the dune shacks. The tradition of being able to stay at one long enough to create a work of art will be lost if the government gets its way,” he says referring to the recent controversial evictions of dune shack dwellers in the National Seashore. 

flautist Eric Maul.
Photo: Greg Salvatori

In his eclectic life he studied law at Northeastern University.  Intrigued by doing something of value, his college work programs were in Alaska, New Mexico, and Maine, all championing Native Americans. And the same outrage regarding their treatment, he says, applies to the dune shacks. “There’s a parallel between how the federal government treats natives, and this national park thing; it’s a lot less egregious; it’s not that they are murdering, poisoning, and killing people, but it is about killing culture for the sake of administrative convenience.”

Thomas says his parents’ huge record collection set him on his catholic approach to music and performance.  His dad taught him on the home piano, followed up by a “great piano teacher from age 8 to 17.” He obsessed over film scores while his classmates dug the Beatles; he is fascinated by R&B, latin, and world music “from different cultures and eras,” and is a master at boogie woogie. He’s not only a composer and pianist but his bio says, an actor, and photographer. He got a Fulbright for Bulgaria to study its wealth of music—jazz, stylized vocals, Romani and Jewish folk music, improvisational, classical. His band Johnny and the Washashores covers fifties classics and some Caribbean with Bulgarian thrown in.  Similarly, he likes to curate the concerts with a free form, for variety. “You limit yourself if you define your genre as just Broadway, or just classical. There are so many kinds of music, it’s limitless.”  

After a successful multi-year campaign to restore the rare Massachusetts-made 1850s organ at the UU, and to endow it with a concert grand Steinway piano, which Thomas says is “the best in town,” he and two other trustees began concerts as an organic outgrowth of the instrument trust. (Thomas has been the sole producer of Great Music since around 1999.)  He says the acoustics in the sanctuary, built around 1840, are miraculous, so precise that you can hear a harmony unfolding after it stops, not as an echo but a force.  Jodry “understands the restored organ like no other. The opportunity to hear him is well worth the effort.”

“Music is Art” is sponsored by Berta Walker Gallery, who Thomas credits with being “a supporter of the series financially, culturally, psychologically, on many levels.” The performers are all based on the Cape or other parts of New England.

Thomas says his musicians are mutually supportive. “If people go on a competition model, that’s an energetic feeling of lack: if you have then I don’t have it. But if you work on a cooperative abundance model, then we all have it.”

Great Music Sundays @ 5 happens every Sunday at 5 p.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Meeting House in Provincetown, 236 Commercial St. The Music is Art program will be performed this Sunday, August 20. For tickets ($20-$50/12 & under Free), a complete schedule, or further information visit

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Ginger Mountain (MS Communications Media, BA Fine Arts/Teaching Certification K-12) has been part of the graphic design team at Provincetown Magazine since 2008. Ginger has worked as a creative director, individual contractor, and freelance designer with clients representing many areas —business software, consumer products, professional services, entertainment, and network hardware to name just a few — providing creative layout and development of a wide range of print media content. Her clients ranged from small local businesses to large corporations and Fortune 500 companies, from New Hampshire to Georgia

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