The birth of the Thomists in 1965 was really the result of a lot of lucky coincidental circumstances. Saint Joseph's College had just closed to make way for the Université de Moncton. Harry Rigby had been a teacher at Saint Joseph's and had a high school band operating there. The position of Dean of Men became available at St. Thomas, and Harry won the competition. Harry had been operating bands since he was 16 in his native Dublin, and after he immigrated to Canada in 1947, he became well known for his dance band in the Saint John area. When his career turned to teaching, forming an extracurricular high school band seemed a natural outlet for his talent and love of music.
As it happened, most of the senior students in the Saint Joseph's band decided to attend STU and arrived on campus the same day as Harry. At the same time several other competent musicians from Madawaska Maine also arrived in the freshman class that year. Harry brought these people together to see what kind of music they could make and, as if it had been ordained, The Thomists dance band was born.
The first challenge was finding a name. Several ideas were tossed around: The Tom-Cats, Tommies, Tomistics... and worse. Some of the St. Jo's recruits were interested in Thomistic Philosophy. Since followers of St. Thomas Aquinas and his philosophy were known as "Thomists", that was suggested and that's what stuck.
The band was paid fifty dollars for their first ever gig at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Fredericton, although the idea of playing for anything but university functions never really entered anyone's mind back then. However, it didn't take long for word to spread and bookings poured in. The band played virtually every St. Thomas and University of New Brunswick function that included dancing. Every faculty, every seasonal party, and every campus event. Students would line up at 9 a.m. to get tickets for the legendary STU "Socials". Soon the off-campus jobs far exceeded the campus ones. University officials quickly recognized the fact that the band was a tremendous public relations tool, and brought much more publicity to the University than any sports team had ever dreamed of doing. The Thomists became the most sought after band in the province, and every single Friday and Saturday night during the college year was booked solidly. And so it was during the 60s, 70s, and early 80s.
The 80s began to bring gradual changes to the band's hectic schedule. Money was getting tighter, and organizations who could normally afford the cost of a twenty piece band were now opting for smaller less costly combos, or even - Ugh ! ! - disk jockey. sure of The Thomists' gigs was changing. From the outset, it was firm band policy not to break into smaller groups for smaller functions, even though the request was constantly being made. The Thomists had become recognized as a "Big Band". That was its image, and that's the way it would stay. Consequently, the band was no longer a practical option for small government office parties, service club socials, or regular student dances. Most of the band's activities now centered around large scale events, conventions and conferences. The slowdown in pace was actually welcomed by many of the band members. It was now possible to have a social life, something that was difficult to achieve in the early years. Things didn't change much in the 90s. Musicians came and went, but the sound and format remained the same.
Now that the new millennium has arrived the band's popularity has not diminished but it operates at a pace of its own choosing. 2015 saw the band celebrate its 50th anniversary. Who would have thought that a small university without a music department would produce one of the most unique dance bands in Canada; a band that sold itself, not by playing Top 40 tunes, but by promoting the music of the Big Band Era, and those wonderfully written pieces that span the decades, best described as "popular standards".
Copyright 1965. The Thomists. All Rights Reserved.