Final Note: Daniel Thomason

Dan Thomason, en route to Berlin. Winter, 1959

Life Member. Viola
6/27/1934 – 5/25/2020

by Anita Thomason

We made music together, both literally and metaphorically, from the day we met in an orchestra in 1955. We married in 1959, and across the years had many memorable musical adventures. We had two sons whom Dan loved deeply — Matthew and Peter, one a fine art printmaker and the other a pianist, guitarist and piano technician.

Dan had an encyclopedic knowledge of Model A Fords, and on the opposite side of the universe, the viola d’amore and its literature. He always found the time to pursue his passion for the viola d’amore, in addition to playing the viola in various ensembles, and the hours he spent teaching public school music. He loved his students and imparted to them an enthusiasm for music-making and music-listening; the students, in turn, loved him (those who sometimes “ditched” school would nevertheless show up for his class!). He also left a lasting impression on the college students who did their practice teaching with him, and those who studied viola d’amore with him.

Dan was a profoundly serious person, but he also had a great sense of humor and was a witty storyteller. Friends and colleagues, former students, boyhood friends of our sons, even neighbors up the block have described Dan as “a gentleman,” “a mensch,” “self-effacing,” “kind,” “sweet,” “generous,” “good-natured,” “inspiring,” and have said they “are richer for having known him.” A young European friend/colleague commented, “…I am eternally grateful for all the love for viola d’amore he gave me and the precious human friendship…he was…one of the most wonderful musicians and humans who will remain in our hearts and in our music….”

Dan, Anita and son Peter, taken before their concerts for the Southern California Viola Society mini-congress and also for the Jefferson Baroque Orchestra concert in
Ashland, Oregon, June 2003.

by Adriana Zoppo

Born in 1934 in his grandparents’ home in Culver City, CA to a pipe organist/woodworker father and pianist mother, Daniel Thomason began violin at age 8, studying with Maurice Kohler and Robert Krantz. While attending Cal State L.A., in order to have a better view of a violinist in the orchestra who had caught his eye, the 20-year-old Dan told conductor Ross Beckstead that he also played viola. Although he had never played one before, couldn’t read the clef and didn’t even own a viola, overnight he borrowed one from Peter Meremblum (whose California Junior Symphony he had played in for many years), took a quick lesson from him and learned the clef so he could sit in the viola section the next day and gaze more easily at the object of his affections. That violinist, Anita, later became his wife, and the switch to viola became permanent.

After graduation, Dan studied with Sally Peck Thomas, principal viola of the Salt Lake City (Utah) Symphony,  at the Music Academy of the West (under Maurice Abravanel) then played with the Birmingham (Alabama) Symphony but only for one season before being drafted into the Army as a member of the viola section of the 7th U.S. Army Symphony Orchestra. Though headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany, it toured the country performing concerts and it was while on tour in Bavaria that Dan noticed a viola d’amore in a shop window which led to the purchase of his first and a lifelong passion for the instrument. He also developed an interest in researching original manuscripts for the instrument, resulting in the production of Dante Publications, his own modern editions of which almost none existed at the time.

Following his Army service, he and new bride Anita attended Colorado College so he could study viola with Paul Doktor. Dan and Anita then played in the Dallas Symphony and Opera Orchestra under Georg Solti, with Carmel Bach Festival in the summers, but soon returned to L.A. where Dan got a Masters at USC, studying with Sanford Schonbach, principal violist of the L.A. Phil. At classes by 8 a.m., Dan spent six nights a week playing with Murray Korda and the Monseigneur Strings strolling ensemble at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, often not returning home until 1 a.m.

While at USC he showed his research to musicologist/composer Ingolf Dahl who urged him to get a DMA in viola d’amore, for which he had to receive permission from the string faculty as it was a largely unknown instrument.  Pursuing his DMA, he studied viola with Milton Thomas and freelanced, also playing with the Roger Wagner Chorale Sinfonietta and the Glendale Symphony (for 44 years). An introduction to New York violist Myron Rosenblum, also a devotee of the viola d’amore, sparked a friendship from which was co-founded the Viola d’amore Society of America (now International Viola d’amore Society), an organization promoting the instrument, access to its music and biennial congresses where members have an opportunity to play together.

Earning a teaching credential in instrumental music from CSUN in 1964, Dan taught mostly middle school at public schools in L.A. County until 1991. After retiring, Dan continued his involvement with education for more than 20 years, teaching privately, coaching the viola sections at Santa Monica High School and giving viola d’amore lessons at the Thornton School of Music at USC, while continuing to play in the Rogue Valley Symphony and Jefferson Baroque Orchestra (Oregon) with Anita.

Besides the viola d’amore, his other passion since boyhood was antique automobiles, of which he owned and restored several. 

Dedicated to education, a mentor to many, Dan Thomason was a lovely person whose kind, generous nature was immediately evident. Always cheerful with a real twinkle in his eyes above his dapper mustachio, he was generous with his time and knowledge and never lost the unquenchable enthusiasm he brought to everything he crossed paths with. He is survived by his wife Anita and sons Matthew and Peter.