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Thomas Tyra (born Thomas Norman Tyrakowski) (April 17, 1933 - July 7, 1995) was an Americanmarker composer, arranger, bandmaster, and music educator.

Thomas Tyra at the U.S.
Navy School of Music (ca 1956)
1963 LSU Tiger Marching Band (Thomas Tyra, Director)
Thomas Tyra and Max Plank at Eastern Michigan University (ca 1970's)
Thomas Tyra at Eastern Michigan University (ca 1970)
Thomas Tyra at Crane School of Music (ca 1986)
Thomas Tyra, Dean of Crane School of Music (ca 1986)

Early life and education

Tyra was born and raised in Cicero, Illinoismarker. The only child of a working-class immigrant family, Tyra graduated from the J. S. Morton High School in Cicero, Northwestern Universitymarker (BA 1954, MA 1955) and the United States Navy School of Musicmarker (1956) while fulfilling his military service obligations. He would later receive his Ph.D in Music Education in 1971 from the University of Michiganmarker under the auspices of long-time Director of Bands, William D. Revelli.

Bandmaster and Music Educator

After completing his military service and a brief assignment as a high school band director in Des Moines, Iowa, Tyra joined Louisiana State Universitymarker in 1958 as assistant to then Director of Bands L. Bruce Jones. In 1959, LSU elevated Tyra to become the 14th Bandmaster of the Tiger Marching Band, making him at age 26 the nation's youngest director of a major university marching band. Tyra's 1959 introduction of the LSU Ballet Corps would later evolve into the LSU Golden Girls Dance Squad, which would also serve to train many young composers and arrangers, including early staff arranger Bill Conti who would later gain first fame by penning the theme music for the 1976 hit film Rocky.

In 1964, Tyra became Director of Bands at Eastern Michigan Universitymarker, forging an enduring collaboration with Dr. Max Plank that would result in significant growth of the EMU Bands program. From 1977 to 1985, he headed the Department of Music at Western Carolina Universitymarker in Cullowhee, North Carolina, strengthening its Music Education curriculum and planting the seeds of growth for its instrumental performance programs, including marching band.

In 1985, Tyra was appointed Professor and Dean of the Crane School of Music at SUNY-Potsdam. He retired in 1989 and moved to Atlanta, Georgia where he would spend his remaining years with nearby family.

Tyra was a member of ASCAP and the Kappa Kappa Psi/Tau Beta Sigma band service organization. He served as ΚΚΨ's National President from 1973 to 1975.

Composer, Arranger and Lyricist

Tyra wrote numerous original compositions and arrangements for symphonic bands, marching bands and brass ensembles.

Reflecting his talent in arranging for low brass and in writing works suitable for band ensembles of all levels, Tyra's Two Gaelic Folk Songs remains a standard for intermediate bands. For beginning band, Tyra wrote a series of original compositions including Wholey Hymn, Modal March, Pentatonic Polka, Quartal Caper, and Polytonal Parade. His compositions and arrangements for intermediate band included Two 17th Century Italian Songs and an arrangement of I'd Do Anything from Lionel Bart's hit musical Oliver!

For more skilled ensembles, he penned countless arrangements of pre-game and half-time music for the Northwestern, LSU and EMU Marching Bands, including nationally televised works played by the Tiger Marching Band when LSU football competed post-season at the Sugar Bowl (1959, 1960), the Orange Bowl (1962), the Cotton Bowl Classic (1963) and the Bluebonnet Bowl (1964). His original compositions included Suite for Brass and Tympani, Three Christmas Miniatures, Ceremonial Sketch and Intravention. For Eastern Michigan University, Tyra composed Eastern Variants, the music and lyrics for Go Green! and the low-brass break strain for the Huron (now Eagle) Fight Song.

In 1958 at the request of Northwestern University mentor and long-time Director of Bands John Paynter, Tyra crafted the modern-day lyrics for Northwestern's Alma Mater (University Hymn). Tyra's words remain an integral part of Northwestern University tradition today.

Personal life

Tyra fathered six children and had 13 grandchildren from his marriage to Suzanne Sheldon Tyra (Northwestern University '54).


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