By Ed Karvoski Jr., Contributing Writer
Shrewsbury – As the new Shrewsbury district director of the music and drama department, Tom O’Toole can draw upon 28 years of experience as a performing arts educator. With a double major in music education and composition, he earned a bachelor’s degree at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell. He received a master’s degree in composition at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
The most valuable lesson he has applied throughout his career is the importance of patience, he noted.
“As a musician, practice is very important,” he said. “Sometimes you have to wait for things to develop, and sometimes you have to wait for your own skills to develop, too.”
O’Toole first became interested in music as a child tinkling on a piano that his parents bought for his older sister. Several years later he studied piano with a backup organist at Boston Garden (now TD Garden).
“I didn’t get the usual classical technique lessons from him,” he said. “I was taught all sorts of jazz tricks that he’d use to get by when he wouldn’t have a chance to practice the song.”
While in elementary school in Melrose, O’Toole learned to play the euphonium. Concurrently, he discovered another favorite instrument when the high school band director visited the younger students.
“He played an instrument that I thought sounded beautiful, the baritone horn,” he recalled. “I told my parents that this is what I wanted to play the next year, and I remember my mom’s response: ‘Baritone horn? Can you play it at your sister’s wedding?’”
O’Toole played the baritone horn in his high school concert and marching bands. Interested in joining jazz bands, he learned to play the valve trombone in high school and the slide trombone in college.
His first job was in the Tewksbury Public Schools in 1986 following Proposition 2-1/2. There, he instructed music as band director in the middle and high schools.
“The high school band director went out on sabbatical and the middle school band director retired,” he explained. “They decided to fill both jobs with one kid fresh out of college.”
Shortly after the 1988 election, budget cuts caused him and other untenured staff to be laid off.
Next, O’Toole taught music for six years in Harvard Public Schools. At different points during that time he instructed students from kindergarten through high school.
“We were trying to fulfill everybody’s musical needs, and it sometimes got a little stretched,” he acknowledged.
For the past 15 years, O’Toole worked at Nashoba Regional High School (NRHS) in Bolton, starting in 1999 as band director and music teacher. In 2004, he accepted the additional responsibilities of coordinating and supervising music and visual art programs as the NRHS fine arts department head. He continued teaching four periods daily; a fifth period was devoted to administrative duties.
“It seemed like the next progression in my career at that point,” he said of the promotion.
At NRHS he particularly appreciated conducting the concert and jazz bands, and teaching advanced placement music theory.
“Of all the many things I enjoyed doing there, the bands were probably what drew me to that position,” he said.
O’Toole was attracted to his current position in Shrewsbury as the next progression in his career. In addition to overseeing music and drama for kindergarten through grade 12, he’s teaching high school music technology and music theory, and is co-advisor with Michael Lapomardo of the Tri-Music Honor Society.
“It takes into account all of my previous experience – and then some,” he said. “It’s a really well-rounded department. I’ll never be bored here because there’s always plenty to do.”