Terri Byrum in the Charlotte Magazine
“I nurture atmospheres to music. I make people feel good about singing and each other,” says Charlotte’s Thomas Moore of his work.
It is indeed rare to find such at talented young performer sharing his art with the community as a volunteer. Moore is a much sought after singer and pianist whose local roots were bred in the prestigious Manhattan School of Music in New York City. After graduation, Moore was offered roles in the Broadway musicals Timbucktu and Bubbling Brown Sugar, but he turned them down to return to Charlotte.
It’s at once admirable and yet difficult to understand what motivated Thomas Moore to return to the Charlotte community. Here there is no professional theatre, and the Charlotte Symphony and Opera Companies (with whom Moore has performed minor roles and chorus work) uses no local talent for the guest artists and principle roles. Obviously this is not discouraging to Moore, for he left the ideal city of opportunity in favor of Charlotte. “Most artists are too concerned about their art – that’s why I left New York,” declares Moore who feels that the primary ingredient for producing good art is knowing something about people.
“Art is getting too far away from the people,” feels Moore. “Much of today’s art is being done for the artist’s peers, but they expect the general public to buy it.” When Thomas Moore performs – however casual or formal – he watches the audience and listens to them to see how they react, and he gives them what they want.
Seventy per cent of what Moore does is offered as a volunteer. He is no stranger to area homes for senior citizens and children’s daycare centers. “Children and older people need attention from the arts too,” says Moore, in contrast to the fact that most art is directed primarily toward the eighteen to fifty age group.
Judy Beard, activity director of the Hospitality Care Center on Randolph Road, says the senior citizens in residence there look forward to Moore’s visits. “To have someone of his caliber volunteer is fantastic.” She adds, “Some of the ladies here don’t come to any other activity, but will come to hear Thomas play and sing.” The feeling of goodwill is entirely mutual. Fondly, Moore says of the older people, “They take care of me. They can tell if I haven’t eaten before I sing and they make sure I am fed before I leave. I’m their boy.”
As a volunteer, Moore finds his gratification and compensation in sharing his music with others. During a five month period in late 1977, Moore worked over sixty jobs to raise money for producing an album. Now available in record stores, Old Time Religion is a collection of hymns and songs such as “Old Rugged Cross,” “Amazing Grace” and “Jacob’s Ladder.” Primarily intended for Moore’s senior citizen friends, childcare workers have commented that kids enjoy listening to the record during their rest periods. For the children, Moore has recently produced a second album, Our Community. This contains six of Moore’s original songs as well as old standards like “Comin’ Round The Mountain.”
Of Moore’s work with children at Bethlehem Center, director Margaret McCall says, “Thomas gives through love and doesn’t expect anything in return. He gives of himself over and over again – where our children are concerned and where our old folks are concerned.”
A native of Gastonia, Moore has been in Charlotte for over ten years, with a three year absence for schooling. Voice lessons from Fran Schafter began in 1974 and it was she who encouraged Moore to audition for Manhattan Schoolo of Music because of their outstanding vocal department. Moore was accepted on a scholarship. New York was good experience for Moore, though it was not easy. His first two years there he was choir director of a youth group in Newark, and commuting was difficult and tiring with a full academic schedule. The third year saw an end to commuting and Moore became soloist for Park Avenue’s Brick Presbyterian Church – one of the larger and wealthier Manhattan congregations.
When at the Manhattan School, Moore’s interests expanded to include opera. Instructor of opera directing and friend Jim Lucas recognized Moore as being “withdrawn and scared.” As Moore says, “He helped me come out a lot.” Lucas is no stranger to Charlotte singers due to his annual appearance as a guest director with Charlotte Opera. He is by far the Opera’s most competent director and a personal favorite with most chorus members.
Schooling broadened Moore’s musical horizons, but his primary interest was still in the music of his people – particularly spirituals. He planned his senior recital to be a program of spirituals. This met with supreme opposition at Manhattan School, but was eventually approved.
Moore is distressed that serious musicians are very reluctant to recognize the music of America. Jazz is only now slowly being accepted, and Moore feels that spirituals are important because “the spirit of the music involves the audience as much as the performer.”
In Charlotte, Moore recently conducted a workshop for the Association of Early Childhood Education International called “Nurturing your Roots Through Spirituals.” He was extremely well received . Reflects Moore, “Everyone sang and talked and had a good time being there.”
Thomas Moore has developed a sound philosophy of art and artists: “Art comes from within, but if the inner self isn’t nurtured the art can’t come out, or will come out deformed. A good voice will be with a singer maybe twenty or thirty years, but the person needs to develop all along.” Moore feels too much emphasis is placed on performing one’s art: “People often feel that if they don’t take voice lessons, they can’t sing. Art is sharing what makes you feel good.”
Many local performers are facing great difficulty when it comes to getting an audience for their performances. Moore feels that the reason is clear; “The performers wait and expect an audience to come to them, when the performers should go out and sell their product where the people are.” Perhaps he has something there. Certain performers and theatre groups at Spirit Square are folding despite glowing reviews, due to lack of a substantial audience. “People (audiences) just don’t know what’s available – you have to take it to them.”
The Charlotte Opera offers such a benefit with their Opera-In-The-Schools program. A small group of performers with a pianist visit schools and let the children participate in scenes from an opera. This is a great way to expose kids to classical-type music. Moore participated in 1977’s program by playing the Big Bad Wolf in “Little Red Riding Hood.” His performance in particular was well received; “I relate to the audience. My vibes are in tune with kids.”
Thomas Moore’s definition of a good artist is one who relates well with other people and who shares his talents. By anyone’s definition, Moore is certain to be included as a true artist. He is doing what he wants to do, and what he enjoys doing. And that makes him very happy.