Student Profile: Darius Thomas
80 Percent Destiny, 20 Percent Choice
Some individuals exude a quality that can’t quite be put into words, except to say there’s just something about them that makes them unique. Darius Thomas is one of these individuals. Perhaps it lies in his unmasked friendliness, a genuineness that emerges out of a refreshingly selfless perspective on life and a strong sense of spiritual motivation. Take, for example, his views on his own trajectory as a vocal performance major in the Department of Music: Darius attributes only a small part of his impressive success (20 percent, in his words) to the choices he’s made in life. The rest, he claims, is destiny. Asked to elaborate, he pauses for a moment and explains simply: “Choosing this profession is something way bigger than me.”
Indeed, it’s difficult to meet Darius and not come away with the conviction that he is in fact destined for exceptional things. Not that his life hasn’t already begun to take a turn for the remarkable. A child of Sherman, Texas, Darius was attracted to UTSA because of a YouTube video of rising tenor star and COLFA graduate Rafael Moras (featured in prior editions of Ovations), who would later become a close friend. “As soon as I got here doors started opening and I knew I was in the right place,” he recollects. His first breakthrough occurred early on when a tenor role in the UTSA Lyric Theatre’s production of A Brief History of Root Vegetables became available and he was asked to step in on short notice. The experience set a positive tone for the rest of his time at UTSA.
Under the talented mentorship of Professor Linda Poetschke, who nurtured Darius’ classical inclinations while introducing him to new musical opportunities, Darius has grown into a full-fledged singer. “He’s been gifted with the full package of skills needed to be successful in the performing world,” says Poetschke. “He has vocal talent, an engaging stage presence, a friendly and positive outlook, and intelligence. The other part of the package that will determine Darius’ success will be of his own making, and that is the discipline and perseverance that it takes to reach the top. ”
Discipline and perseverance don’t seem to be much of a problem for Darius. In the last year alone, he’s traveled to China to participate in the Yunnan Opera Festival, performed at UTSA’s lavish capital campaign fundraiser, worked regularly as a paid singer at local churches, and volunteered his talent for numerous campus events and workshops. He holds the most generous music scholarship in his class, and is unequivocal about the fact that music is his life. He says that when he performs as a classical vocalist he experiences an out-of-body sensation that elevates him beyond himself, and that his goal as a singer is to share this cathartic spiritual experience with his audience — all of which he sums up in one unassuming yet powerful statement: “It’s about making people happy.”
Last summer we had the pleasure of sitting down for a lunch interview with Darius. Fresh off a counseling stint at a campus voice camp for 200 high school students, his voice was noticeably affected, but he was kind enough to entertain us for an hour.
When did you start singing?
“My earliest memory is with my church choir. My aunt was the youth choir director and I performed a solo in front of the church for the first time when I was about five years old. After that I started getting into karaoke because my dad owned a bowling alley and I would perform there. I wasn’t introduced to classical music until I was 13.”
How did you come to specialize in classical
“It all happened during my voice change. My twin brother was in choir and I was in band, but right around that time I got tired of playing instruments and decided to join the choir. As my voice changed, it became adapted to the classical feel. In eighth grade I did my first all-regional competition and won first chair in a classical choral setting, and I thought, ‘I can do this.’”
Opera has a very theatrical element to
it. Is that something you feel drawn to?
“Definitely. I also started acting when I was young, doing church plays. When I was 11 I did a gospel play and toured a bit. Then in high school I started doing a lot of theater and learned through experience. I never took any acting or theater classes.”
I heard you sing with fellow vocal performance
major Regina Branford during Sonja
Lanehart’s African American Studies
Symposium. I don’t think I’d be alone in saying
it was a powerful and moving performance.
“Thank you. I think that comes from the passion I have for performing. It really is something I love to do. Although I have an outgoing personality off the stage, I feel as if I live through my singing and if I didn’t perform often, I’d ball up in a corner and die. I’m a really nervous person, but it all goes away when I get on stage.”
Does that transformation happen immediately,
or does it take a while?
“It depends on the audience. If it’s a smaller group, it takes a little longer; the bigger the crowd, the better.”
What led you to choose UTSA for your
“I knew I wanted to be a music major as I approached my high school graduation, so I began auditioning at universities. To be honest I’d never heard of UTSA, but as I was preparing for a role in Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story I came across a video of Rafael Moras singing ’Maria’ for his own high school’s production of the musical. That really impressed me, and then I saw in the video caption that he’d gone on to study at UTSA. I think it was the very next week that I came here to audition, and before I knew it I’d signed up. The scholarship definitely played a big part in it, but I also really appreciated the family atmosphere and the fact that faculty seemed genuinely interested in undergraduates, as opposed to other schools that focus more on graduate students.”
What goals do you have for your future in
“Ultimately, I want to make a career as a performer. My goal isn’t to be famous or rich. I just want to pursue my passion. In the short term I’m planning on studying at the graduate level, but lately I’ve been thinking about getting a job teaching at a public school for a year before that. I want to know how it feels to make a salary.”
Do you have any grad schools in mind yet?
“Right now, my top choice is Ohio State. I’d like to study with Dr. Robin Rice, who I took some lessons with last summer. We got along really well and he opened up a lot of new aspects to my voice. Grad school is all about the teacher you study with and the connections they have. You want to find someone who can help you launch your career.”
Any notable performances coming up?
“This summer I’ll be performing as a soloist with the San Antonio Mastersingers at the Texas Choral Directors Association convention here in San Antonio. That’ll be my first professional paid gig with a choir, so I’m pretty excited!”
What do you do for fun outside of music?
I’m kind of an old man when it comes to that. The music department is basically my life. But I’m happy as long as I’m with friends. Almost everyone I know here is a music student, and there just isn’t much time for anything else. Every time we step outside of the music department we feel like we’re in a different world.”