Toshimasa Francis Wada
Toshimasa Francis Wada is Artistic Director of the Thayer Symphony Orchestra in Leominster, Massachusetts, a position he has held since1983. Additionally, during his career, he has taught at three colleges and a university and also conducted other orchestras, the most recent being the Charlotte Sympony Orchestra in Florida, where he has served as music director and conductor for the past four years.
Toshimasa was born in Kiryu, Japan, a small town northwest of Tokyo that was noted for its production of silk. His earliest years were spent in a family of means. His maternal grandfather, a major influence on his life, was a policeman, dance instructor, sumo wrestler, and flute player. When Toshimasa was ten, the family suffered a total financial loss that led to members of the family doing menial work just to survive.
Toshimasa was a precocious child whose interests in art led to his winning over thirty awards for his drawings, including one at the national level. While he was in junior high school, a music teacher noted Wada's music talent and gave him lessons in voice, piano, flute, and theory.
By the time he graduated from high school, he had conducting experience in both band and choir. While his parents did not approve of his plans to be a music educator, he successfully auditioned for entrance into the Japanese Ground Self Defense Band Music School, where he graduated with highest honors.
Wada traveled to the United States in 1966 and joined the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra in Maryland. A year later, he auditioned and was accepted at Catholic University of America in Washington. He received scholarships for both undergraduate and graduate study and, while still an undergraduate, was allowed to enroll in graduate conducting classes in orchestra, opera, and ballet. He spent a year at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.
Following completion of his study at CUA, he taught music in high schools and colleges for over a decade, eventually serving as band director at Union College in Lincoln, Nebraska, from 1979 to 1983. While at UC, he participated in the International Orchestra Conductors Institute offered in the summers at Loma Linda University.
Wada was one of twelve finalists chosen to work directly with Herbert Blomstedt in the IOCI master class. When Blomstedt's orchestra, the famed Dresden Staatskapelle, toured in the U.S. in 1983, Wada traveled with them. He subsequently worked closely with Blomstedt for thirteen years.
That same year he was invited to be conductor and musical director of the Thayer Conservatory Orchestra (forerunner of today's Thayer Symphony Orchestra) and teach at Atlantic Union College. While at AUC for the next seventeen years, he also served as director of the Thayer Conservatory's preparatory program for nine of those years.
During his time at AUC, Wada joined the faculty at Holy Cross College in 1986, where he directed the Chamber Players and Chamber Orchestra. A year later, in 1987, in addition to his positions at UC and HCC he assumed leadership of the Clark University Orchestra in Worcester, Massachusetts, and would continue at the latter two schools until 1992. While at HCC he produced a CD of the group under the Neuma label.
Wada has been an innovator in musical outreach to young people. He was a regular guest conductor in the Worcester County Music Festival, initiating a highly praised "Salute to Young Artists" program. He also helped create the TSO's "The Music Connection," a program which introduces the very young to orchestra music. Most recently, the TSO established a community music school that enrolled over 200 students within a year of its opening in 2002.
Wada is active in a number of community activities, serving as a panelist and member on cultural advocacy groups and working with a number of other community service organizations. Fitchburg State College listed him as one of "100 Who Have Made a Difference" in civic matters and also awarded him an honorary doctorate. Wada also received the Dr. Robert H. Goldman Award for Community Service in 2002.
Wada still pursues his interest in art, being a skilled painter, calligrapher, and photographer. He has five adult children, all of whom are musical.
Sources: Interview, 2004; Biography at the Thayer Symphony website (2013); Kathy Grey, “The Wonderful world of Wada,” Fort Myers Florida Weekly, 22 April 2010; Nancy Stetson, “Around the world with Francis Wada,” Fort Myers Florida Weekly, 4 January 2012; Karen Nugent, “Wada celebrates 30 years with the Thayer Symphony,” telegram.com, 10 October 2012; personal knowledge.