Thomas E. Parsons grew up in Tucson, Arizona, and was first influenced by his father’s mother, who played piano and organ for many years at her church in Modesto, CA. She would delight Tom as a young boy with her joyous renditions of Scott Joplin Rags on her upright grand piano. Both Tom’s dad and mom are classically-trained musicians, and they shared their love of music by singing, and playing primarily piano and guitar. In elementary school Tom learned the Orff Approach of music education (using xylophones, glockenspiels, marimbas, and metallophones) under the guidance of Tucson Symphony Orchestra’s clarinetist John Snavely, who encouraged Tom to arrange classical pieces, as well as to compose original works, for him and his classmates to play on Orff Instruments in school recitals (Tom always preferred playing the bass xylophone).
Tom Parsons was first introduced to handbells through the amazing music program at St. Philip’s In The Hills Episcopal Church just after graduating from high school, where his mom was a long-time member of their adult choir. Saint Philip’s tradition of excellence in music is one of the cornerstones of their parish and the wider community of Tucson. As a result of his participation in St. Philip’s Ringers, music quickly captivated Tom’s full attention, motivating him to compose and arrange music for handbells, and then to enroll at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff to major in music. While initially disappointed to learn that he could not pursue a performance degree with handbells as his major instrument, he instead pursued a Bachelor of Music degree in Music History while training in handbell artistry under internationally respected composer, clinician, and Festival Massed Conductor Douglas J. Benton. Notable performances in the NAU Harter Memorial Handbell Choir included the 1996 International Handbell Symposium in Albuquerque, NM where he performed Benton’s arrangements of “Brasil”, “Blue Rondo a la Turk”, and Benton’s handbell duet arrangement of “Siciliana” by J.S. Bach with treble bell virtuoso Deborah Bauman.
Tom was then grateful to be accepted into Graduate School at NAU, where he rigorously studied Choral Conducting under Edith A. Copley, toured both nationally and internationally as a bass-baritone in the NAU Shrine of the Ages Choir; his education culminating in a Lecture-Recital of Stravinsky’s Mass for Mixed Chorus and Double Wind Quintet (1948). During Tom’s six years of musical study at NAU, Tom made friends with Handbell-L listowner Jason Tiller, and upon completion of his Master of Music degree with Choral Conducting emphasis (without honors), Tom moved to the San Francisco Bay Area with the assistance of Jason to audition and eventually to join Sonos Handbell Ensemble. Through international and national touring and appearing on major television and radio broadcasts, Sonos Handbell Ensemble helped introduce handbell virtuosity to millions of people around the world. During Tom’s six years in Sonos under the guidance of its Artistic Director James Meredith, Tom performed professionally for national and international audiences and developed instructional materials on bass bells for Sonos’ in-depth workshops. It was also during this time that he learned world-class handbell artistry through private lessons from Jason and Diane Tiller, and by working alongside such renowned handbell musicians as Velocity founder PL Grove, Timbré founder Michèle Sharik, and virtuoso pianist / handbell soloist Erin Downey.
While in Sonos Handbell Ensemble, Tom performed the best classical transcriptions and original material available for bells alone and in combination with other instruments and voices. Mr. Parsons performed bass-bell assignments for the performances of works such as Navigator Tree (2000), written for Sonos, Gamelan Pusaka Sunda and San Jose Taiko. This unprecedented work, composed by computer futurist and inventor of virtual reality, Jaron Lanier, was documented in a film about the Continental Harmony project that aired nationwide on PBS in the fall of 2001 to an audience of over 148 million. Another memorable work Tom performed was Hell’s Belles (2001) by Grammy-winning composer Libby Larsen, commissioned for Sonos and Grammy-nominated mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade, which toured the US with a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Tom Parsons participated in two studio recordings at Skywalker Sound, the Academy Award winning music recording division of Lucasfilm. The first was for The Bose Corporation in 1999, who recorded Sonos as part of an in-store theater video presentation demonstrating the Bose five-channel digital surround sound technology. This presentation, played in stores around the world and reached an estimated audience of four million listeners. Tom’s return to Skywalker Sound was for Sonos’ fourth recording released in 2001, “A Very Classical Christmas” with San Francisco Symphony principal flute Timothy Day. This CD was chosen by the New York Times’ WQXR and NPR’s Weekend Edition as top pics of the season. Tom also recorded with Sonos in 2003 on their fifth CD, “Best of Sonos”, which captures 15 years of their concert favorites. Tom also toured with Sonos Handbell Ensemble in many national and international venues covering a wide repertoire to delight audiences of all ages. A 2002 December tour to major Japanese concert halls was a sell-out success with every audience demanding multiple encores.
Since leaving active handbell performing in 2005, Tom Parsons has been a faithful member of the Worship Ministry at Valley Bible Church in Hercules, CA. The VBC Worship Ministry is the place to be if you are overwhelmed with gratitude toward your Savior and you want to be poured out as a “Servant not a Star” (Philippians 2:1-11), lifting up the name of the Lord with corporate and special music, voice, drama, dance, and instruments. Tom has been blessed at VBC with opportunities to use his various creative gifts and talents to God’s glory by serving in adult choir, Born to Worship Kids Choir, by acting (both live and for video productions), assisting production of the radio broadcast “Truth For Today”, running A/V presentation software and lighting, and by conducting both choral and orchestral groups. Tom is still active in his musical scholarship, composing musical parodies, and arranging music for various instruments including handbells. The most recent recording of his original work “Minimal Rondeau” for Handbells and Marimba (1996) can be heard on the 2015 CD album “Hitting Things” by Bells of the Cascades.
Tom lives in Pinole, CA with his wife and their two musically-inclined teenagers.