In mid-October, I had the pleasure of interviewing Westminster Choir College graduate Tom Cunningham and talk about his involvement in music around both Princeton and New York City. A native of Ohio, Tom found out about our very own Westminster Choir College in high school, went there for Music Education, and found himself immersed in Princeton’s and Westminster’s musical culture. To this day, Tom has taken his experience with the Princeton Festival, among other amazing opportunities, and brought it with him as he continued conducting in New York City with his not-for-profit chamber orchestra Urban Playground.
Like a good small town, Westminster Choir College knew its neighbors. While Tom first started conducting by starting his own student-run choirs on campus, he fondly remembers working with Richard Tang Yuk as an assistant conductor for the Princeton Festival, where he got to work with professionals and interact with the community at large. The Princeton Festival, a huge summer arts event for the community that packs the McCarter Theatre and the streets alike, features everything from opera to jazz. Tom especially appreciates the community he worked with as well as the warm reception from the greater Princeton community, and that it helped prime him for work after Westminster. Professor Hobbs also offered Tom the opportunity to assistant conduct with him on other projects like working with the Opera Slavica—his first conducting endeavor in New York. That would only be the beginning.
Once Tom graduated, he never left behind the grassroots he made his musical home in Princeton. He still comes back to Westminster Choir College’s winter CoOperative program, which unites the opera faculty and student singers to create opera theater in between semesters. In addition, Tom founded his own chamber orchestra, the Urban Playground Chamber Orchestra. While very new, Tom is excited to see how their small musical community interacts with the big city. He confesses to me that it gives him a lot of freedom to just make music with high-caliber musicians who can also call themselves a community. Urban Playground, indeed!
Tom still frequents the central New Jersey area as he continues to make music in the City, and he always has the rich musical culture of Princeton to thank for his growth and career path. To learn more about his work, you can visit thomascunningham.us, or upchamberorchestra.org to learn more about the Urban Playground Chamber Orchestra.