Thomas Dempster (b. 1980, Detroit, Michigan) is a composer writing predominantly chamber, electroacoustic, and multimedia works. With nearly 100 completed works, his output ranges from solo miniatures to extended works for orchestra with soloists. His music bears accessible yet decidedly individualistic traits, from tonal references to extended techniques, from use of classical forms to experimental soundscapes and video works. Informed by the natural world, folklore, scientific phenomena, the paranormal, and politics, his music explores intersections between wonder, surrealism, the mundane and everyday, black humor, and tinkering with the ideas of beauty for the hell of it. While at home with all instruments and ensembles, Dempster has composed extensively for flute, bassoon, saxophone, and digital media, with an increasing interest in art song, video works, and Jazz. His works have been described as having “an impressive sense of physicality” (Computer Music Journal), and as being “distinct and clever” (Flutist Quarterly) and “restless, aggressive, playful, eerie…a multifaceted, whimsical evocation” (J. Harvey, Indianapolis Star). 

This protean and multifaceted background has resulted in his music being widely performed throughout the Western Hemisphere and across Europe including GEMDays Festival (UK), Festivale Di_Stanze (Italy), Saxofoneando (Bolivia), the Irish Sound Science and Technology Association, the Toronto Intenrational Electroacoustic Symposium, the San Francisco New Music Festival, Electronic Music Midwest, Electroacoustic Barn Dance, New York City Electronic Music Festival, International Computer Music Association Conference, the International Double Reed Society, SEAMUS, Society of Composers Inc., College Music Society, the National Flute Association, the North American Saxophone Alliance, NACUSA, and many others. His music has been performed by numerous performers, including bassoonists Daniel Beilman, Barrick Stees, Eric Stomberg, and Michael Burns, saxophonists Russell Thorpe, Paula Van Goes, the h2 Quartet, and Jonathan Helton, flutists Timothy Hagen, Carla Copeland-Burns, and Lisa Hanson Bartholow, piano duo team Duo Korusa (Sujung Cho and Jacob Clark), and numerous wind ensembles, choirs, and chamber groups across the United States. His work has been performed in 20 foreign countries and 40 American states.

Dempster is a recipient of awards, honors, and grants from BMI, ASCAP, the South Carolina Arts Commission, the South Carolina Music Teachers Association, Black House Collective, and the Columbia (SC) Museum of Art. He has been a resident with the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center, the Osage Arts Community / Mid-Missouri Composers Symposium, and the Cortona Sessions for New Music. He has been commissioned by the Ohio State University New Music Ensemble, the Lamar University Wind Ensemble, the Greenbrook Ensemble, the Blue Mountain Ensemble, the Governor's School of North Carolina, and others. Many of his works are available from Potenza Music Publishing, Cimarron Publishing, MusicSpoke, Navona Records, Sybaritic Records, Mark Records, and Quiet Design Records. He is an affiliate composer of Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI) 

Dempster is an accomplished bassoonist and has performed with various orchestras throughout the Southeast, including the Wilmington Symphony Orchestra, the Florence Symphony Orchestra, the South Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, the Fayetteville Symphony Orchestra, and the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra. He has performed as a chamber musician or soloist at numerous contemporary music festivals across the country, including the SEAMUS National Conference, NACUSA National Conference, the College Music Society National Conference, the University of Tennessee Contemporary Music Festival, and the Electro-Acoustic Barn Dance. 

Tom is Associate Dean for Arts and Humanities and a Music Instructor and Director of Bands at the Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences, and the Arts. He directs the ASMSA Wind Ensemble, the ASMSA Jazz Ensemble, teaches private composition and woodwinds, and has previously taught courses in Music Theory, Music History, and Blues & Rock History. Since his arrival at ASMSA in 2018, Dempster has transformed the music offerings at ASMSA, developing a comprehensive music curriculum for secondary-level students who academically excel. As Director of Bands, he grew the Wind Ensemble to over 20% of the school’s population and led the Wind Ensemble to its first ever Concert Assessment performance, its first ever Concert Assessment Superior, and its first ever ASBOA Sweepstakes Award. In 2024, under his baton, the ASMSA Wind Ensemble was named best in the state in its division at the ASBOA State Concert Contest. The Wind Ensemble has given the Arkansas Premiere or World Premiere of over twenty works since 2018, including student compositions and arrangements. He established both a permanent Jazz Ensemble and permanent String Ensemble, and has directed concerts of highly experimental and improvisatory music, such as John Zorn’s Cobra, Julius Eastman’s Stay on It, Terry Riley’s In C, James Tenney’s In a Large Open Space, and Lexi Temple’s Thick Line. Student musicians at ASMSA have placed into All-State ensembles every year since his arrival. With his teaching career reaching into its third decade, he has taught student composers and performers who have been accepted for undergraduate or graduate music study at the University of Arkansas, University of Central Arkansas, Hollins College, Bowdoin College, Lyon College, Arkansas State University, Loyola University, Western Michigan University, Georgia Tech, the University of Missouri at Kansas City, Louisiana State University, University of Central Missouri, Wayne State University, University of Colorado, Transylvania University, Tulane University, New York University, Tufts University, the New England Conservatory, the University of South Carolina, the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, the University of Washington, Colorado State University, Bowling Green State University, Georgia State University, the University of Maryland, Indiana University, the Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins University, Amherst College, Boston University, and the University of North Texas.

For ten summers, Dempster taught music and philosophy at the Governor’s School of North Carolina where he coached chamber ensembles, co-directed the wind ensemble, and served as composer-in-residence. He has served as graduate assistant at the University of Texas, and has held faculty positions at UNC-Greensboro, Claflin University, and South Carolina State University where he taught music theory, electronic music, technology, aural skills, composition, and bassoon. Additionally, Dempster has over forty pieces of music criticism published in a variety of publications, and has given many conference and festival lectures on contemporary music.

A Michigan native, Dempster grew up in rural North Carolina and subsequently graduated from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (Bachelor of Music) where he studied music composition and bassoon performance, studying primarily with bassoonist Michael Burns and composers Eddie Bass, Frank McCarty, and Craig Walsh. He then attended the University of Texas at Austin (Master of Music, Doctor of Musical Arts) where he studied music composition and electronic music, working with composers Kevin Puts, Russell Pinkston, and Donald Grantham. He also studied music theory and conducting with various faculty mentors at UNCG and UT, though many of his most memorable learning moments came from performing in chamber groups, jazz combos, experimental and electronic groups, and punk bands, not to mention growing up a mere spitting distance from Chapel Hill and spending too much time on 6th Street in Austin before all the office towers took over. The first member of his family to complete a four-year college degree, Dempster received numerous scholarships and fellowships to obtain his degrees.

During his downtime, Dempster enjoys hiking and being outdoors, hanging out with his wife, gardening, lapidary, and making kiln-formed glassware.


Thomas Dempster, ca. 2013

photograph by Beth Laderberg

Thomas Dempster, ca. 2018

photograph by Kara Gunter

Thomas Dempster, ca. 2019

photograph in the public domain

Thomas Dempster, ca. 2024

photograph by Kara Gunter

Thomas Dempster, ca. 1978 and/or 32,767 CE

the infinite and the perpetual